Demystify Mortgage Underwriting:
A Must-Read For Homebuyers

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Updated: May 30, 2023
author photo Written by Louis BakerUpdated: May 30, 2023
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You've found the perfect house. It's in your price range, in the right neighborhood, with just the right amount of charm. Now, you face the next step: navigating the world of mortgage underwriting.

This guide is designed to simplify mortgage underwriting for you, breaking down the jargon into digestible information. By the end, you'll not only understand what mortgage underwriting is, but you'll be ready to face it with confidence. So, grab a cup of coffee, and let's get started. Your dream home is waiting!

What Exactly Is Mortgage Underwriting?

Mortgage underwriting is the process of evaluating a borrower's creditworthiness, financial stability, and ability to repay a mortgage loan.

The primary objective of underwriting is to assess the level of risk associated with lending money to a borrower and ensure that the loan complies with the lender's guidelines and regulatory requirements.

Mortgage underwriting is an essential stage in the processing of a home loan. It saves the lender the time of going through all the paperwork by themselves while doing a thorough risk assessment of the borrower's applications.

Borrowers also benefit from the underwriting process in that they learn whether they have the finances, collateral, and credit history that qualify for a mortgage loan.

6 Steps Involved In A Mortgage Underwriting Process

Navigating the mortgage underwriting process can be complex, but understanding each step can help you better prepare and increase your chances of successful loan approval.

Step 1: Complete your mortgage application

The first step in the underwriting process is to complete a mortgage application, also known as the Uniform Residential Loan Application (URLA).

The form has 8 sections in total, including the following;

Section 1- Borrower information: This is where you fill out your personal details and that of a co-borrower, if applicable. You'll provide the following information

  • Name, SSN, DOB, Citizenship status (also co-borrowers info if applicable)
  • Marital status, contact info, and current address
  • Employer, self-employment, and major income details.
  • List of all income sources.

Section 2- Assets and liabilities: Here's where you provide a summary of all the assets and liabilities you have. This includes;

  • Checking, savings, and investment accounts
  • Stocks, retirement accounts, and mutual funds.
  • Properties that may be sold, profits from asset sale, special down payments, payments from purchase contracts, and relocation funds provided by the employer.
  • List of all debts on the credit report
  • List of other monthly expenses

Section 3- Real Estate: This is where details of any real estate properties are listed. It includes;

  • Monthly rent income
  • Monthly expenses on properties
  • Net worth of property
  • Outstanding balance from current mortgages

Section 4- Loan and Property information: This is where you state the exact purpose of the loan, amount, and other details of the property in question. It includes;

  • Loan amount you want
  • The purpose of the loan
  • The property's address, estimated value, and units.
  • State whether the property will be used as a primary or secondary residence, investment property, or mixed-use.
  • Other financing options for the property aside from the mortgage, such as a home equity loan or HELOC.
  • Expected income from renting the property
  • Gifts or grants you've received or will receive.

Section 5- Declarations: This includes details of your financial history and declarations about the property in question. It includes;

  • Relationship with seller
  • Outstanding loans on the property in question
  • Other loans you are lobbying for to finance the purchase
  • Homes owned in the past
  • Lawsuits in credit history
  • Co-signed loans
  • Foreclosures, bankruptcies, and past judgments
  • Federal debt delinquencies

Section 6- Acknowledgements And Agreements: This is a list of legal languages affirming the information provided. It includes:

  • Affirmation that the information provided is accurate and acknowledgment of the penalties if proved otherwise.
  • Affirmation that the property is a security (Collateral) for the loan.
  • Affirmation the lender is free to appraise the property's value.
  • Affirmation that the lender can report defaults to credit bureaus.
  • Affirmation that the lender can keep an electronic record of the mortgage.
  • Affirmation that a counselor approved by HUD is available in cases where you have issues that may delay payments.
  • Affirmation that the lender can share your details with relevant third parties during loan processing.

Section 7- Military service information: This applies if you're in active service or are dependent on military personnel (late or alive). It allows the borrower to qualify for Department of Veterans Affairs-backed loans.

