California Mortgage Lender: 5 Best Lenders & Criteria
Owning a home in California is a dream for many people. The state is famous for its fair weather, diverse population, buzzing food scene, and thrilling nightlife. But before you can purchase a property, you need to take out a mortgage. To do this, you have to compare mortgage rates, research loan programs, and get to know the best California mortgage lenders.
Thankfully, we've done all the hard work for you. If you're looking for the best mortgage lender in the Golden State, read on. Not only will we share insider info on the best lending companies, but we'll also provide criteria to help you decide which one matches your individual needs.
How To Choose A Mortgage Lender
Before we share our top picks, let's discuss the key factors we consider when choosing a lender in California. We base our recommendations based on the following: loan options, affordability, convenience, customer service, and satisfaction, as well as availability.
The best mortgage lenders in California are those that offer you plenty of options. Here are some of the most common loan products offered:
Conventional loans: Conventional mortgages are those that are not backed by any government entity. Because of that, they come with stricter credit requirements and a higher minimum down payment amount. Still, conventional loans are advantageous because they can be used to finance a wider range of properties, like vacation homes or investment properties.
Conforming loans: Conforming loans are those that fall within the maximum borrowing limit set by the Federal Housing Finance Agency. In California, the one-unit limit is $548,250 for most counties. Some areas, like Los Angeles County and San Francisco County, have higher limits.
Jumbo mortgage: This type of mortgage comes with a loan amount that exceeds the borrowing limit for conforming loans. You can use a jumbo loan to finance larger properties or homes in upscale neighborhoods. Jumbo mortgages typically come with higher mortgage rates because they carry greater risk for the lender.
Fixed-rate loans: Fixed-rate loans are those that have an unchanging interest rate throughout the life of the loan. Typically, you can choose from 10-, 20-, or 30-year fixed-rate terms. Most customers prefer fixed-rate mortgages because of their predictability.
Adjustable-rate mortgages: ARMs have a previously agreed-upon fixed rate for a given period. After that period ends, the interest rate will be adjusted annually based on a market index that the lender chooses. Usually, you can pick from 3/1, 5/1, 7/1, and 10/1 terms. The first number represents the fixed-rate period, while the second one represents the number of times that your mortgage rate can change in one year.
Government-backed loans: Government-backed loans are mortgages that are insured by the United States federal government. While the government doesn't offer loans directly, it partners with private lenders to offer these loans. Government-backed mortgages are ideal for customers with less-than-ideal credit or those who have low-to-moderate income.
Mortgage refinancing: Refinancing means paying off your existing mortgage and replacing it with a new home loan. Most people do refinancing to renegotiate their loan terms, consolidate debt, or cash in on their home equity.
Since California mortgage rates change regularly, it's hard to gauge a lender's affordability based on this metric. Instead, we look at other aspects that make homeownership more affordable or accessible for borrowers. We consider the following:
Minimum FICO credit score: Most lenders require a minimum score of 620. However, some lenders can also give opportunities to borrowers with less-than-ideal credit. These lenders consider alternative credit data, like your payment history for your utility bills.
Minimum down payment: Typically, mortgage lending institutions require borrowers to put down 20% of the purchase price when buying a house. However, some companies offer loans to borrowers with as low as a 3% down payment, as long as they pay for private mortgage insurance (PMI).
Closing costs: Homebuyers are usually required to pay closing costs, which can reach 3-5% of the loan amount. This should cover application fees, attorney fees, and more. As even a small percentage can cost thousands of dollars, the lower the closing costs, the more affordable the lender.
First-time homebuyer programs: Each state offers programs that make homeownership more affordable – the best lenders are the ones that partner with the government to offer these programs. Some lenders also offer special down payment assistance programs for first-timers.
Here are some of the factors we consider when assessing a lender's application process:
Does the lender have an online application system? It's great if people who are busy and live far away from lenders have the option to apply through the lender's website. The site should also be fast and easy to navigate.
Is the mortgage lender transparent about their rates? The best mortgage lenders post their rates on their websites. They should also openly provide information about the charges that borrowers can expect, such as loan origination fees.
How fast does the lender process applications? Mortgage lenders should be able to process and close a home loan application within 30 to 50 days.
Customer Service And Satisfaction
To assess a lender's customer service, we refer to two reputable agencies: JD Power the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
JD Power is a research firm that releases annual customer satisfaction studies for consumers. For lending companies, we refer to JD Power's Primary Mortgage Satisfaction and Mortgage Origination Satisfaction Studies.
Meanwhile, the BBB is an organization that rates companies on their trustworthiness and business performance. It assigns a letter grade to companies based on several factors, including the company's responsiveness to customer complaints.
