When people think about a career in real estate, they usually think about real estate agents. But there’s another role that plays an equally important role in helping people get into their dream homes: the mortgage loan originator (MLO).
Without a mortgage, most people could never afford to buy a house. But getting that huge chunk of financing — and navigating the underwriting process that it requires — is far from easy. Enter: MLOs. They come to homebuyers’ rescue to walk them through the steps required to get the loan they need to get their keys.
If you’re looking for a meaningful, potentially lucrative career, consider becoming a mortgage loan originator. Let's explore this more now.
An MLO can be either a person or an institution (like a bank) that issues funding for a home loan. That doesn’t mean MLOs have some cache of cash that they release whenever a would-be homebuyer asks.
Instead, MLOs need to make sure that the people to whom they issue mortgage loans will actually be able to pay the money back. At the same time, they need to double-check that they’re issuing funding to buy a house that’s actually worth it. To do that, they use a process called underwriting.
An MLO works with other parties, like a credit reporting agency to get the buyer’s credit score and an appraiser who confirms that the house is worth the price the buyers are agreeing to pay. But the core of their work centers around partnering with the homebuyers to make sure their finances are in order. That means requesting and reviewing things like bank statements, pay stubs, and tax returns. At every step of the process, the MLO also acts as the buyer’s guide, answering questions and helping them forward.
As a result, working as an MLO is both fulfilling and challenging. You need to be knowledgeable (fortunately, you’ll get education as part of the MLO licensing process) and a good communicator. Ultimately, as an MLO, you’ll have the power to help people get the mortgage they need to buy their dream home.
Remember how we said an MLO can be a person or institution? When the MLO is a person, that individual is called a mortgage loan officer. In other words, if you want to get licensed as an MLO and work for a specific company, you’ll work as a mortgage loan officer.
While a mortgage loan officer generally works with a single company, like a bank or a lender like Rocket Mortgage, a mortgage broker works independently. That means that either through a brokerage company that hires them or by starting their own mortgage brokerage, they can help homebuyers compare mortgages from multiple different lenders.
On average, MLOs earn a commission of about 1% on every mortgage they close. As a result, a variety of factors impact your annual earnings, including:
Generally, the longer you work as an MLO, the more your experience translates into higher earnings.
To give you a ballpark idea of what to expect, you can look to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They say that in 2020, the average MLO earned $63,960, which breaks down to $30.75 an hour. Ziprecruiter, on the other hand, puts the annual average salary closer to $75,000.
Remember, those are averages. MLOs earn a commission-based salary. That means you should expect some fluctuation and a slower start in the beginning, but it also means the power to bring home more is in your hands. While you might earn less in the early years of your career, many MLOs comfortably bring in six figures once they’ve built up enough industry expertise.
Beyond that, you can likely increase your take-home pay in non-commission ways. As you gain experience and prove yourself, your company may give you raises to increase your base pay. Paired with increasing commission, the sky’s the limit.
If you’re willing to put in the work to build your career in the mortgage industry, you could find yourself in a comfortable position doing rewarding work. As an MLO, you may be able to enjoy a flexible schedule, no cap on your earnings, and the opportunity to help people’s dreams come true. Plus, because people will always need to buy places to live, you’ll enjoy solid job security.
It’s worth noting, though, that mortgage loan originating is a highly regulated industry. While laws vary from state to state and by employing institution type, you will likely need to go through the MLO licensing process with the Nationwide Multistate Licensing System & Registry (NMLS). That means completing some pre-license education and passing an exam and a background check. To maintain your license, you’ll generally need to take some MLO continuing education periodically, too.
Plus, as with pretty much any other industry, you’ll need to find a company to employ you. Fortunately, in the mortgage world, you have a lot of options. You could work for a bank or credit union, for a company that specializes in mortgages (e.g., LoanDepot, Rocket Mortgage), or for a mortgage brokerage. You could also explore striking out on your own by starting your own mortgage brokerage firm, although you’ll generally want to gain a few years of industry experience first. With plenty of choices in front of you, you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding the right spot to start your career as an MLO.
Long story short, getting your MLO license and building your career will require some work. If you’re willing to put in the time and effort, though, you can find yourself on a lucrative, rewarding career path.