Section 8- Demographic information: This is the last section on the URLA form. It records information about your race, sex, and ethnicity as regulated by the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HDMA). Note that this section is optional, but filling it may be instrumental in your loan processing.

Step 2: Wait While The Underwriter Reviews The Information

Once your mortgage application and supporting documents are submitted, a loan processor will review them for completeness and accuracy.

The processor will then submit the application to an underwriter, who will thoroughly evaluate your financial profile and the property. This part of the process may take several days or even weeks, depending on the lender's workload, the complexity of your financial situation, and the specific loan program.

Step 3: Order An Appraisal on The Underwriter's Instruction

An appraisal is a process carried out to determine the fair market value of a property. It is done to assure your lender that the price you agreed to pay for a property is worth it. So, in case you default on payments, the lender will be able to sell the property and recoup their loss.

The underwriter will order an appraisal, which will be conducted by a licensed appraiser. The appraiser will visit the property, assess its condition, and compare it to similar properties in the area to determine its market value.

Step 4: Obtain Insurance For The Property

Normally, an underwriter requests that you register for homeowners insurance for the property in question. This helps to protect the home from potential damages that may affect its value as collateral. So, in the event that the property suffers major damages, the borrower can cash in the insurance and restore its value.

In addition, the underwriter may ask you to obtain title insurance. This helps you and the lender to retain rights to the property when there's an ownership dispute.

Step 5: The underwriter will make an informed decision

Following the evaluation and investigation of your financial capability, the underwriter gives a verdict for your loan application. They may approve, deny, or conditionally approve your mortgage application, depending on the outcome of their findings.

If your loan is conditionally approved, the underwriter may request additional documentation or require you to satisfy specific conditions before granting final approval.

Step 6: Closing The Home

Once the underwriter approves your mortgage application, you will move on to the closing phase.

During the closing, you will sign the final loan documents, provide any remaining funds needed for the down payment and closing costs, and complete the legal transfer of ownership. After the closing, the lender will disburse the loan funds, and you will officially become the homeowner.

What is The Duration Of A Mortgage Underwriting Process?

Generally, mortgage underwriting can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks.

  1. Conventional Loan: Generally takes 3-7 business days.
  2. FHA Loan: Usually processed within 3-7 business days.
  3. VA Loan: Typically completed within 3-7 business days.
  4. Refinance: Often takes between 2-4 weeks. Refinancing can sometimes take a bit longer due to the need to reassess the value of the property and other factors.

Underwriting times can vary based on different factors, so these figures represent averages rather than definitive durations. In certain situations, underwriting processes may extend to two weeks due to potential complexities or high lender workload. For the most accurate timelines, consult your lender directly, as they have the most up-to-date information.

Here are some factors that can impact the length of the mortgage underwriting process:

  • Lender's workload: The number of applications a lender is processing and the capacity of their underwriting team can impact the time it takes to complete the underwriting process. During periods of high loan demand, underwriters may have more applications to review, which can result in longer processing times.
  • Borrower's financial situation: The complexity of a borrower's financial situation can also affect the underwriting timeline. If a borrower has a straightforward financial profile with stable income, good credit, and clear documentation, the underwriting process may be quicker.
  • However, if the borrower has an intricate financial situation, such as self-employment or multiple income sources, the underwriter may require more time to review and verify the information.

  • Loan Program Requirements: The underwriting process of mortgage loan programs sometimes differs. Due to this, the processing time for each of them may vary as well.
  • For instance, if you apply for government-backed loans, like VA, FHA, or USDA, you'll most likely experience a longer underwriting process than conventional loan borrowers. This is because these government-backed loans usually require some extra documentation and review time.

  • External Evaluations And Appraisal: During an underwriting process, the underwriter may ask you to carry out activities required for the loan processing. This usually involves using third-party services that may take some time.
  • Some of such activities may include a home appraisal, property inspection, and title reports. Depending on the agency handling the reports, you may have to wait for a shorter or longer time to get it done. This can affect the general processing time of the underwriting stage.

