My Perfect Mortgage
Changing Careers and Mortgages What You Need to Know
7 minute read
December 6, 2022

There are all kinds of situations that can hurt your mortgage application if you are not careful. One of them is changing lines of work.

While it is generally acceptable to change jobs within the same field, jumping into an entirely different line of work can cause problems.

In some cases, it may be possible to work around those problems, but other times not. Here's what to watch for.

See if you're eligible to buy a home.

What’s in this article?

What Mortgage Lenders Look for in Your Employment
Factors That Hurt Your Employment Evaluation
The Job Stability Issue
The Income Reliability Issue
The Workaround for Changing Lines of Work

Time in line of work meaning for a mortgage

The ideal employment situation is that the person has been working in the same industry (a.k.a line of work) for at least the last two years. The employee should also show a pattern of either stable or increasing income.

It's also generally okay to make a job change or two during that two-year period, as long as you are working in the same field, and your income is increasing.

Sometimes, you can change careers but write a solid letter of explanation about how the two careers relate. For example, you were a computer science teacher, then you got hired as a software engineer. The same base knowledge is required for both careers. Detail in a letter to the underwriter how your former skills will help you succeed in the new career.

Factors that hurt your employment evaluation

Mortgage approval problems can arise when:

  • You make multiple changes in jobs over the two-year period without any increase in pay (may indicate the inability to hold a job)
  • The jobs are frequently followed by extended periods of unemployment (income stability issue)
  • You're showing a pattern of declining income (same issue)
  • You move into a new career field, or
  • You become self-employed

The first three issues relate to employment and income stability. The last two, however, are far more problematic. Either can result in a mortgage denial because the underwriter can't prove ongoing income. Let's take a look at each issue individually – employment stability and income reliability – since they’re the root of the problem.

Do you have job stability?

If you hold two or even three jobs in the same career field over a two-year period, the employment side of your application will generally receive favorable consideration. In fact, a pattern of changing jobs – but not too frequently – accompanied by higher income can be viewed as a positive.

Also, stair stepping to a higher income is common in certain fields, and particularly for people very early in their careers.

However, if you have started a new business or entered a completely new line of work, underwriting will be concerned that you have not demonstrated a long enough term in the field to represent stable employment.

When did you make a career change? If you make a career change at least one year before applying for a mortgage, it will be far less of a problem. The lender will be able to recognize some level of stability. But if you changed careers two or three months before applying, the lender may determine that they cannot adequately assess the stability of your employment.

Self-employment: The situation is more difficult if the career change moves you into self-employment. Mortgage lenders use the same criteria for the self-employed, which is that they look for a minimum of two years for you to be in business. Though they may sometimes make exceptions if your business is less than two years old (but never less than one year), your entire mortgage application will be nearly impossible to approve with less than one year of filed tax returns showing adequate income for the business. And if you changed careers and became self-employed simultaneously, you'll almost certainly need two years' filed tax returns showing sufficient income to be approved.

The income reliability issue

Whenever you change careers or start a new business in the months leading up to your mortgage application, it presents a definite problem for the lender. It's not always possible to adequately assess income reliability from new ventures.

If you make a career change a few weeks or months before applying for a loan, or worse, while you are applying for a loan, the lender will have no way to know that you have stable income.

This is a bigger problem when it comes to self-employment. If your business is so new that you have not yet completed an income tax return, the lender will have virtually no way to objectively measure your income.

But even if you move into a salaried position in a new career field, the lender will have no way of knowing if you will be successful in that field. The track record is insufficient for the lender to be able to make a determination as to the continuation of your income.

Far worse is if you have made two or more career changes in the two years before application. For example, you start out as a teacher, then try your hand at car sales, and then move into the insurance industry. The lender may decide that your employment and income situations are entirely unstable.

In such cases, the lender may require that you make a much larger down payment, or they may simply decline the loan outright for lack of both employment and income stability.

The workaround for changing lines of work

All of that tells you what the problems are relating to changing lines of work. But there may be ways to overcome the obstacles that come with a career change.

Here are some possibilities:

Delay your mortgage application. Right after a career change is not a good time to apply for a mortgage. If you have changed careers, and are paid by salary, you should wait at least one year after the change. But if you have moved into self-employment, you should wait until at least two years have passed.

Provide strong employment documentation. This won't help if you have started a new business, but it may work if you're in a salaried position. In addition to the usual employment documentation, such as recent pay stubs and W-2s, get a letter from the new employer affirming your employment stability, as well as an explanation of the specific skills that you bring to the new career. For instance, you were an electrical engineer, then you became an editor for an electrical engineering magazine. A persuasive letter from the employer can only help.

Make sure you have excellent credit. This point cannot be underestimated. If you already demonstrate employment or income instability as a result of a career change, a fair or poor credit rating will literally be a deal-killer. Your credit should be good or excellent.

Make a large down payment. Much like poor credit, a minimum down payment will only hurt your case. You should plan to put down a minimum of 20%. Also, the funds for the down payment should come from your own savings. Using a gift or a second mortgage probably won't help.

Have plenty of cash reserves. These are the funds that you will have remaining after purchasing the home. As a general rule, lenders require that you have cash equal to at least two months of the new house payment in reserve after closing. But if you have changed lines of work, you may need considerably more. Showing a full year's worth of new house payments will go a long way toward helping your case, as neither demonstrates financial strength.

Make sure your new house payment isn't increasing dramatically. Lenders will typically find it unacceptable if you have entered a new career field, and the new house payment is 50% higher than your current one. That will represent a double risk, and can lead to a decline. Make sure that the new house payment will be increasing by no more than 10%. A stable or declining house payment will be even better.

That's the 4-1-1 on changing lines of work before applying for a mortgage. Yes, it can be a definite problem. But if you handle it the right way, you can get the mortgage loan approval that you are looking for.

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Our advise is based on experience in the mortgage industry and we are dedicated to helping you achieve your goal of owning a home. We may receive compensation from partner banks when you view mortgage rates listed on our website.