A mortgage company is a firm engaged in the business of originating and/or funding mortgages for residential or commercial property. A mortgage company is often just the originator of a loan; it markets itself to potential borrowers and seeks funding from one of several client financial institutions that provide the capital for the mortgage itself.
That, in part, is why many mortgage companies went bankrupt during the subprime mortgage crisis of 2007-2008. Because they weren't funding most of the loans, they had few assets of their own, and when the housing markets dried up, their cash flows quickly evaporated.
Mortgage lenders usually offer a portfolio of mortgages to potential homebuyers including fixed-rate, adjustable-rate, FHA, VA, military, jumbos, refinance, and home equity lines of credit (HELOCs).
The Equal Credit Opportunity Act prohibits credit discrimination based on age, race, color, religion, national origin, gender, marital status or because you get public assistance. It’s also illegal for lenders to discourage you from applying or to impose different terms or conditions because of these factors.
Finally, it prohibits lenders lenders from denying mortgages to retirees if all standard criteria are met—things like your credit score, the size of your down payment, your liquid assets, and your debt-to-income ratio. Although it is unclear how long the trend will continue, positive economic data indicates that for the immediate future homebuyers can continue to benefit from low mortgage interest rates.
The Big Three for Mortgages
Here are three of the major national players on the mortgage scene.
Wells Fargo & Company
San Francisco-based Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC) is an internationally recognized name in the mortgage industry, despite that in 2018, it had to pay over 2 billion dollars in penalties to settle with the U.S. Justice Department. The Wall Street Journal reported that this fine was "over the sale of toxic mortgage-backed securities in the lead-up to the financial crisis."
Even though, Wells Fargo & Co., struggled under the weight of the investigation dating back to over a decade ago, it remains a solid player in the mortgage industry.
- Some mortgage companies do offer turnkey mortgage services, including the origination, funding, and servicing of mortgages.
- Some mortgage lenders offer creative and out-of-the-box loan offerings, such as no origination fees or offering loans to those with less than stellar credit.
- The factors that differentiate one mortgage company from another include relationships with funding banks, products offered and internal underwriting standards.
- It is possible to complete a mortgage application entirely online, like with Quicken’s Rocket Mortgage, although some customers prefer face-to-face meetings with a loan offer at a bank.
Wells Fargo offers the usual menu of mortgage products—fixed-rate, adjustable-rate, FHA, VA, military, jumbos, refinance, and home equity lines of credit (HELOCs)—as well as nonconforming loans with special features for purchasers of high-value properties.
For example, WFC's jumbo loans feature flexible buydown options that allow customers to make lower payments during the early years of a mortgage. Other products allow customers to combine their mortgages with home-equity loans. Its online platform was upgraded recently to improve its processing capabilities, and you can now apply and track your loan application online from your computer, smartphone or tablet.
The company’s website has a substantial amount of educational material to help you learn about your mortgage options, plus you can compare rates and loan options, and calculate your payments. Even though much of the application is done online, they do offer a home mortgage consultant to help you through the process.
Bank of America Corporation
Bank of America (NYSE: BAC) is known for its creative ways of marketing new mortgage products. For example, in May 2019, the company announced a new, but limited program of offering mortgages without origination fees. In addition, Bank of American also offers the “Affordable Loan Solution mortgage,” which is a fixed-rate loan for low- and moderate-income borrowers, according to the company. With this mortgage, Bank of America looks beyond traditional credit scoring methods to assess applicants who demonstrate responsibility based on other criteria such as rent and gym payment history.
As compared to FHA 3% loans, Bank of America's version of the product does not require borrowers to pay for private mortgage insurance. Bank of America did a brisk $46.6 billion in home loans over a year ago, putting it in the top 10 list of largest mortgage lenders.
Mr. Cooper Group Inc.
Mr. Cooper (formerly Nationstar Mortgage Holdings, Inc.) is a mortgage loan originator and servicer, based in Coppell, Texas. According to the company it has approximately 8,500 employees and is one of the largest non-bank lenders in the United States. As of 2019, according to the company website it has 3.8 million customers and originated 21.8 billion in loans.
The lender offers borrowers a diverse array of mortgage product options including FHA, VA and Fannie Mae, USDA, and jumbo loans. It offers also offers mortgage holders a rewards credit card that allows them to apply points to their principal.
