The Mysterious Underwriters

Unearthing the elusive people behind the money

If your loan application is rejected or you’re approved at an interest rate higher than expected, it may be because of an underwriter’s decision. An underwriter can save you or cost you thousands of dollars each year. They tell your mortgage lender at what interest rate they’ll approve your loan; they also tell your auto insurance provider whether you should be given substantial discounts, if your premium should double, or if you should be sent packing.

An underwriter’s duties vary depending on the industry. Insurance underwriters identify and calculate a policyholder’s risk, determine appropriate premium rates, and write the policies to cover the risks. Mortgage underwriters calculate the risks of potential borrowers by assessing, among other things, credit reports, income, and type of loan. The risk assessment is then compared to past borrowers to determine how likely you are to make payments on time.

“Mortgage underwriters are necessary to ensure the accuracy of the information in a loan application and objectively determine a borrower’s classification for a particular loan program,” says Brad German, director of public relations for Freddie Mac, a stockholder-owned corporation that buys mortgages from lenders.

“Auto insurance underwriters pull detailed motor vehicle reports; check past tickets; review accidents, moving violations, and DUIs; and review type of occupation and how far work is from home,” says Stephanie D. Watkins, an office representative for State Farm Insurance. “For homeowners policies, they check for claims filed with other carriers within the last five years and conduct follow-ups on the condition of homes before renewals. They then determine what the premiums will be or if they will deny coverage.”

Underwriters are strictly “numbers people” — they use a computerized database to make all of their initial assessments. So if you’re approved at a high interest rate or denied altogether, it’s not personal.

Technology is vital to the insurance underwriter’s job. They analyze information and use supplemental reports from loss-control consultants, medical forms, and actuarial studies. The systems typically analyze and rate insurance applications, recommend acceptance or denial, and adjust the premium rates with the risks.

Don’t count on actually meeting or talking to an underwriter. “Usually, you will not communicate with an underwriter. They talk to us, and we talk to you,” says Watkins. You can dispute an underwriter’s decision, though. Underwriters have made changes through agents and representatives who speak to them on the customer’s behalf. To ensure that you get the best rate on policies and loans or to understand what makes a potential borrower attractive to an underwriter, log on to www.freddiemac.com.

Mortgage Underwriter’s Checklist
Want to be attractive on paper? Here’s how to receive a favorable assessment:

  • Fill in all pertinent application information such as address and employment for the last two years and income from all sources. Have detailed records of assets and liabilities.
  • Choose the right loan for your financial status such as fixed or adjustable rate mortgages, veterans programs, or jumbo loans. Consider loans available for those with less-than-perfect credit and bankruptcy filers.
  • Respond quickly to requests for additional information.
  • Don’t change jobs before or during
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