  • Borrower responsiveness: The underwriting process may require borrowers to provide additional documentation or address specific issues that arise during the review. The time it takes for borrowers to respond to these requests can also affect the underwriting timeline.

It's essential for borrowers to be proactive, responsive, and well-prepared throughout the mortgage application and underwriting process. By doing so, borrowers can help ensure a smoother, more efficient underwriting process and increase their chances of timely loan approval.

Handy Tips For A Smooth Underwriting Process

Avoid Applying For Other Loans During Underwriting

Applying for new credit during the underwriting process can negatively impact your credit score and create additional inquiries on your credit report.

This may raise concerns for the underwriter and potentially delay or jeopardize your loan approval. It's best to avoid taking on new debt or applying for new credit until after your mortgage has been approved and closed.

Respond To Inquiries As Quickly As Possible

Providing extra documents and information is usually unavoidable during underwriting. You should prepare to back up any claims in your loan application even before the underwriter calls for it. And when they do, respond swiftly to keep the process moving without hiccups.

Also, provide an active means of communication for the underwriting personnel to reach you. You might want to keep your loan officer or broker abreast of the situation too, so they can offer advice throughout the process.

Be Upfront And Honest About Your Finances

Providing accurate and complete information about your income, assets, liabilities, and employment history is essential for a successful underwriting process.

Being upfront and honest about your financial situation can help prevent surprises or delays and ensure that the underwriter has a clear understanding of your ability to repay the mortgage.

If Possible, Make A Large Down Payment

A larger down payment can help reduce the lender's risk and demonstrate your financial commitment to the property. This may make your loan application more attractive to the underwriter and potentially increase your chances of loan approval.

Additionally, a larger down payment can help lower your loan-to-value (LTV) ratio, which may qualify you for better interest rates or loan terms.

Maintain A Stable Financial Status

Maintaining a stable financial situation during the underwriting process is essential. This means avoiding significant changes in your employment, income, or debt levels. Any significant changes to your financial profile can raise concerns for the underwriter and potentially result in delays or additional scrutiny.

Types of Underwriting

Loan Underwriting

  • Mortgage Underwriting: During this procedure, the underwriter evaluates the creditworthiness and risk of individuals seeking to purchase real estate property. They analyze factors such as the borrower's credit score, employment record, income, outstanding debts, and the value of the property being acquired.

    Furthermore, the underwriter may factor in the loan-to-value (LTV) ratio and debt-to-income (DTI) ratio as well. Based on the underwriter's assessment, a decision is made regarding the approval, denial, or conditional approval of the loan.
  • Real Estate Loans: Similar to mortgage underwriting, but extends beyond residential property to include commercial real estate, land, construction, and development loans.

    Here, the underwriting process also assesses the potential profitability of the property and the borrower's experience in managing or developing real estate.
  • Personal Loans: Underwriters look at the borrower's credit history, income, employment status, and any other outstanding loans or debts. They'll also consider the purpose of the loan. The goal is to assess the likelihood that the borrower will be able to repay the loan on time.
  • Car Loans: When underwriting car loans, the lender considers factors such as the borrower's credit score, income, employment status, and the value of the car being purchased. The loan is often secured by using the car itself as collateral.

Insurance Underwriting

  • Life Insurance: This process determines the risk of insuring an applicant's life. It takes into account the applicant's age, health, medical history, lifestyle, occupation, and family history of diseases. Underwriters use this information to set premium rates or deny coverage if the risk is deemed too high.
  • Property and Casualty Insurance: Property underwriting involves evaluating the risk and exposure of insuring a property, considering factors like location, construction type, use of property, and safety features.

    Casualty underwriting focuses on the risks involved in liability coverages, analyzing the policyholder's history and the nature of the risk.

