Self-employed mortgage borrower? Here are the rules
Self-employed mortgage: easier than you think
For the 14-million self-employed mortgage borrowers nationwide, it's getting easier to get approved for a home loan. Here's your complete guide to getting a self-employed mortgage today.Verify your new rate (Jan 18th, 2018)
Recent changes make it easier
Guidelines for self-employed homebuyers have loosened up. For example, you may only need one year of income tax documents to prove your income, as long as your application qualifies for automated underwriting.
Some of the highlights include a documentation reduction from two years of federal income tax returns to one, in certain cases; and, a new income calculation for business owners with little or no history of distributions.
The new loan guidelines are also more friendly toward "moonlighters".
Borrowers with self-employment income from a second, non-salaried business don't have to document this income income if they qualify for a loan based on the income from their "regular" job.
Mortgage approval for self-employed applicants
When you're buying a home or refinancing, you go through a set of specific steps.
First, you apply for your loan, which you can do in-person, online, or by telephone. In most cases, the loan officer or processor takes your information verbally and submits it into an automated underwriting system (AUS). You don't usually have to fill out a bunch of forms yourself.
You'll need to document your income, savings / retirement / investment balances, and your debts. Lenders want your employment history, and they will check your credit.
Underwriting self-employed borrowers
Based on your information, the underwriting system generates a response in minutes, either approving, declining, or referring your loan for human underwriting. Then, the human underwriter takes over.
If the AUS approves you, the underwriter checks your documents to make sure that they match the information on your application.
For instance, if you said that you earn $6,000 a month, your W-2s or tax returns should match that. your bank statements should match what you say you have.
If the system can't make a decision or declines your loan, a human takes a second look to see if you qualify under manual underwriting guidelines.
Frequently, what trips up self-employed applicants is that they might say they earn $6,000 a month, but their taxable income might only be $4,000 a month.
Underwriters use a somewhat complicated form to come up with "qualifying" income for self-employed borrowers. They start with your taxable income, and add back certain deductions like depreciation, since that is not an actual expense that comes out of your bank account.
But they might subtract "extraordinary" or "windfall" income. If a source of income does not appear to be stable and ongoing, you can't usually use it to qualify for a home loan.
Lenders also look at your assets, to make sure that the down payment comes from an acceptable source. They don't want to see you clean out your business account to make your down payment, for instance, because that could put your livelihood in jeopardy.
And they want to make sure that you do not have undisclosed loans. For example, if your bank accounts show an unusually large deposit made within the last 60 days, your underwriter may ask you to prove the source of that money.
You may have to provide other documentation, too, at the underwriter's discretion -- a business license, for example, or a statement from your accountant.
Once the human underwriter gives you the green light, you have credit approval, which means that you, the borrower, meet the lender's guidelines and can close as long as the property also complies with the lender's requirements.
However, the underwriting process varies from applicant-to-applicant and loan-to-loan. Underwriters can requires different documents for every self-employed mortgage borrower.
How long must you be self-employed to get a mortgage?
You may not have to show a 24-month self-employment history to get a mortgage. For instance, Fannie Mae says that you may qualify with 12 months of self-employment if you have previous experience in that field, and your income is at least as much as you earned in that field before becoming self-employed.Verify your home buying eligibility (Jan 18th, 2018)
Mortgages for self-employed borrowers
Since late-August 2015, Fannie Mae allows a looser set of guidelines for the nation's self-employed borrowers.
The policy updates encompass three areas :
- Self-employed borrowers with no history of "taking paychecks" (i.e. business distributions are irregular or non-existent)
- Self-employed borrowers who don't have two years of federal tax returns to support their business
- Salaried borrowers with second, self-employment jobs don't need to document that income if they don't need it to qualify for their mortgage
Proving business income
For self-employed borrowers with a history of paying themselves, mortgage guidelines as of June 2016 state that the borrower no longer needs to prove access to the business income.
The applicant, however, may still need to show that the business earns enough to support income withdrawals.
