The Best Mortgage Lenders and Rates

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Owning our own home is part of the classic American dream, but with the median home value in the U.S. recently around $215,000, few of us are ever able to buy a home with cash. Thus, most of us need mortgages and need to be familiar with various home mortgage companies, mortgage lenders, and current mortgage interest rates.

Here are our picks of the best mortgage lenders:

  • Quicken/Rocket Mortgage -- Best for fast application and customer satisfaction
  • Guaranteed Rate -- Best for diverse loan terms and customer satisfaction
  • SoFi Mortgage -- Best for low upfront costs
  • Lenda -- Best for no fees for origination

Quicken/Rocket Mortgage

Best for: Fast application and customer satisfaction

Quicken/Rocket Mortgage may be the most well-known mortgage lender on this list and we believe that is for good reason. Not only does Quicken/Rocket Mortgage offer a seamless online application, but the lender also scores high in customer satisfaction, having locked down the top customer satisfaction spot for J.D. Powers’ primary mortgage origination for eight years running (2010-2017). Outside of customer satisfaction, Quicken/Rocket Mortgage has a diverse set of offerings that meets the needs of homebuyers across the credit score spectrum.

Lender Credit Score Required Loan Types Key Features
Quicken/Rocket Mortgage -580 FHA
-620 standard mortgages
-FHA and VA
-ARMs and fixed
-1% down option
-Jumbo's and reverse
-Fast online app
-Competitive rates
-High customer satisfaction
-Diverse loan terms
-Licensed nationally

Guaranteed Rate

Best for: Diverse loan terms and customer satisfaction

Guaranteed Rate goes toe-to-toe with Quicken/Rocket Mortgage on many fronts. The lender offers competitive rates, a diverse set of loan offerings for many credit scores, has an easy-to-use online application, and scores high in customer satisfaction ratings. One differentiating factor is Guaranteed Rate has 1,700 branches nationally, should homebuyers prefer a face-to-face application process.

Lender Credit Score Required Loan Types Key Features
Guaranteed Rate -580 FHA
-620 standard mortgages
-FHA and VA
-ARMs and fixed
-Fast online app
-1,700 branches

SoFi Mortgage

Best for: Low upfront costs

SoFi brings an innovative approach to mortgage underwriting and cares less about borrower credit scores and debt-to-income ratios as it does about income, stable employment, future earnings potential, and bill payment history. This alternative model enables SoFi to home in on its target market while cutting origination and application fees while offering rates in line with competitors.

Lender Credit Score Required Loan Types Key Features
SoFi Mortgage N/A -30y, 15y Fixed
-7y ARMs
-Interest-only ARMs
-Online app
-Competitive rates
-Low upfront costs
-Uses alternative underwriting data


Best for: No fees for origination and brokers

To its credit, Lenda doesn’t attempt to be all things to all people. Instead Lenda was conceived with one target audience in-mind: Digitally savvy customers in search of relatively low-cost, quick, and largely paperless mortgage solution. Toward those ends Lenda hits the mark and warrants a spot on our list of the top online mortgage lenders

Lender Credit Score Required Loan Types Key Features
Lenda N/A -10y, 15y, 20y, 30y Fixed -No origination or broker fees
-Online app
-Fast closing
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Mortgages 101

A mortgage is a loan, with real estate as the collateral. A lender lends you enough money to buy a home and you agree to make regular payments in order to pay it back. A fixed or changeable interest rate is involved, and if you can't keep up with the payments, the lender can claim the property.

The literal translation of the word "mortgage," from Old French, might surprise you: "dead pledge." It reflects the fact that home loans tend to be quite long-lived, typically designed to last for 30 years, though many are for 15 years and some can be for 40 or more years. (There have even been 100-year mortgages in places such as Japan!)

Mortgages have been around in America since at least the 1700s, but they weren't as prevalent as they are today until the 20th century. In 1934, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) was established, introducing a mortgage insurance plan and support for 15- and 20-year mortgages. After World War II, mortgages of 30 years became more common -- and today they make up the lion's share of home loans -- around 90% of mortgages that originate each year.

Interest rates and mortgages

It's kind of pointless to discuss mortgages without discussing interest rates, because they're central to the loans. We've been in a long period of ultra-low interest rates, and it's just recently that they're starting to move up. How low did they get? Well, in late 2012, average interest rates for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage hit 3.31%. Rates for 15-year loans sank below 3%.

