What is Mortgage Lending Criteria? 5 Tips for Approval

Jul 30, 2023
30 People Read
Mortgage lending criteria refers to the requirements that lenders have before issuing mortgages to potential borrowers.
Table of Contents
  1. Qualifying for a Mortgage
    1. Income
    2. Debt-to-Income Ratio (DTI)
    3. Credit Score
    4. Property Type
    5. Assets
  2. Loan Types and Requirements
    1. Conventional Loans
    2. FHA Loans
    3. VA Loans
    4. USDA Loans
  3. Final Thoughts

Owning a home is a lifelong aspiration for many, representing a cornerstone of stability and financial security. 

However, navigating the complex landscape of mortgage applications and lending criteria can feel stressful, leaving aspiring homeowners overwhelmed and uncertain. 

This article will discuss the basics of mortgage lending criteria and provide you with five tips on what to expect when applying for a mortgage.

Qualifying for a Mortgage

Mortgage lending criteria refers to the specific requirements and standards that lenders use to assess the eligibility of potential borrowers for a mortgage loan. This includes analyzing borrowers income, debt-to-income ratio, credit score, property type, and assets. 

Lenders assess these components to evaluate the borrowers financial stability and determine the level of risk associated with lending to them. 

Here's a breakdown of mortgage lending criteria and how you can position yourself for a successful mortgage application:


The goal of a lender is to ensure that you have a stable and sufficient money coming in to make monthly mortgage payments. They will look at your gross income, including regular salary, wages, self-employment income, bonuses, and other sources of income. 

To qualify, your income should be well-documented and consistent, providing lenders with confidence in your ability to meet repayment obligations.

Debt-to-Income Ratio (DTI)

The debt-to-income ratio is one metric that lenders use when assessing your financial strength. This ratio looks at your current debt obligations and compares it to your income level, showing your risk level of taking on new debt.

Lenders use this ratio to gauge your capacity to take on additional debt responsibly. Generally, a lower DTI ratio is favorable, as it indicates that you have more income available to cover mortgage payments. 

Most lenders prefer a DTI ratio below 43%, but some may allow higher ratios based on other compensating factors.

Credit Score

Your credit score is a numerical representation of your creditworthiness and financial history. It's a major factor that influences mortgage eligibility and the interest rate you'll receive. 

A higher credit score typically leads to better loan terms. While specific credit score requirements vary among lenders, a FICO score of 620 or higher is often considered the minimum for conventional mortgages. 

However, some government-backed loans may have more lenient credit score requirements.

Related: The Role of Credit Scores in Mortgages

Property Type

The type of property you intend to purchase can impact your eligibility for certain types of mortgages. 

Primary residences, investment properties, and vacation homes may have different lending criteria. Generally, primary residences are favored by lenders as they are seen as lower risk, but be aware that the down payment and loan terms may vary based on the property type.


Having sufficient assets can strengthen your mortgage application. Lenders may look at your savings, investments, and other liquid assets to gauge your financial reserves and ability to weather unexpected financial challenges. 

A healthy reserve of cash can also provide a sense of security to the lender when considering your application.

Loan Types and Requirements

There are four different loan types available for borrowers looking to apply for a mortgage. However, not all four options are suitable for all borrowers. Continue reading to find out the loan requirements and qualifications for each loan program.

Conventional Loans

A conventional loan is a mortgage that is not insured or guaranteed by the government. Instead, it is issued by private lenders such as banks, credit unions, or mortgage companies. 

Conventional loans often have more stringent eligibility criteria compared to government-backed loans.

Requirements to qualify for a Conventional Loan:

  • Credit Score: A FICO credit score of at least 620 is generally required, but to secure the best interest rates and terms, a higher score is recommended.

  • Down Payment: Conventional loans typically require a down payment of at least 3% to 5% of the home's purchase price. However, a 20% down payment allows borrowers to avoid private mortgage insurance (PMI).