Securities Underwriting

Securities underwriting involves the process of raising investment capital from investors on behalf of corporations and governments that are issuing securities (either equity or debt). It includes:

  • Initial Public Offerings (IPOs): Underwriters, usually investment banks, buy shares from the issuer and sell them to investors at a price set in the underwriting agreement. They make a profit based on the difference between the purchase and selling prices.
  • Bonds: Just like IPOs, underwriters obtain bonds from issuers and subsequently transfer them to investors for trading. In addition, they evaluate market trends, determine the starting price and return ratio of the bonds, and bear the risk of failure to sell the bonds at the designated price.

Automated Underwriting vs. Manual Underwriting

Automated underwriting and manual underwriting are two distinct methods used by lenders to assess the risk associated with extending credit or issuing a loan to a borrower. Here's an overview of each:

Automated Underwriting

Software and algorithms are utilized in automated underwriting to evaluate a borrower's lending risk by reviewing their financial and credit information. Based on predefined criteria, the software determines whether to approve or deny the borrower. Below are the benefits:

  1. Speed: Automated underwriting decisions are usually delivered within minutes, making it an efficient process.
  2. Objectivity: Since it's based on algorithms and predefined criteria, it reduces the risk of human error and bias.
  3. Efficiency: It's particularly useful for straightforward cases that don't have unique complications.

However, automated underwriting might not accurately assess borrowers with complex situations, as it may not fully capture all the nuances of their financial profile.

Manual Underwriting

In manual underwriting, a human underwriter reviews the loan application. They examine credit reports, bank statements, income verification, and other documents and apply their professional judgment to determine whether the loan should be approved. The benefits include:

  1. Flexibility: Borrowers with complex income sources, credit issues, or other unique circumstances can benefit from manual underwriting. Manual underwriters have the ability to assess the overall situation and make exceptions or apply flexibility as warranted.
  2. Detailed Review: A manual underwriter can conduct a more thorough investigation and verification process.

In contrast to automated underwriting, manual underwriting is slower and demands more resources, which typically caters to complex borrower situations or higher-risk loans.

Many lenders use a combination of both methods to ensure an accurate and fair underwriting process.


Is Underwriting the same as Closing?

No, underwriting is not the same as closing. Underwriting is the process where a lender assesses the risk of offering a loan to a borrower. Once the underwriting is complete and the loan is approved, the process moves forward to closing. 

Closing, or settlement, is the final step in a real estate transaction where the title is transferred from the seller to the buyer, and the buyer signs the mortgage documents.

What Is the Purpose of Underwriting Today?

The aim is to evaluate risk and verify the financial capability of the borrower or policyholder.

Underwriting serves as a safeguard for lenders in the lending industry, ensuring that borrowers possess the ability to repay the loan. Similarly, in the realm of insurance, underwriting functions to mitigate the risk faced by insurance companies when extending coverage to specific individuals or entities.

How Underwriting Sets the Market Price?

In securities underwriting, the underwriter sets the market price by determining a fair and reasonable price at which the security (such as shares in an IPO or bonds) should be offered to the public. This involves assessing the issuing company's financials, overall market conditions, and investor demand.

Is there anything you can do to speed up underwriting?

Yes, you can help speed up the underwriting process by providing all requested documents promptly and ensuring that all information is accurate. Keep good communication with your lender and respond to any requests or inquiries as quickly as possible.

What are my rights in the underwriting process?

In the underwriting process, you will be treated with fairness and impartiality. Discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age, or participation in a public assistance program is strictly prohibited, safeguarding your rights.

What should I do if my mortgage application is denied?

If your mortgage application is denied, the lender is required to provide a reason. Understanding this reason can help you take steps to improve your chances in the future. You may need to improve your credit score, reduce your debt, or save for a larger down payment. You can also appeal the decision or consider applying with a different lender.

Are underwriting fees tax deductible?

Tax deductions for underwriting fees, also called loan origination fees, are not applicable to personal residences. However, the fees associated with a loan for a rental property or business could be deductible as a business expense. To ensure accurate guidance based on your specific situation, it is advisable to consult with a tax professional.

author photo

Written by

Louis Baker


Louis Baker started his career in 2017 by contracting with Experian. He also became a part-time content creator in various fields such as insurance, personal finance & investment, etc.

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