One year of tax returns
Self-employed borrowers may qualify with just one year of tax returns. Those returns must show at least 12 months of self-employment income.
And the applicant's debt-to-income ratio must meet lender guidelines (usually a maximum of 43 percent, but it can go to 50 percent for exceptionally-qualified borrowers.
Self-employed "side" income
It's the third provision which may be most welcome to self-employed mortgage borrowers -- especially those who don't rely on their "side business" to support their home or household.
Under Fannie Mae's new rules, borrowers qualifying for a mortgage using the income of their "regular" job don't have to prove what they make on the side from their business. Which makes sense; if you don't need the income to qualify, why would you have to prove what it is?
This provision applies to borrowers living off retirement income, social security income, pension payments, and/or dividends as well.
Note that these rules apply to conforming (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) home loans. Guidelines for other loans may be different.
Similarly, if you qualify for a loan with your own income, and your co-borrower is self-employed, lenders can ignore that business in underwriting.
Why would you want them to ignore that business? Because many small ventures, or even larger start-ups, don't show income on tax returns. At least on paper, they generate losses.
While these business write-offs are great for reducing taxes, they can murder your qualifying (taxable) income when you apply for home financing.
Almost every lending guideline specifies that income does not count unless it is "stable, consistent, and ongoing." If your income is not regular and reliable, you can't use it.
However, many businesses go through ups and downs. For instance, a home developer starting a new community might have a lot of expenses one year, buying property, pulling permits and constructing houses. The business may show little income or even big losses.
The next year, though, the houses sell and the income soars. If you apply for a loan during the "down" year, you'll have to prove to the lender that your business is healthy and that this is a normal pattern.
Give the underwriters, three, four or five years of taxes and a statement from your accountant to show this.
Prepare to explain any significant year-over-year decrease in income when you apply for a mortgage as a self-employed borrower.
Alternatives for self-employed applicants
Self-employed mortgage loans have gained a reputation of being difficult since the housing downturn.
That's because many self-employed borrowers don’t show enough income, if the lender's definition of "income" is the bottom line on your tax return. And the old "stated income" or "no income verification" loans these borrowers used in the past have disappeared.
Self-employed borrowers write off as many expenses as legally possible. That's reasonable, because they pay self-employment taxes in addition to "regular" income tax.
However, alternative programs allow you to count all of your business cash flow (the amount you actually bring in) as income. These are often called "bank statement" programs.
Under these guidelines, you bring in 24 months of your business and / or personal bank statements. Lenders analyze the amounts going in each month, average it, and use that amount (or some formula based on that amount) to come up with qualifying income.
Note that these programs usually come with higher mortgage ratesVerify your home buying eligibility (Jan 18th, 2018)
If you're self-employed and want to buy a home, plan in advance. Work with a mortgage professional, and involve your accountant as well.
You can change the way you write off your business expenses, and the amount of taxable income you show. Alternatively, you can amend previous tax returns to show higher income from the past.
Note that some deductions, such as depreciation, won't hurt you. Underwriters add these deductions back into your taxable income.
You and your accountant can check out the form underwriters use, and see how lenders will view your income right now.
If you're self-employed, gather these documents for lenders:
- Two years of personal tax returns
- Two years of business tax returns including schedules K-1, 1120, 1120S
- Business license
- Year-to-date profit and loss statement
- Balance sheet
- Signed CPA letter stating you are still in business
Tax professionals use used to these requests for a mortgage. Your CPA may even be able to email you all your required documentation the same day.
What are today's mortgage rates?
Self-employed borrowers can get mortgage-approved than during any period this decade. And, with mortgage rates low, it's an excellent time to consider your options.
Note that if you don't qualify under standard guidelines, alternative programs may get you the home you want.Verify your new rate (Jan 18th, 2018)
The information contained on The Mortgage Reports website is for informational purposes only and is not an advertisement for products offered by Full Beaker. The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not reflect the policy or position of Full Beaker, its officers, parent, or affiliates.