Home-buyer rejection rates ranged from 11% to 34% in 2012 at the 10 largest mortgage lenders, according to data released this month by the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council. Those who applied for a mortgage at SunTrust faced the lowest rejection rate—3,831 out of 34,749 applications were denied—while those at Chase encountered the highest rejection rate, with 26,894 out of 80,036 (a third) not passing muster. Despite the fact that large lenders sell most of their mortgages to government agencies, many require applicants to clear hurdles that surpass federal guidelines, and they do so in degrees that vary by institution, resulting in confusion for applicants. Home buyers who get rejected for a mortgage at one large bank could get approved at its competitor—assuming they know not to give up the search. “It absolutely makes a difference where you go,” says Stu Feldstein, president at SMR Research, a mortgage-research firm.
Since the housing downturn, most banks have been selling the mortgages that they originate to government-backed agencies. These groups, including Fannie and Freddie, set the minimum guidelines—including credit score, down payment, and debt-to-income ratio requirements—which lenders must follow when determining whether to approve a mortgage applicant. Housing experts say if large lenders stuck to that rubric, they would all have similar rejection rates. They vary widely, however, in part because most lenders add an extra layer of requirements on top of the federal guidelines, says Feldstein.