When you apply for a mortgage, it is the lenderâs job to make sure you can afford it. However, this wasnât always the case. Between 2003 and 2006, a substantial percentage of mortgages were made without documentation or with little documentation.
Today, the story is quite different. So-called âno-docâ mortgages have all but disappeared from the industry. In this article, weâll take a look at why no-documentation loans have lost favor and what options there are for people who have difficulty meeting traditional documentation of income and asset requirements.
To qualify a mortgage, you generally need to let your lender know what your income and assets are, so the lender can determine whether you are able to pay back the loan. Youâre usually asked to back up your numbers with proof in the form of your W-2s, tax returns and bank statements.
But there are some borrowers whose financial and employment situations make these kinds of documents hard to come by. These can include the self-employed, people who rely on investment income and even salespeople working on commission.
For these people and many others, proving income can be more difficult â maybe even impossible. This is why lenders began to develop a mortgage underwriting process that didnât require proof of income, also known as as a no-documentation loan. Itâs also sometimes called a stated income loan, because the borrowerâs income is stated, but not proven.
However, as housing prices continued to climb in the early 2000s, the use of no-documentation and low-documentation loans spread.
âNo-documentation loans are a product that was created for one purpose and started getting used for another purpose,â said Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist at LendingTree, MagnifyMoneyâs parent company. âAnd that led to a lot of trouble.â
While many people understand the role that subprime mortgages played in the mortgage crisis, they may not realize mortgages issued without financial documentation also played a role.
One reason so many no-documentation loans were issued is that lenders and buyers all expected real estate prices to continue to rise, which in turn would result in increased equity. That equity would allow buyers to eventually refinance into loans they could actually afford to pay; it didnât matter as much whether the borrower could pay back their original mortgage. âNew buyers were less and less prepared for homeownership,â Kapfidze said.
When housing prices fell during 2007, many no-documentation buyers ended up underwater in loans they couldnât pay. Meanwhile, lending standards tightened, removing the possibility of refinancing, eventually more than doubling the foreclosure rate across the country.
No-documentation mortgages are mostly not an option for borrowers today â thatâs thanks to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act resulting from the financial crisis. One part of this law requires that lenders ensure a consumerâs ability to repay a mortgage loan before approving them. The Dodd-Frank Actâs âability-to-repayâ rule lists eight criteria that underwriters are required to consider when measuring a borrowerâs capacity to afford a potential loan.
The Dodd-Frank act further states that a lender is required to verify these criteria using third-party resources that are âreasonably reliable.â
Though no-doc loans are mostly gone, there are still some flexible mortgage options available for people who have problems proving their income.
The first step to getting a âstated-incomeâ loan in todayâs lending environment is to be the right type of borrower, and that means having a high credit score and a large down payment. These stated income loans arenât exactly like their no-documentation predecessors â they require a peek at a borrowerâs assets in order to satisfy the ability-to-repay requirement, usually in the form of bank statements or portfolio statements.
In rare cases, going through a private lender could also provide an alternative option. Individuals, estates and trusts that act as mortgage originators for three or fewer properties in a year can be exempt from the ability-to-repay requirements.
In either case, be prepared to pay a higher interest rate â because of the risk associated with this type of lending, borrowers may pay a higher interest rate when securing a stated-income loan.
âAs long as itâs used carefully, it can be a good loan product,â Kapfidze said.
Having a hard-to-prove income history doesnât have to stand in the way of your homeownership aspirations. There are other things you can do to better your chances of getting a loan.
Maintain a high credit score. By keeping your debts low, paying on time, and limiting the amount of new credit you apply for, you can achieve and maintain a high credit score. The higher your credit score, the lower the risk you are to a lender. A high credit score makes you more likely to get approved and to get more favorable loan terms.
Manage your debt-to-income ratio. Your debt-to-income ratio is a measure of your current monthly debt repayments against your income. The lower the ratio is, the more income you have to take on new debts, and the more favorably a lender will look at you. For a loan to meet the general qualified mortgage status, a borrower needs a debt to income ratio no higher than 43%.Â
Save up for a larger down payment. The higher a down payment you can afford, the less youâll need to borrow and the less risk the lender takes on; this makes approval easier.
Watch your business deductions. Business owners generally look to their expenses as a way of lowering their overall income and, as a result, their tax liability. But this lower income can actually hurt them when it comes to applying for a mortgage â instead, business owners may want to limit the types of deductions they take in the two years leading up to their home purchase.
Prepare your documents. If you already know that confirming your income is going to be difficult, consider spending some time prepping the documentation that underwriters may ask for. This includes gathering two years of tax returns, bank statements, portfolio statements, retirement account statements, and letters of explanation to describe reasons for credit report gaps and negative factors.
If youâre hoping for a resurgence of low- and no-documentation loans in the coming years, donât hold your breath. âIt was an innovation that proved itself to not work well under duress,â Kapfidze said.
But that doesnât mean lenders wonât develop more creative, yet compliant, ways to evaluate a borrowerâs income and determine their ability to repay. In the coming years, we could see more options â âI think there will probably be some innovations in that space,â Kapfidze said.