What does “underwriting” mean? How to deal with loan conditions

July 22, 2018 - 4 min read

Your mortgage application: underwriting and loan approval

Once you submit a mortgage application, it goes into underwriting. But what does underwriting mean?

  1. Mortgage underwriters examine your application and documents to approve or decline your application
  2. Computers can approve mortgages, but human underwriters must verify that your documents match the information on your application
  3. Underwriters usually require proof of your income and assets and may have additional requests

Your approval is usually subject to conditions. These conditions can range from bank statements to tax returns to explanations about your credit. All conditions must be in and approved before you can close.

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It starts with an application

You begin the application process by working with a loan officer or loan processor. He or she takes your information and completes a mortgage loan application.

Your loan officer reviews the Loan Estimate (LE) form and other disclosures with you, answers your questions about the forms, and tells you what you need to provide to secure your mortgage approval.

Underwriters check a borrower’s “three Cs.” That’s character, collateral and capacity. In other words, your credit rating, income and the property value.

Underwriters are not always human

In most cases, your loan officer or processor submits your application electronically to an automated underwriting system (AUS). The program generates a recommendation and a list of conditions, which you must meet in order to finalize your approval. (Fannie Mae’s Desktop Underwriting system’s results include “approve,” “refer,” or “refer with caution.”)

If you get a “refer” response, a human underwriter must take a second look and perhaps underwrite your loan manually. “Refer with caution” usually means that the system declined your application.

If you get an “approve” response, the system kicks out a list of conditions you must meet to finalize your approval. Your loan officer will help you get these things, and a human underwriter will make sure that the documents you provide match the information on your loan application.

Mortgage underwriter checklist

A primary role of the underwriter is to approve loans that will perform and limit risk. That means carefully examining a borrower’s entire loan profile. Typical tasks include

Examining credit history. Your credit history is one of the most important factors in the loan approval process. Underwriters analyze your credit history because of the way you managed debt in the past is a good predictor of how you will handle your mortgage obligation. Late payments or collections will require additional documentation.

Verifying employment and income. Underwriters verify your employment history to make sure your income is stable. They may call your employer to make sure you work there and will review your last two years’ W-2s or tax returns. Underwriting systems also compare your income and debts, calculating what’s called a debt-to-income ratio, or DTI.

Check home appraisal. A licensed home appraiser compares the property to nearby, similar homes, and establishes its market value. Underwriters examine the appraisal to make sure the appraiser followed the lender’s guidelines and made accurate adjustments to arrive at the value given to your home.

Verify asset information. Your down payment is a very important factor and underwriters scrutinize it carefully. Did it come from your own funds? Or does your last checking account statement contain some weirdly huge deposit? They’ll quiz you and ask for more documents, in that case, to make sure that the down payment was not borrowed or furnished by someone who benefits from the sale, like the seller or real estate agent.

Automated underwriting

Most banks and mortgage lenders use Automated Underwriting Systems (AUS). They are sophisticated software systems that render preliminary underwriting decisions.

The system lets the human underwriter know if a mortgage applicant meets the lender’s guidelines, based on information from the loan application and credit reports.

Fannie Mae’s version of automated underwriting is DU (Desktop Underwriter), and Freddie Mac’s is LP (Loan Prospector).

Once a loan officer or processor submits an application, the AUS reports its findings and generates conditions. Usually, conditions simply involve proving that what was input on the application is true — bank statements and pay stubs, for instance, to verify the income and assets stated on the application.

Most mortgage lenders do some manual underwriting of mortgage applications. Usually, that’s because the applicant has an insufficient credit history or the credit report has been compromised by identity theft. Unusual mortgages or very large loans are also frequently underwritten manually.

Most lenders that fund mainstream programs use a combination of automated and manual underwriting to complete a mortgage decision.

“Approved with conditions”

There are a number of stages in getting a mortgage loan. Your first step is mortgage pre-qualification. And then you’ll complete an application and submit it for mortgage pre-approval. After your loan comes out of underwriting, the goal is to have your loan approved with conditions.

Don’t be fearful when your lender tells you your approval has conditions. A conditional loan approval is fairly standard. Satisfying the loan conditions, whatever they may be, is how you turn your conditional loan approval into a full/final approval.

Underwriting conditions can vary according to the type of loan for which you’ve applied, your employment, income and overall credit profile. The way you or your lender complete the mortgage application can influence your approval and the conditions you must meet.

Final approval

Examples of underwriting conditions could include anything from documentation of proper homeowners insurance to letters of explanation for certain items in question with your loan file.

And some conditions can trigger a request for additional ones. For instance, your pay stub contains a deduction for child support that you didn’t put on your application. Now you’ll need to provide your divorce decree.

The best thing you can do as a soon-to-be homeowner is to respond promptly to your loan officer’s requests. It’s also important to understand not to shoot the messenger here.

Your loan officer is your liaison between you and the underwriter. If you don’t understand or can’t comply with a condition, he or she may be able to help you find a way around it and get your loan closed. Remember that the lender employees are ultimately on your side and doing their best to help you close your loan on time.

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Craig Berry
Authored By: Craig Berry
The Mortgage Reports contributor
With over 20 years in mortgage banking, Craig Berry has helped thousands achieve their homeownership goals.