For context, as of mid-June 2018, the national average interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was 4.76%. If that seems a lot higher than the 2012 low, know that it's still well on the low side. Rates can be much higher. In late 1981, the average interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate loan hit 18.45%! To appreciate what a difference your home loan's interest rate makes, check out the table below for monthly payments on a $200,000 30-year fixed-rate loan for a $250,000 home:

Interest Rate Monthly Payment
3.31% $877
4% $955
4.76% $1,045
8% $1,468
12% $2,057
16% $2,690
18.45% $3,088

The best mortgage rates can vary widely over relatively short periods, as overall interest rates fluctuate. For example, in 1987, rates ranged from about 9.1% to about 11.4%, and in 1994, they ranged from about 7.2% to about 9.4%.

What are fixed-rate mortgages?

The two key kinds of home mortgages that you'll choose between are the fixed-rate mortgage and the adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM). The fixed-rate loan is just what you are probably assuming it is: The interest rate remains the same for the life of the loan. Thus, you know what your monthly payments will be at all times: They'll actually be unchanged from the beginning of the loan to the end.

That certainty is a plus -- unless, of course, the best mortgage rates are very steep and you're looking at 30 years of steep payments. (Even in that situation, though, you can likely refinance at a lower rate if and when rates fall significantly.) Another plus is that even though your monthly payment is fixed and you'll generally write a check for the same amount each month, thanks to inflation, that payment should be less and less painful as the years go by, as incomes and prices will have risen over the years. While $1,500 might have been 25% of your monthly pay 25 years ago, it might only be 15% of your monthly pay years later.

What are adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs)?

While fixed-rate mortgages offer certainty and they're the best choice for many home buyers, adjustable-rate loans offer flexibility and the ability to make the most of low interest rates -- and they're best for some other home buyers.

The ARM comes in various forms. You may see quotes for 3/1 ARMs, for example, as well as, say, 5/1, 7/1, and 10/1. The first number reflects the number of years that the initial interest rate remains the same, and the second number reflects how often the rate is adjusted thereafter. With a 3/1 ARM, the initial rate (and, therefore, the monthly payment due) holds steady for the first three years, and then is adjusted every year. With a 10/1 ARM, the rate is steady for the first decade before starting to be adjusted annually.

Home buyers who are not planning to be in their new home for many years can be best served by an adjustable-rate mortgage, especially in a low-interest-rate environment, as it will lock in those low rates for a few years. The initial rates of an ARM are often lower than the rates on fixed-rate mortgages.

If you think you might stay in your home for decades but you're in a high-interest-rate environment and are fairly confident that rates will be dropping in the coming years, you might take a chance on an ARM from one of the best mortgage lenders.

Why your credit score matters

When it's time for you to borrow money, there's a wide range of interest rates that various lenders might offer you -- from poor or mediocre to quite good (i.e., very low). One of the most powerful ways to get offered the best mortgage rates from the best mortgage lenders is to have a high credit score.

Mortgage lenders want to know that you're a good credit bet and unlikely to default, so they place a lot of importance on your score when they decide what interest rate to offer you. If it isn't very high, it can be worth spending some time beefing it up before starting the home-buying process.

First, though, get a handle on what qualifies as a good score. Basic (non-industry-specific) FICO® scores range from 300 to 850, but when it comes to specifying exactly where to draw the line between, say, a good score and an excellent one, there's little consensus. Here's one take from the folks at FICO®, which generates the most frequently consulted scores:

FICO® Score Range Rating
800 and higher Exceptional
740-799 Very Good
670-739 Good
580-669 Fair
579 and lower Poor

The table below reflects the power of your credit score when it comes time to borrow, showing recent interest rates for someone borrowing $200,000 via a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage:

FICO® Score APR Monthly Payment Total Interest Paid
760-850 4.272% $986 $155,125
700-759 4.494% $1,013 $164,557
680-699 4.671% $1,034 $172,165
660-679 4.885% $1,060 $181,467
640-659 5.315% $1,112 $200,490
620-639 5.861% $1,181 $225,263

Source: MyFICO®.com, as of June 15, 2018.

The difference between the highest and lowest interest-rate range in the table above is $195 per month (which is $2,340 per year) in mortgage payments -- and about $70,000 in total interest paid! Having a high credit score can save you tens of thousands of dollars over the life of your mortgage.

How to improve your credit score

How might you improve your credit score? Well, one good way to start is to review your credit reports to see if any faulty information has been reported about you. If your credit histories contain errors then your credit score will not be representing you accurately. You can get free copies of your credit reports once a year from each of the main credit reporting agencies at -- and it's smart to do so, no matter what your score is. If you spot errors, each agency has ways for you to go about getting them fixed.

Other effective ways to improve your credit score are tied to the components of the score. Improve the components, and you'll improve the score. Here are the components of a typical FICO® credit score, and the influence that each has on the score:

Component of Credit Score Influence on Credit Score
Payment history 35%
How much you owe 30%
Length of credit history 15%
New credit 10%
Other factors such as your credit mix 10%

Source: myFICO®.com.