  • Debt-to-Income Ratio (DTI): Lenders usually prefer a DTI ratio below 45%, although some may consider higher ratios in certain circumstances.

  • Income and Employment: A stable income and employment history are crucial to demonstrate your ability to make mortgage payments.

  • Property Type: Conventional loans can be used for primary residences, second homes, or investment properties.

FHA Loans

FHA (Federal Housing Administration) loans are government-insured mortgages designed to make homeownership more accessible, especially for first-time buyers or those with limited financial resources.

Requirements to Qualify for an FHA Loan

  • Credit Score: A minimum FICO credit score of 580 is required to be eligible for an FHA loan. However, borrowers with scores between 580 and 660 may need a higher down payment (usually 10%).

  • Down Payment: The minimum down payment requirement for most FHA loans is 3.5% of the purchase price.

  • Debt-to-Income Ratio (DTI): FHA loans typically have a maximum DTI ratio of around 43-50%, although the FHA is known to accept higher DTIs when the borrower demonstrates significant assets or financial reserves.

  • Income and Employment: Borrowers must have a steady income and stable employment history to qualify for an FHA loan.

  • Property Type: FHA loans are only available for primary residences, not for investment properties.

VA Loans

VA (Veterans Affairs) loans are government-backed mortgage loans whose purpose is to assist veterans, active-duty military members, and surviving spouses buy a home. These loans are guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Requirements to qualify for a VA Loan

  • Credit Score: Although there is no minimum credit score requirement set by the VA, lenders may have their own credit score standards. Generally, a higher credit score will increase your chances of approval.

  • Down Payment: VA loans offer the benefit of no down payment requirements, making them a great option for eligible borrowers.

  • Certificate of Eligibility (COE): Borrowers are required to obtain a COE from the Department of Veterans Affairs which demonstrates their eligibility for a VA loan based on their military service.

  • Debt-to-Income Ratio (DTI): VA lenders are known to lend to borrowers with a maximum DTI ratio of 41%, but they can be less-stringent on their requirements for veteran borrowers.

  • Income and Employment: VA lenders prefer to see sufficient income to ensure borrowers will not default on the loan. 

USDA Loans

USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) loans are designed to promote homeownership in rural and suburban areas by offering attractive mortgage options.

Requirements to qualify for a USDA Loan:

  • Location: The property being purchased must be located in an eligible rural or suburban area designated by the USDA.

  • Credit Score: While there is no strict minimum credit score requirement, most lenders prefer a credit score of 640 or higher.

  • Income Limits: Borrowers must meet certain income limits based on the area's median income. The goal is to assist low-to-moderate income households.

  • Down Payment: USDA loans offer the advantage of no down payment requirements.

  • Debt-to-Income Ratio (DTI): The recommended maximum DTI ratio is 41%, though some lenders may consider higher ratios with strong compensating factors.

  • Income and Employment: Like other loan programs, USDA lenders prefer to lend to borrowers with a stable job and regular income.

Keep in mind that specific requirements for these loan types can vary among lenders, so it's essential to shop around and compare offers to find the best fit for your individual circumstances. 

Additionally, other factors, such as the property appraisal, will also play a role in the mortgage approval process.

Final Thoughts

The process of qualifying for a mortgage is a critical step in the journey of homeownership, and understanding mortgage lending criteria is essential for prospective borrowers. 

By understanding loan requirements for the four major loan programs, you’ll ensure a smooth application process and an easy transition in to your new home.

Related: What is a Hard Inquiry?

Trending: How to Get a Free Credit Score Report

Table of Contents
  1. Qualifying for a Mortgage
    1. Income
    2. Debt-to-Income Ratio (DTI)
    3. Credit Score
    4. Property Type
    5. Assets
  2. Loan Types and Requirements
    1. Conventional Loans
    2. FHA Loans
    3. VA Loans
    4. USDA Loans
  3. Final Thoughts