Applying for a mortgage for the first time – or the second, third or fourth time for that matter – can be a daunting prospect. However, if you’ve got all your paperwork together and are willing to go through the process patiently, there’s usually nothing to fear.

Here, we detail every step of the mortgage application process, including which documents you’ll need in order to apply, what to expect from lenders, and the advantages of talking to a broker. We also talk about how to apply for a mortgage if you have been furloughed and give tips for first-time homebuyers.

Preparing for your mortgage application

There are a few steps you should take before you start searching for a property or applying for a mortgage that will boost your chances of success. These include:

  • Figuring out your budget – what is your price range and how much can you afford to put down as a deposit?
  • Making sure you’re on the electoral roll so lenders can perform the necessary checks
  • Paying back any outstanding debts
  • Not applying for other loans or credit cards around the same time
  • Staying out of your overdraft
  • Making sure that your partner has taken all these steps if you are applying for a joint mortgage

In other words, you should make sure you have your finances in the best shape they can be. When you apply for a mortgage, lenders will perform careful checks on your finances, so you don’t want to have any outstanding debts or miss anything that might reflect poorly on you.

Getting your credit in order

Having a good credit score is a crucial part of applying for a mortgage. This will reassure lenders that you’ve been able to manage your money well in the past and pay off your debts in good time. If your credit score is not in the best place then it can help to pay off any outstanding debts or make use of a credit card to improve it.

You can easily check your credit score for free. ClearScore offers a free credit checking service that accesses Equifax data. They also offer free identity protection that scans for stolen passwords, security problems and fraud defence tips. MoneySuperMarket’s Credit Monitor tool lets you check your score using data from TransUnion and offers free personalised tips to help it grow. Alternatively, you can sign up with Experian and check your credit score with them for no charge and Totally Money also allow you to check your score free of charge using data from TransUnion.

If you’re concerned that your credit score might need a boost before you apply for a mortgage, read our article on Seven steps that could improve your credit score.

What are the different types of mortgages?

It’s worth knowing about the different types of mortgages, so that you can pursue the deal that best suits your financial situation. 

Lots of mortgages come with introductory deals that can reduce the monthly rates you pay for a certain period. These range from simple discounts to fixed rate mortgages, where the rates will stay the same regardless of changes in interest rates, and tracker mortgages, where the rates will rise or fall depending on interest rates set by the Bank of England.

After your deal expires you will begin paying the Standard Variable Rate or SVR (unless you decide to remortgage and find a new deal at this point). The SVR is also affected by interest rates, though these will now be set by your lender rather than the Bank of England.

You might also have the option to choose between an interest-only mortgage and a repayment mortgage. With a repayment mortgage, you pay back both interest and some of the capital you’ve borrowed each month, so by the end of the mortgage you have completely paid off your loan. Interest-only mortgages are less common nowadays; with these, you only pay off the interest on a monthly basis, and then pay off the capital all at once at the end, sometimes by selling the property.

These are only a few of the different types of mortgages available, so it would be well worth exploring your options in more detail. Check out our article Different types of mortgages explained for a more in-depth explanation of all the different kinds.

It’s not always easy to work out which mortgage option is right for you, so if you’re in any doubt, it’s worth speaking to a professional mortgage advisor. You can read more on why this might be a good idea in our guide Should I get advice on my mortgage?

There are a number of fee-free mortgage advisors available on the market, but if you’re looking for somewhere to start, we’ve chosen to partner with Fluent Mortgages to offer fee-free mortgage advice on the options that may be available to you based on your individual circumstances. You can request a free, no obligation callback here.

What do I need to apply for a mortgage?

Most lenders will require some documentation when you apply for a mortgage with them. These typically include, but are not limited to:

  • Proof of name and address (such as a driver’s license or passport)
  • Utility bills
  • Employment details with proof of your income
  • Payslips for the last three to six months
  • Bank statements for the last three to six months
  • Evidence of your deposit

The documents that lenders require for your mortgage application process will naturally vary depending on your individual circumstances, for example, whether you are employed or self-employed.

After you have chosen a property, you’ll also need to provide details including the address, estate agent and your conveyancing solicitor, to your lender.

What do I need to apply for a mortgage if I’m self-employed?

If you work for yourself and want to apply for a mortgage, you’ll not only need at least two or more years’ certified accounts from an accountant, but also self-assessment (SA302 forms) or a tax year overview (from HMRC) for the past two or three years.

If you’ve got any contracts in place which demonstrate you have a regular income, or any evidence of upcoming contracts, it may be worth submitting these too to support your mortgage application.

Should I get an Agreement in Principle (AiP)?

Prior to submitting a formal mortgage application, you can request an Agreement in Principle from your lender. They will take your income and regular spending into account to give you an estimate of how much you’re likely to be able to borrow. This comes in the form of a certificate that usually lasts about three months. This step is technically optional, but if you feel unsure about how much you’ll be able to borrow, then getting an AiP can be a huge help.