Based on the information above, here are steps you might take to improve your score:

  • Pay bills on time -- Just about any creditor can report you to credit agencies. Even a late or unpaid library fine can end up dinging your score, as can overdrawing on a line of credit at your bank that's meant to protect you from overdraft fees.
  • Keep debt levels low -- Aim to have borrowed only about 10% to 30% of the sum of all your credit limits. That's your credit utilization ratio. Mortgage lenders don't want you to have maxed out your credit limits or even come close. (It can help to get your credit limits increased, too.) If you have a lot of debt, it may not be easy to get it all paid off, but it's in your best interest to do so -- at least with high-interest-rate debt. One of the most effective ways to get out of debt is to pay off your high-interest-rate debt first. Those credit card rates of 20% or higher are much more costly to you than a 5% mortgage or car loan.
  • Keep old accounts open -- You can't control the overall length of your credit history too much, but you can be sure to not close out old credit card accounts, as older histories are more valuable. Similarly, if you have, say, a three-year car loan and you're thinking of paying it all off at once, know that it can help your credit score to keep that loan on the books for the full three years, with the record showing that all payments were made in a timely fashion. Opening new credit card accounts can hurt your score, as it will lower the average age of your credit accounts.
  • Rate shop in two to six weeks -- If you're shopping for a mortgage or anything that results in your credit score being looked up by a lender, try to do so within two to six weeks. A lot of inquiries can lower your score temporarily, but less so if they're bunched together. It can also be worth delaying getting a mortgage for a year or two, if need be, if you can significantly boost your credit score during that period.
  • Establish history with a credit card -- There often isn’t much you can do about your credit mix, but know that lenders like to see a variety of debts (and debt repayments) on your record -- with different lenders having different preferences. One particularly helpful kind of debt to have is a credit card account that you’ve been handling well. If you don’t have a credit card account, it might be worth opening one.

How to save on a mortgage

Here are some valuable home-buying strategies to consider:

Get a 15-year mortgage -- The current best interest rate won't necessarily serve you best. When it comes to 15-year loans vs. 30-year loans, you'll typically be offered a lower rate for the shorter term. That can make a 15-year loan seem well worth it, as you'll pay off your home faster and you'll pay far less in interest, too. But 15-year loans have significantly higher monthly payments. If you think that will stretch you too thin, consider buying a less costly home -- or opting for the 30-year loan.

Make extra payments -- A great compromise between a 15-year and 30-year mortgage, for those with discipline, is to get a 30-year loan that lets you make extra payments on principal without any penalties. Then you can send in bigger payments each month -- ones that are like what you'd be paying with a 15-year loan -- and you'll pay off the loan sooner. Plus, if life throws you a curveball, you can always revert to paying just the lower minimum amount.

Shop around -- Consider whether an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) from one of the best mortgage lenders is best for you. If you're not planning to be in the home long, an ARM can make a lot of sense in today's low-interest-rate environment, as it will lock in low rates for a few years. If you think you'll be in the home for decades, though, it can be better to lock in a low rate for the entire long life of the loan -- especially because interest rates seem to be rising.

Don't buy more home than you can afford -- If you start looking at homes that cost around $300,000, it's not unusual to find yourself suddenly considering ones that cost $325,000 or $350,000. If you spend more than what you can really afford, you'll be stretched thin financially. One rule of thumb is to spend no more than 25% to 30% of your gross monthly income on housing (including property taxes and insurance), but for many people, it's smarter and safer to spend no more than 20% on housing. Buying less home than you can afford will give you a margin of safety and help you be able to meet other financial goals, such as saving for retirement or college.

Put 20% down -- Paying less than 20% down on a new home means you'll have to take on an extra loan in the form of private mortgage insurance (PMI), which will increase your monthly payment. A low down payment might result in a higher interest rate, too. It's particularly bad if home values drop during your ownership period, leaving you with an "underwater" mortgage, when you owe more than the home is worth. That can make it hard to sell the home if you need or want to.

Get pre-approved -- Once you're ready to make offers on homes and you know what loan you want and from which lender, get pre-approved for the loan before you go shopping. This has several advantages. First, the process of working with a loan officer can help you determine just how much home you can afford to buy. Second, being pre-approved will make you a more credible buyer, should you end up bidding against any other buyers for a home. Pre-approval means that the lender will have looked at your credit score, your employment, your financial health, and perhaps some tax returns -- and found you credit-worthy.

Buying a home is an exciting milestone in life, but it can also be a stressful process. The more you know about mortgages and interest rates, the more you can save -- and that can potentially be tens of thousands of dollars. Checking out the current best interest rates and the best mortgage lenders is a great way to start.