How We Determine the Best California Lenders
California homebuyers have no shortage of mortgage lenders to choose from. That’s why it can be hard to make a decision when it comes time to apply for a loan. After all, it’s likely the largest amount of money you’ll borrow in your lifetime. Your mortgage payments will tie you to your lender or servicer for the next 15, 20 or 30 years, so of course you want to make the right choice. SmartAsset can help your decision. We evaluated lenders on a variety of factors to find you the best California has to offer.
To find the best lenders in California, SmartAsset’s team of personal finance experts researched a number of national and regional mortgage lenders, including retail banks and mortgage-only lenders. The team rated each lender on factors including customer satisfaction and service, California presence, transparency, web experience, rates, fees, preapproval process and loan availability.
|SoFi Mortgage |
|Best Overall|| ||Compare Rates|
|Fremont Bank |
|Best Customer Service|| ||Compare Rates|
|Rocket Mortgage |
|Best Online Lender|| ||Compare Rates|
|SoFi Mortgage |
|High Income Buyers|| ||Compare Rates|
Best Overall California Lender: U.S. Bank
SmartAsset’s overall top pick for best California mortgage lender is U.S. Bank for a number of reasons. For one, it has retail bank locations across the state and offers plenty of loan officers to choose from. You’ll also find a variety of home loans that fit different needs, including conventional fixed-rate loans and adjustable-rate loans, FHA loans, VA loans, new construction loans, investment property loans and refinances. Mortgage rates are middle of the pack, and origination fees are on the lower end of the spectrum.
U.S. Bank offers all the benefits of a full-service bank including a mobile app and well-designed website. You can use one bank for all your accounts if you choose, including checking, savings, credit card, personal loans and more. While you don’t have to be a U.S. Bank customer to apply for a mortgage, it can help speed up the process if your accounts are under the same bank. Regardless, U.S. Bank allows homebuyers to apply for prequalification online on their own. If you prefer to call or visit a branch in person to get started, you can do that too. The company has very good customer service and customer satisfaction scores, especially compared to other large lenders.
Where U.S. Bank falls short is in its product offering. You won’t be able to find USDA loans at this company. However, you can always use Rocket Mortgage, our best online lender to apply for that type of loan. Otherwise, U.S.Bank doesn’t have much on the negative side.
Best Lender for Customer Service in California: Fremont Bank
Fremont Bank, headquartered in Fremont, California, has the lowest complaint to loan originations ratio out of all the lenders we researched. This California-based bank offers a number of advantages. You can choose from conventional loans, jumbo loans, FHA loans, HomeReady® loans, no closing cost loans, refinances and home equity loans. Rates and fees are competitive and Fremont Bank has the advantage of offering full-service retail banking products along with mortgage loans.
Another advantage of Fremont Bank is that you can find locations across the Silicon Valley/Bay Area region. If you don’t want to apply in person, you can contact the bank over the phone or online through a request form. As a regional bank, you’re likely to receive more personalized and timely service than some of the larger, national banks.
However, with a smaller bank there are a few disadvantages. For one, Fremont doesn’t offer VA or USDA loans. Another disadvantage is that the bank doesn’t offer online prequalification. You’ll have to speak to a representative to get started. Along with no web-based prequalification is a website that seems slightly dated. It can be hard to find all the mortgage content you need to make a decision and understand the process. The upside is that the content is there at all. Unlike some regional lenders, you’ll find an article library, videos ranging from education for first-time homebuyers to what an adjustable-rate mortgage is, checklists and mortgage calculators. Fremont Bank is also transparent: you can easily find current rates on the main mortgage page.
Best Online Lender for California: Rocket Mortgage
The top online mortgage lender across the country is Rocket Mortgage. It’s also the best online lender for Californians looking for a company that’s established and has a reputation of excellent customer service. While you won’t necessarily find the lowest rates with this company, you will find a wide range of loan types to choose from and an optimized online experience.
With Rocket Mortgage, you can get approved for a mortgage in minutes. If you opt to speak to a mortgage representative over the phone with Rocket Mortgage, you also won’t have to wait long. The company prides itself on speedy customer service and ongoing satisfaction.
You can self-educate yourself about the mortgage process and look for answers to your questions on Zing!, Rocket Mortgage's personal finance blog. There are also guides, tools and resources that help you learn how mortgages impact your finances. The company's site has current rates and a run down of each loan type offered, including conventional, jumbo, 30-year and 15-year fixed-rate, adjustable-rate, FHA, VA, USDA and refinance loans. You also have the option for a YOURgage, the company’s flexible term mortgage loan.
As for downsides, Rocket Mortgage's rates can be higher than other lenders as we mentioned before. The company also isn’t tied to a retail banking operation, so there are no home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) or home equity loans. You also can’t bundle all your banking needs with one lender as Rocket Mortgage only offers home loans. If that’s what you’re looking for, U.S. Bank, our No.1 pick, is a good option or Chase Bank.
Best Lender for Californian High-Income Homebuyers: SoFi
If you live in Silicon Valley, you might already be familiar with SoFi, a startup mortgage lender that targets high-income tech workers. Headquartered in San Francisco, the company was founded in 2011 and has grown quickly, thanks to $2.2 billion in funding. SoFi is an attractive mortgage lender option for those who fit in their ideal demographics: high-earning, low down payment homebuyers. You won’t find low-income options at this lender, such as FHA, USDA or other government-backed loan programs. The company only deals with conventional and jumbo loans in fixed-rate and adjustable-rate terms for home purchases and refinances.
One upside of SoFi is that if you're a member, you'll receive a 50% savings on origination fees. You also can qualify for both conventional and jumbo mortgages with just a 10% down payment. Furthermore, jumbo loans up to $3 million won't come with private mortgage insurance (PMI), provided you meet the 10% down minimum. On conventional loans, the minimum needed to avoid PMI is 20% down.
To get started with the company, you can get your rates in two minutes after filling out a prequalification application. Since the firm is a startup, the web experience is pretty top-notch. The site is well-designed and optimized for mobile, and displays crucial information such as rates, fees, prequalification process, FAQs and customer reviews.
Best Overall Lender of 2018: Chase
Best Lender for First-Time Homebuyers: Rocket Mortgage
Best VA Lender: USAA