Among the brick-and-mortar institutions, one that often gets cited is TD Bank, which offers a number of mortgage products including fixed-rate, adjustable-rate, jumbos and government loans, plus its own TD Right Step Mortgage for buyers who meet low- to-moderate income requirements (or if the property you’re purchasing is in a low- to-moderate income area). To get prequalified, you can call a TD Bank mortgage advisor or visit a TD Bank near you (many have extended hours and are open on Saturdays and Sundays).
You will need a signed purchase and sale agreement to start your application, and once it’s submitted, TD Bank says it will get back to you with next steps within 24 hours, and will have a loan estimate of your closing costs within three business days of your submitting an application.
Online Mortgage Lenders
As noted with Wells Fargo, many banks offer an online application process. If, however, you're comfortable going completely digital, there are several web-based mortgage lenders. Because they lack overhead, they can often provide better interest rates, proponents say.
Quicken Loans is a Detroit-based lender that has become a household name thanks to an impressive branding effort. The company is known for having competitive rates and several unique mortgage products not offered by its competitors. It offers mortgages in every state across the country, and it’s one of the largest online retail mortgage lenders, according to National Mortgage News, a publication that assembles quarterly rankings for the mortgage industry.
Its mortgage product offerings include fixed-rate, adjustable-rate, FHA, jumbo, VA, reverse mortgage and YOURgage—which offers repayment terms that you can customize beyond the typical 15- and 30-year mortgages provided by most companies. You can choose any loan term from 8 to 30 years (in one-year increments) and get a fixed rate.
This can be especially advantageous to those refinancing a mortgage: If you have, say, 23 years left on your current loan and want to refinance but do not wish to reset your term to 30 years, or take out a 15-year loan (which will bring higher monthly payments), you can obtain a 23-year loan, thus maintaining your existing term but at better rates.
Quicken also offers a Rocket Mortgage. Everything from the initial application and credit check to scheduling your home appraisal is done online. (If you get stuck along the way, you still have the option of calling a toll-free number and speaking to a live loan officer.) It's a completely online process that allows you to be approved for your home purchase in minutes. The company aims to close a majority of its loans within 30 days, and it has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
Guaranteed Rate offers an online mortgage application process that is similar to Quicken Loans' Rocket Mortgage. You can even complete your initial application and view your credit scores with the three major bureaus for free, all on your smartphone. Based on what your credit qualifies you for, the mobile app allows you to select an interest rate and fee structure, and lock it in early in case rates increase.
In most cases, you have the option to pay a higher up-front origination fee to receive a lower interest rate, or you can pay a lower fee, sometimes even no fee, and take a higher rate. (The general rule of thumb is, the longer you are planning to keep the mortgage, the more you should pay up front for a lower rate, since paying less interest benefits you more over time. Guaranteed Rate, as of 2019, was rated A-plus by the Better Business Bureau and received majority five-star reviews on finance and real estate websites such as Bankrate.com and Zillow.com.
LoanDepot is a direct mortgage lender, meaning the company itself provides the funds at closing rather than simply serving as a middleman, farming the loan out to a third-party. There is one fewer person that has to be paid, which often translates to a better deal. Along with its competitive rates, loanDepot offers the ability to obtain a rate quote on its website in seconds. The company employs a no-steering policy, prohibiting its loan offers from trying to talk borrowers into a different type of loan to earn a bigger commission check. The company is rated A-plus by the Better Business Bureau, as of July 2019.
In an era when red tape and bureaucracy have stretched the mortgage process longer than most consumers feel is necessary, fast closings are a big selling point for loanDepot. Moreover, the company's "no steering" policy promises that no loan officer will ever try to steer you into a different loan than the one you want in order to earn a higher commission. Even if you have had some hard times or slip-ups with your bills in recent years, a mortgage from loanDepot may not be out of reach: The company offers approvals to customers with credit scores as low as 580.
The Bottom Line
Identifying the biggest mortgage companies is easy, but who are the best mortgage companies? That depends, somewhat, on how a potential homeowner likes to operate.
Many people prefer to go through the mortgage process in person, rather than by phone or over the Internet. For some, it may be easier to ask questions when they are face to face with a lender—plus it may mean more personalized service.
If that sounds like you, a good place to start is your local bank where you already have accounts. The people there already know you and value your business—both of which can help speed up the process and ensure you won’t be left high and dry days before closing.