How Does Desktop Underwriting Work?

How the DU System Affects Potential Homebuyers

A couple looking at papers with a calculator.
A DU should be shared only if the information is favorable. Photo:

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As the housing market grows ever more competitive, buyers must find more ways to stand out. Home sellers have become more sophisticated about the process of selling a home. Many are asking borrowers to go that extra step and provide a desktop underwriting, or DU, alongside their purchase offer.

Before the internet came along, sellers might not have heard of a DU. This brief yet detailed profile of a buyer's financial qualifications provides a fairly accurate picture of whether that buyer can get financing to purchase the home.

What Is a Desktop Underwriting?

A DU presents a fairly complete financial picture of the borrower. More often known as "automated underwriting," a DU is a system that many lenders use to quickly review a borrower's financial qualifications and decide their loan terms.


Fannie Mae has approved and uses its own automated underwriting system called Desktop Underwriter. This is also sometimes used for FHA loans.

The software scans and reviews applicant information, such as credit score and cash reserves. It also finds the percentage of a borrower's gross monthly income that would be needed for the mortgage payment; this includes taxes and insurance. This number is often referred to as the housing expense ratio.

For instance, let's say that a borrower earns about $80,000 a year. This would be about $6,666.67 per month. A sum of $2,379.33 of PITI (including private mortgage insurance or PMI) would equate to a housing ratio of 35.69%. If this borrower also has revolving debt that adds up to an additional $252 a month, that would bring the back-end ratio, or the total expense ratio, to 39.47%.

DU systems can calculate this information quickly, assess a borrower's creditworthiness, and provide swift preapproval for specific loan terms.

Different Requirements for Different DUs

The DU may call for certain debts to be extinguished or paid off prior to closing. It could disclose a short sale or a foreclosure, which could present issues in getting a loan approved, even if all the terms have been met.

The DU will list most revolving creditors, along with the unpaid balances and monthly minimum payments each creditor expects the borrower to pay. It's a snapshot in time of the financial debt and assets as reported by certain vendors and the borrower on the loan application. This is called a 1003.

Sometimes a borrower's lender will pull a Loan Product Advisor (LPA), formerly known as Loan Prospector. This is the desktop underwriting used by Freddie Mac; its requirements are somewhat different. For instance, the two-year requirement for employment could be reduced to one year on an LPA.

If, for example, a daughter is purchasing a home with her parents, a lender might use the LPA. It allows all parties to qualify as though owner-occupied instead of nonowner-occupied. Owner-occupied interest rates are lower than nonowner-occupied rates.

How the DU Can Give Buyers an Edge

Buyers are often wary about multiple-offer situations. They sometimes suspect that the odds are against them or an agent is trying to sabotage a transaction, but multiple offers are fairly typical in seller's markets. If you're looking for a beautiful home, so are 20 other buyers. While not every buyer will tour the home you want to buy, enough of them will generate offers.

Just because there are multiple offers, that is no reason to give up and proclaim defeat. You can win a multiple-offer situation by simply standing apart from the other buyers. One way to make yourself distinguishable is to show the seller the money. Sellers want to know that the buyer is qualified to purchase their home and dedicated to the process.

A preapproval letter or prequalification letter is not always enough. They all say basically the same thing: that the buyer is qualified, providing the property checks out and adheres to guidelines. A DU is a way to show them the money. It goes beyond the money, which you can provide by including bank statements. It also shows your financial picture, including your FICO scores.


When a seller reads through a DU, they might not understand all of it, but they will know that a strong FICO score reflects high creditworthiness. On the other hand, if your FICO scores are lower than the norm, you might not want to provide that information to the seller. This strategy works best among highly qualified borrowers.

Even when a buyer puts down more than 20%, a seller may want a DU to prove they're reliable. Sometimes a borrower's credit is so bad that the only way a lender will qualify the buyer is if the buyer puts down a big chunk of change. A lower down payment is not always a reflection of poor credit.

The requirements to obtain financing without a down payment are generally much higher than for those putting down the minimum amount. The DU simply backs up your claim in writing. That means you can rest assured that another buyer won't automatically think to provide it. It gives you a leg up in a competitive market.

Key Takeaways

  • Desktop Underwriting (DU) is a system that lenders use to review a borrower's financial qualifications.
  • Lenders may also pull a Loan Product Advisor (LPA); this is desktop underwriting used by Freddie Mac.
  • Sending a DU with a purchase offer can help you stand out as long as you have strong credit.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is underwriting done by a computer?

Desktop Underwriting systems are done through a computer program that uses an algorithm to evaluate your financial information. This computer software can return a quick assessment of your creditworthiness. Actual loan approval, however, takes longer.

Can I be denied a loan even if I was approved initially?

Your loan can be denied even if it was conditionally approved through a pre-approval letter or through DU. This often happens if you haven't provided certain financial documents on time. It can also happen if you take out additional loans during the underwriting process, including making large purchases on your credit cards.

What is a good credit score for getting a mortgage?

For an FHA loan, you will need a minimum credit score of 500. For a conventional loan, minimum scores usually fall between 620 and 640. A higher credit score, however, will make you eligible for a better loan, including a lower interest rate.

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  1. Fannie Mae. "Taking the Mystery out of Your Mortgage."

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