A Guide to Mortgage Pre-Approval
Jamie David, Director of Marketing & Mortgages
Before you start the house-hunting process, there’s an important step you can take that will both save you time and make the process easier: getting pre-approved for a mortgage. A pre-approval helps you understand the home price you can afford, allowing you to budget for your home purchase and focus your home search. With a pre-approval, you’ll also be able to secure a great mortgage rate offer ahead of time and protect yourself from rate increases during your home search.
What is a mortgage pre-approval?
A pre-approval is an in-principle commitment from a mortgage provider to lend you a certain size mortgage at a particular rate. When you get pre-approved for a mortgage, you’ll find out the maximum amount you can afford to spend on a home, the monthly mortgage payment associated with your maximum purchase price and what your mortgage rate will be for your first mortgage term.
Applying for a mortgage pre-approval is free and doesn’t commit you to a lender. However, getting pre-approved does hold the mortgage rate you are offered for 90 to 120 days. This means you're protected if interest rates rise while you’re shopping for a home. If interest rates go down during this time, your lender will honour the lower rate when it comes time for your actual application. That said, a pre-approval isn't a full guarantee you'll receive that rate. That relies on your finances staying the same when you finally apply for your mortgage.
Current mortgage rates
There are plenty of reasons to look for a mortgage pre-approval, but one of the most important considerations should be trying to get the lowest rates possible. We can help you with that.
We shop the most competitive lenders, banks and credit unions in Canada to bring you today's lowest interest rates, free of charge. Have a look at the most up-to-date advertised mortgage rates in the table below. Click "see if I qualify" to start the process.
A Ratehub Company
Meridian Credit Union
Big 6 Bank
Bank of Montreal
RBC Royal Bank
Simplii Financial ™
Why get pre-approved for a mortgage
Getting pre-approved for a mortgage helps you in several ways. It saves time in your home search, because you’ll only look at homes in your price range. Getting pre-approved is also a signal to your real estate agent that you’re serious about buying, and you’ll receive faster, more targeted service. Finally, when it comes time to make an offer on a home, the fact that you are pre-approved signals to the seller that you should have no problem financing the purchase, which will improve your chances in a competitive offer situation. Don’t forget that if interest rates fall while you are locked in, your lender will honour the lower rate when you actually apply for your mortgage.
How to get pre-approved for a mortgage
To get pre-approved, you must meet with either a mortgage broker or a lender. To determine how much you can afford to borrow to purchase a home, they will ask you a series of questions, and you will need to provide some supporting documentation.
Watch the video below to see which three factors a lender uses to determine how much money they will lend you and what documentation you may need to supply:
Factors in your mortgage pre-approval
The following four factors play a role in determining how large a mortgage, and at what rate, you'll be pre-approved for.
1. Credit score
Your credit score is a measure of your financial health, and shows lenders how risky it may be to lend you money. If your credit score is between 680 and 900, you’ll qualify for a mortgage with an “A” level lender, such as a major bank.
If your credit score is below 680 and above 600, lenders will look at the other details of your finances to determine if you can qualify with an “A” level lender or not. If you don’t qualify, you’ll need to go through a “B” level lender, such as Home Trust, to get a mortgage pre-approval.
If your credit score is below 600, you will only qualify for a mortgage with a “B” level lender, and you won’t get today’s best mortgage rates.
2. Down payment
Your down payment is the lump sum of money you’ll put towards the purchase of your home. In Canada, the minimum down payment you must make is between 5% and 20% of the home’s purchase price (depending on the price). If you put down less than 20%, you’ll have to buy mortgage default insurance (also sometimes called CMHC insurance, though there are multiple mortgage default insurance providers) to protect your lender in case you default on your loan.
The size of your down payment affects how much you can borrow. For example, if you wanted to buy a house worth $300,000, you would need at least a $15,000 down payment.
$300,000 x 5% = $15,000
Minimum down payments in Canada:
The minimum down payment in Canada is 5% for homes costing less than $500,000. For homes priced between $500,000 and $1 million, you need to put down 5% of the first $500,000, then 10% of any amount over $500,000. For example, a house worth $600,000 would require a down payment of at least $35,000.
($500,000 x 5% = $25,000) + ($100,000 x 10% = $10,000) = $35,000
For houses priced over $1 million, a minimum 20% down payment is required.
3. Debt service ratios
Your debt service ratios are two calculations that lenders use to determine the largest monthly mortgage payment you can afford, based on your current monthly income, expenses and debt.
Lenders use these ratios to make sure you can afford to make your monthly mortgage payments, even with all of your other financial commitments, so there’s a smaller risk that you could default on your mortgage payments.
4. Supporting documentation
Depending on the mortgage broker or lender you sit down with, the documentation you’ll need to submit for your pre-approval may vary. For example, some mortgage brokers require proof of income for a pre-approval. Others won’t require proof until your offer has been accepted and you need to finalize your mortgage application.
Here is a list of documentation you may need to provide for your mortgage pre-approval:
- Identification (e.g. Canadian driver's license, PR card or passport)
- Proof of income (pay stubs and letter from your employer, or a notice of assessment if you are self-employed)
- Length of time with employer
- Proof of down payment and ability to pay closing costs (recent financial statements of bank accounts and investments)
- Proof of any other assets like a car, cottage or boat
- Information about other debts including: credit cards or lines of credit; spousal or child support payments; student loans; car leases or loans; and personal loans.
Check out your best current mortgage rates
After you receive a mortgage pre-approval
Once you’ve been pre-approved, you’ll know the maximum amount you can afford to borrow, as well as the mortgage rate lenders are willing to offer you. With your pre-approval, you’ll be protected from future interest rate increases for the next 90 to 120 days while you search for a home. You can then take the maximum mortgage amount and use it as a guide during your house hunt, so you only view homes you know you can afford to buy.
The limitations of a mortgage pre-approval
One thing to keep in mind is that getting pre-approved for a mortgage doesn’t guarantee that your final mortgage application will be approved. When you apply for a mortgage after your Offer to Purchase has been accepted, your lender will look at the details of the property to make sure it’s suitable. If the property doesn’t meet their qualification criteria, you won’t qualify for a mortgage. For example, if the home has asbestos, knob and tube wiring, is a heritage home or its appraised value is below the purchase price, the lender may not find it suitable and could deny you a mortgage.
Getting pre-approved for a mortgage also doesn’t mean that you should buy a home at the top of your price range. Your pre-approval amount only represents how much your lender is willing to lend you, not how much you should actually spend. You should choose to buy a home that is priced lower than your maximum purchase price, which will ensure you have enough room in your budget for saving and paying down debt.
If you need advice, you can always consult a mortgage professional, like a mortgage broker. Mortgage brokers are independent and can give you expert advice on your application for free. They can also help you compare mortgages and negotiate a better rate, and help you through the pre-approval process.