Bear in mind that an AiP is not a commitment for either party – you’re not signing yourself up for anything, and it’s not a guarantee from that lender that you will definitely be able to borrow that amount. This is partly because the credit checks performed for an AiP are much less in-depth than the ones lenders do when you apply for a mortgage. The main use of an AiP is simply to give you a sense of which properties you can afford to consider. Some estate agents will also ask that you have an AiP before showing you any properties so that they know that you’re serious about buying.

Where should I apply for a mortgage?

People commonly seek mortgages from banks or building societies, but don’t assume that your current bank is necessarily your best bet. Remember that as with any service, it’s wise to do plenty of research and compare different deals and policies before going ahead. Try out this Mortgage Comparison Tool to compare over 15,000 deals.

It might be wise to consult a financial advisor or mortgage broker to help you narrow down a suitable lender. Mortgage applications can be done online, but if it’s your first time applying then it’s almost certainly a good idea to seek professional input first, as they can give you personalised advice for your circumstances and budget. Read our article Should I get advice on my mortgage? for a more in-depth look at the kinds of resources you can use.

If you decide you do want expert advice from a mortgage broker, we’ve chosen to partner with Fluent Mortgages to offer fee-free advice on the various options that may be available to you based on your individual circumstances. You can request a free, no obligation callback here.

Applying for a mortgage

Once you have had your offer on a property accepted then it will be time to officially apply for a mortgage. If you’ve been using a mortgage broker then they will be able to arrange this for you, but you can do it yourself too.

The lender will perform an independent valuation of the property in order to make sure that it’s worth what you intend to pay.

Then, they will perform in-depth financial checks on your paperwork, accounts and credit record. We will outline these in a bit more detail in the next section.

If a lender is satisfied after these checks, then they will make you a formal mortgage offer, usually within four weeks of your application. These offers are typically valid for six months, or three if you are remortgaging (though these time frames may vary depending on lenders and various other factors). Your conveyancer will then arrange for the appropriate funds to be transferred to the property seller.

Mortgage eligibility: How do lenders check if I can afford a mortgage?

When you apply for a mortgage with a lender, they will perform an affordability check to assess whether they think you’ll be able to reliably pay it off. This will involve them looking through all your bank accounts and credit cards in addition to the documentation you have provided.

Firstly, they will check your household income: your basic salary, additional income, money from freelancing, benefits, and any other bonuses.

Then they’ll check all your outgoings: household bills, regular payments, childcare costs, subscriptions, general living costs, and debts such as loans and credit cards. This is all to ensure that you’ll still be able to afford your mortgage payments after these costs.

They’ll also perform a “stress test” where they estimate whether you could continue to make your payments if interest rates increased.

As mentioned previously, they will also check your credit score to assess whether you can pay off your mortgage reliably. Don’t overlook this part; if your credit score is poor then lenders may well reject you, which will only damage your score more and make it even harder to find an offer in future.

Can I get a mortgage if I’m on furlough?

If you are on furlough income as a result of the pandemic then you can still apply for a mortgage, though your options are likely to be somewhat limited.

In many cases, and assuming that you have one, your best option may be to get a joint mortgage with your partner if they are still fully employed, as this will boost the amount you can borrow.

If this is not an option for you then there are lenders still accepting mortgage applications from furloughed applicants. However, many of them have placed restrictions on the amount they are willing to lend in these cases, or may require proof from your employer that you are definitely returning to work. It is an especially good idea to speak to a broker or advisor under these circumstances, as getting a mortgage is a huge financial commitment that will continue long after the furlough scheme has ended.

Applying for a mortgage as a first-time buyer

As it can be very difficult getting onto the property ladder, especially in these current times when many people’s incomes have been affected by the pandemic. There are several government-backed schemes in place in order to help first-time buyers secure a mortgage. These include:

  • The Mortgage Guarantee Scheme, which aims to help borrowers obtain a mortgage with only a 5% deposit. Read more about the Mortgage Guarantee Scheme here.

  • Right to Buy, which allows most council tenants in England and Northern Ireland to apply to buy their rented council home at a discount. Find out more about how this works at GOV.uk.

  • Shared Ownership, where first-time buyers can purchase a particular share of a property rather than the whole thing, and own it jointly with a landlord or housing association. The buyer will then have the option to gradually increase their share until they own 100% of the property if they wish, through a process known as “staircasing”. Shared ownership requires a much smaller mortgage, though it does also mean paying rent on the portion of the property you don’t own, so it’s not for everyone.

What should I do if my mortgage application gets rejected?

Don’t panic if your mortgage application gets declined. There are a few reasons this might happen, including having a poor credit rating, too small a deposit, or because you’re missing some of the paperwork you need to support your application. The best course of action in this scenario is not to apply for a mortgage again until you have spoken to a mortgage broker to figure out what went wrong and what you can do differently next time.

To find out more, check out our guide My mortgage application has been declined – what can I do?

Have you taken out a mortgage recently? Do you have any tips for first-time applicants? If so, we’d be interested in hearing from you. You can join the money conversation on the Rest Less Community forum or leave a comment below.

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