How to Become a Mortgage Loan Officer:
The Definitive Guide

Are you interested in learning about how to become a mortgage officer? Known in the industry as a mortgage loan originator, or MLO, these professionals play a key part in the process of helping buyers find homes that are right for them — typically, they are the primary contact person when a borrower completes a mortgage transaction.

More specifically, they help buyers find home loans that are right for them — mortgages that fit their budget and will allow them to stay in the homes they purchase for the long term.


Homebuyers' Dream Home

MLOs do all of the following:

  • Identify potential homebuyers through advertising, connections, seminars, and other means
  • Compile all the borrower information necessary for a loan application
  • Present borrowers with loan options that make sense for them
  • Keep accurate, thorough records on mortgage transactions
  • Coordinate with other mortgage professionals like underwriters and appraisers

Not only do MLOs support homebuyers, they serve a vital function in the real estate industry. With responsible MLOs, mortgage fraud and foreclosures drop significantly. Great MLOs are on the front lines in maintaining a stable home-buying market.

Many people find this to be an attractive career path. Mortgage loan officer is listed #14 in U.S. News & World Report's rankings for business jobs. The median salary for the position is $64,660 and it doesn't require any graduate-level education.

MLO Career Path

Before You Get Licensure

If you want to become a mortgage loan officer, you probably have a number of questions about what the position entails.

Let's go over everything you need to think about before you close your first loan.

Personal Qualities

In terms of personal qualities, MLOs need to be detail-oriented people.

As an MLO, you will be collecting a range of information from potential borrowers and submitting this information to lenders. This information needs to be handled carefully and presented accurately. Staying organized is critical because the clients you work with will often be making the most important buying decision of their lives.

It is also beneficial if you are an outgoing person. You will be working with a wide range of people, and referrals tend to make up a large portion of your business. Making a good impression is key.

Knowledge of the real estate industry — or at least willingness to learn — is another important quality. MLOs need to stay up to date on how mortgage lending is evolving. New products, innovations, and regulations are always part of the mix.

If you are the kind of person who is always learning something new, you may want to become a mortgage loan originator.

Review Your History

MLOs deal with potential homebuyers' sensitive financial information every day. They also act as a liaison between lending institutions and potential borrowers. Lenders need to have loans repaid; borrowers need to stay in their homes — and the MLO is a cornerstone to ensuring that both are in the best situation possible.

For anyone who wants to become a loan originator, it is a career that requires you to have financial character and stability. This is to prevent bad actors from becoming involved in the industry, which was one of the main problems that led to the 2008 financial collapse.

This means you need to meet certain financial requirements and have a clean criminal history. Any of the following scenarios are likely to result in licensure rejection:

  • Criminal conviction related to fraud
  • Poor credit history
  • History of foreclosure or other significant unpaid debts
  • Previously revoked licensure in other states

Loan Officer Personality, Character, History

It is always best to disclose as much as possible on your application. There are instances where regulators will accept an applicant even though they have potential red flags. For example, many states have legal exceptions for applicants with unpaid medical debt. A criminal conviction unrelated to fraud, such as a DUI, also might not result in licensure rejection.


At this point, you might be asking the question: how long does it take to become a loan officer? The answer is that it all depends on how you approach it, but rest assured if you begin investing time and money in the process, you will want to complete it.

Doing your research before diving into pre-licensure courses is important.

The National Mortgage Licensing Service (NMLS) is the main regulatory body for MLOs and has a wealth of useful information, including state-specific requirements for licensure. Here at The Coop, we have information on everything from Online CE and Live CE to a community of professionals tackling a range of questions and a list of resources for MLOs. Taking the time to understand exactly how to become a mortgage loan originator in the first place will mean you are confident going into training.

One piece of good news is that you don't need a specific degree to become involved in this field. MLOs typically come from a background in business, banking, economics, or finance, but it isn't required. Instead, MLOs must obtain licensure through passing a test, taking pre-licensure education courses, and submitting information for approval by the NMLS.

Getting Licensure

Let's say you have decided mortgage loan origination is the career path for you. What are your next steps?

The first and most important step is obtaining a valid mortgage origination license. It is illegal to practice mortgage loan origination without a state-issued license. The following will detail the steps you need to take for licensure.

Mortgage Loan Originator Licensure Requirements

The SAFE Act

One thing to remember is that each state has specific guidelines that apply to MLO licensure, and state agencies are the ones to actually issue licenses.

