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The mortgage industry has experienced some significant changes in the last couple of years. Consumers looking for a mortgage now have fewer reasons to deal with a bank, mainly due to the proliferation of alternative lenders. These are companies that don’t function as traditional banks, as they don’t take deposits from their customers and usually focus on lending.

While the mortgage industry is worth $1.5 trillion, major banks have started distancing themselves from it after stricter regulations were put in place right after the 2008 economic crisis. Alternative lenders have stepped in to take their place and are now the preferred choice by many first-time buyers and existing homeowners looking to refinance. They offer some advantages over dealing with a bank, such as more transparency regarding mortgage rates and a faster way to complete the entire process, the majority of which can now be done online.

If you’re shopping for a mortgage, it’s always good to know what the new alternatives to banks are. You will find non-bank lenders that specialize in working with consumers having less than stellar credit, online mortgage marketplaces and brokers that help shoppers find the lowest rates and online lenders that aim to speed up the entire lending process, sometimes having the ability to handle the entire application online.

You Can Now Choose From More Mortgage Options Than Ever

According to information from the Federal Reserve, 45 percent of home loans are now obtained from alternative mortgage lenders. Competition in the market is growing and so is innovation. The loan process is now faster, as many lenders move to electronic submission of documents, though in most cases you will still have to visit an attorney or notary to sign documents in person.

Of course, you still have the option of dealing with a bank if that’s what you prefer. But you also have access to many alternatives that just weren’t there a decade ago.

Credit Score Not High Enough? Alternative Lenders May Help

In the aftermath of the 2008 housing practices, the nation’s biggest banks, such as Wells Fargo and Bank of America, have all been hit with lawsuits and fines as a result of questionable lending practices. Increasing regulation of the mortgage industry has followed, which has led to the giants of the finance industry to issue home loans only to the most qualified categories of applicants.

However, this doesn’t mean that prospective buyers with lower credit scores are left without any option. Alternative lenders have stepped up to the plate and are now taking on an ever-growing number of applications for FHA loans, which are often used by first-time buyers and people with credit problems.

Many of these non-bank lenders are smaller, local companies that don’t have to deal with the restrictive regulations that big banks do. The role of credit unions in mortgage lending is growing too. In 2015, they originated over 8 percent of mortgages in the United States, which is double the figure from just five years prior.

Online Lenders Make Getting Your Mortgage Faster Than Ever Before

If you want your mortgage application to be processed as fast as possible, many online lenders now offer innovative services that streamline mortgage lending. Quicken Loans, the largest online lender, now offers a “Rocket Mortgage” service, which offers mortgage or refinance application decisions online in as little as eight minutes.

Mortgage Middlemen Find the Best Rates for You

Many tech startups have recently entered the mortgage industry, not as lenders, but rather as middlemen that connect consumers with lenders that offer products suitable for them. This is how online mortgage marketplaces, like Zillow and LendingTree, operate.

They analyze the information you provide them and return a list of several mortgage lenders, along with corresponding rates. You then choose one or more lenders to continue your application with. The marketplace you used receives a commission for the lead from the lender.

Although most online mortgage brokers rely on an automated process, some offer more personalized services, working closely with both the applicant and lender. This is the case with Sindeo, an online mortgage broker that provides a kind of mortgage “concierge service.” You will get to speak to an advisor that will help you choose the best loan for your needs, in addition to ensuring that the application process with the lender goes smoothly.