Some borrowers prefer speaking with a loan officer in person or over the phone because that makes it easier to ask questions or clarify details about the home loan. With that said, we gave preference to lenders that have branch offices in California. We also made sure to choose lenders that are licensed to originate loans in the state.
5 Best California Mortgage Lenders
Based on the criteria above, here are our top picks for the best California mortgage lenders:
1.Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans: Best For First-Time Buyers
Min. credit rating: 620 for conventional, 580 for FHA
Min. down payment: 3%
Loan types offered:
BBB Rating: A+
JD Power rating: 883 (highest in the 2020 Primary Mortgage Origination Satisfaction Study)
Overview: Rocket Mortgage is an online lender managed by Quicken Loans. The company has a fast and powerful website that can estimate the loan amount you can qualify for within minutes. It also has an automated underwriting system that allows you to secure a preapproval letter instantly. Rocket Mortgage's simple mortgage application process, coupled with excellent customer service, makes the company the best pick for first-time homeowners.
However, since Rocket Mortgage doesn't have a brick-and-mortar location in California or anywhere in the US, it's more suitable for tech-savvy, independent individuals who would rather apply for loan products online. Also, keep in mind that getting customized mortgage rates from Rocket Mortgage requires a hard credit check, which can lower your credit score by a few points.
Availability: Available in all 50 states
2. Carrington Mortgage Services: Best For Borrowers With Low Credit Rating
Min. credit rating: 500
Min. down payment: 3% for conventional, as low as 0% for USDA and VA loans
Overview: Carrington Mortgage Services is our top pick for borrowers in California with low credit scores. The company considers alternative credit data, like bank statements and rent payments. It also offers several government-insured mortgage options, enabling people to secure a mortgage without making a down payment.
The lender's website includes a calculator that allows borrowers to see the latest mortgage rates and calculate monthly payments. Compared to other lenders, though, the company charges higher rates and fees.
Keep in mind that you need to speak with a loan officer to get sample rates. The company's online system also doesn't include automated loan tracking.
Availability: Available in all 50 states, plus DC, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands
Overview: Guaranteed Rate is a lender that promises the most convenient online experience for customers. The company posts detailed mortgage rates online, making it easy for potential customers to shop around and learn about their options. The website also offers people the ability to upload and sign loan documents digitally.
If you have a high credit score, you may be eligible to get a lower rate. You also don't need to give out your personal information to get personalized California mortgage rates.
In 2021, Guaranteed Rate opened a new office in the Bay Area to support its expansion in Northern California. This makes it easy for them to communicate with people from the state.
Availability: Available in all 50 States and Washington, DC
4. Navy Federal: Best For VA Loans
Min. credit rating: 660
Min. down payment: 0%
Loan types offered:
BBB Rating: N/A
JD Power rating: N/A
Overview: Navy Federal is among the top lenders for VA mortgages in California. This type of loan is available exclusively to military members and their surviving spouses. People who have already used up all their VA loan benefits may also qualify for a Military Choice Loan.
One of the advantages of choosing Navy Federal is its mortgage application process. You can get preapproved immediately online or you can apply at a branch in California. The company also considers alternative credit data, making it possible for people with low or no credit scores to secure home financing.
Another advantage of choosing Navy Federal is that it offers lower rates compared to most lenders. If you're looking for an affordable home loan, this is a great option to consider.
Availability: All 50 States
5. New American Funding: Best For Hispanic Clients
Min. credit rating: 620 for conventional loans, 640 for FHA, VA, USDA
Min. down payment: 3%
Loan types offered:
BBB Rating: A+
JD Power rating: N/A
Overview: New American Funding is a family-owned national lender from Orange County, California. The company offers a wide variety of loan products, including a full suite of government-insured mortgages. It also has Spanish-speaking staff, making it a top choice for Hispanic customers.
Like most lenders in California, New American Funding has a fully online mortgage application process. You can get rates, upload documents, and track your loan application through the company's system.
One advantage of choosing New American Funding is that the company considers alternative credit data. Even if you don't have a long credit history, you can still apply as a potential borrower. The company also works with the California state government to offer DP assistance programs.
Availability: Available in 49 states and DC
Choosing the best California mortgage lender can be difficult and time-consuming. There are so many factors to consider: mortgage and refinance rates, origination fees, and level of service. But if you narrow your options to the lenders on our list, you're sure to find a company that can meet your needs.
If you want to learn more about getting a mortgage in California, get in touch with Wesley Mortgage, LLC. Our mortgage brokers all the resources and information you need to finance your next home purchase, including: