You need a mortgage for a new home purchase or to refinance your existing home loan. It's easy enough to find a lender, either online or through referrals from realtors, friends and associates. But will the loan officer they assign you be suitable for your specific mortgage needs?

Finding the right loan officer is very important - even more important than choosing the lender itself. There are many types of mortgages and many types of borrowers with various mortgage needs. Do your specific needs match up with the skill set of the loan officer you end up working with? Is the loan officer skilled and knowledgeable with the type of mortgage program you are seeking?

How do you find a good mortgage loan officer? Most lenders you contact will assign a loan officer to you. But who is this person? When selecting a realtor, most people select one that they feel is equipped for their specific needs. Why wouldn't you do the same when selecting a loan officer?

Assessing your needs

The first step in finding a good loan officer, is determining what type of mortgage you need. And what type of credit score you have and the type of income you receive.

Do you need an FHA mortgage with a low down payment? Are you a first-time homebuyer? Are you looking for a Jumbo mortgage? Are you self-employed or are you paid on commissions or bonuses? Is your credit score low? You'll want a loan officer who's experienced in handling your type of situation.

When shopping for a good loan officer don't be afraid to interview them. Even if they have been referred by someone. We all have different situations and what might be a good lender/loan officer for one person, may not be a good fit for you.

Questions to ask

When interviewing loan officers, ask them how many years they have been a licensed mortgage loan officer. Ask for their NMLS number. Look them up on the Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System and see what their record shows or if they have any complaints listed: www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org

How long have they been with their current company (and previous companies)? Whatever mortgage program you are seeking, ask them how many of these type mortgages have they done?

What is their current processing time for your type mortgage? Will you be working with their loan processor or them throughout the process? Do they have a dedicated processor or rotating processors? What kind of working relationship do they have with their processor? How long have they had this processor?

Key skills: Tax returns and technology

How good are they at evaluating tax returns? Believe it or not, there are many loan officers who are not skilled at this. It can make or break the mortgage approval if this is not done correctly.

The qualifying income can be tricky to evaluate on tax returns. If a loan officer is not very knowledgeable, there could be mistakes made resulting in a loan denial or additional conditions. Or if they do not obtain the necessary documentation upfront from you, you may be scrambling at the end of the process to provide this.

What is their technical background? Today's loan officer needs to be tech savvy. Much of originating a mortgage requires complex software programs. If one is not skilled in this area, their time will be eaten up trying to navigate this aspect of the process. That means they will have less time to tend to your needs.

Are they good at customer service and communicating with all 3rd parties involved in the transaction? Communication with realtors, builders, title companies and appraisal companies is very important, as well as communication within their processing, underwriting and closing departments.

Good loan officers = good rates

A good loan officer will get you to the closing table in a timely manner. They will communicate with you throughout the process. They will make sure your rate lock is protected or extended if need be.

A good loan officer will usually be working for a good lender. Their livelihood depends on the lender they work for being proficient and competitive. If you find a good loan officer you most likely will also be finding a lender that has competitive mortgage rates and closing cost.

David Mully is president and CEO of Lender Insider, where he helps consumers become smarter mortgage shoppers find the right loan officer for their needs. With 26 years in the mortgage industry, he has worked as both a mortgage loan officer and in the business-to-business sector of the industry. He is the former author of the weekly "Mortgage Search" column for Observer and Eccentric Newspapers. You can read his blog at http://www.lenderinsider.com/blog.

Published on March 31, 2015