But there are a number of requirements listed in federal legislation that are applicable across the board. It is worthwhile to become familiar with the federal Secure and Fair Enforcement Act for Mortgage Licensing of 2008 (i.e. SAFE Act), a major bill passed by Congress in the wake of the mortgage lending crisis.

Per the SAFE ACT and the NMLS, MLOs are required to:

  • Obtain licensing from their respective states
  • Register with the NMLS
  • Provide authorization to obtain a credit report
  • Provide a variety of identifying information
  • Provide fingerprints for a criminal background check
  • Provide a financial services employment history for the past 10 years
  • Disclose any financial regulatory body charges against them
  • Attest to the completeness and accuracy of the information provided

Pre-Licensure Education

One key step in how to become a mortgage originator is to complete courses as required by the NMLS. Applicants are required to take 20 hours of pre-licensure education courses, including the following:

  • Three hours of Federal law and regulations
  • Three hours of ethics that shall include instruction on fraud, consumer protection, and fair lending issues
  • Two hours of training related to lending standards for the nontraditional mortgage product market
  • Twelve hours of undefined instruction on mortgage origination

In addition to this, each state has specific requirements for education, typically on state-specific topics. This can range from education on alternative lending products like reverse mortgages, to how to spot red flags on a mortgage application.

Applicants should refer to their respective states' guidelines on how to become a licensed loan officer.

SAFE MLO Testing

Applicants for MLO licensure are required to pass the SAFE MLO test with a score of at least 75%. The test evaluates candidates on their knowledge of state and federal mortgage lending law. Many states have adopted the Uniform State Test, which applicants only need to take once. This makes it easier for licensees to apply for licensure in other states.

Per SAFE Act requirements, there is a waiting period between retaking the SAFE MLO test. On the first and second failures, applicants must wait 30 days each between test retakes. If an individual fails the test three times, they must wait 180 days before taking the test again.

NMLS Requirements

Some other NMLS requirements include:

  • Sponsorship: An individual's MLO activities must be sponsored and supervised by their employer. State regulators must approve sponsorships.
  • NMLS Unique Identifier: An NMLS Unique Identifier is a number permanently assigned to each company, branch, and individual with an NMLS account. This system was designed for the purpose of better tracking each company and licensee, and is required to appear in all advertisements for mortgage origination services.
  • Payment of fees: Applicants are required to pay fees in order to obtain licensure. The amount of these fees varies by state.

After You Get Licensure

Once you receive your license, you can begin work as a home loan originator. Some MLOs work independently, but newbies often prefer to begin with an established business that has an existing client base, such as a bank, mortgage lending institution, or credit union.

With all the bureaucracy involved in the licensure process, it is important to keep your focus on the goal you had in mind when you first started looking into how to become a loan officer — helping people move into their dream homes.

MLO Helping Homebuyers

Buying property can be a complicated and stressful process for your average person, but a qualified and supportive MLO can make the experience easier, allowing homebuyers to enjoy their investment with the knowledge they have secured the best home loan possible.

The work doesn't end here, though. It is important that MLOs keep up with professional development to keep their license and stay current with mortgage lending practices.

Maintaining Active Licensure

Once you have a license, you must meet requirements to maintain active licensure status. An active status shows you meet all requirements of the federal registration process. You will need to renew your license annually, take continuing education courses, and keep all information filed with the NMLS up to date.

For example, if you plan to switch and work for a new company, you have to inform the NMLS of this move. The NMLS website includes helpful resources for licensure renewal, including handbooks, checklists, and information on fees, deadlines, and other requirements.

Continuing Education

MLOs are required to complete eight hours of NMLS-approved continuing education annually to qualify for license renewal. It is the MLOs responsibility to complete this education and the renewal process. If you fail to do so, you could end up losing your license.

NMLS Continuing Education

Continuing education is required to include:

  • Three hours of federal law and regulations
  • Two hours of ethics instruction on fraud, consumer protection, and fair lending issues
  • Two hours of training related to lending standards for the nontraditional mortgage product market
  • One hour of undefined instruction on mortgage origination, which may be fulfilled by completing a state-specific course depending on the state's requirements

Keeping Up-to-Date NMLS Records

There are certain times when you are required to proactively alert the NMLS and update your records. This involves updating the NMLS on major changes, such as:

  • Change of Employment: When you move to a different company and are now sponsored by a new company
  • Arrest: Any legal troubles
  • Bankruptcy: Major financial difficulties such as bankruptcy

Get "The LO Down"

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