Getting a Mortgage When You Have Assets But No Income

Most early retirees have no pension, annuity, or Social Security income. Even if you’re a traditional retiree, you might have only one of those income streams. But what if your lifestyle plans require a home purchase? Even if you have the savings to afford a house, you might not necessarily be able to liquidate enough of those assets quickly in a tax efficient manner. So you’ll need a mortgage. But most conventional mortgage loans are based on income. If you can’t show income, how do you go about getting a mortgage?

When we retired, downsized, and moved west I swore I’d never own another house. My post about our move across the country spells out the high quality of life we’ve achieved as renters — without the obligations of home ownership. And my article about renting vs. buying — one of the most popular on this site — lays out a procedure for analyzing the rent vs. buy decision. It’s a financial analysis that, in today’s world, is by no means guaranteed to support buying as the superior option….

But I have never denied the emotional benefits of home ownership. There is an element of control and security in owning the property where you live. I’m not immune to that feeling. We owned our home for the 17 years we were raising our son in Tennessee, and were content. But, for the past four years, other factors have clearly made renting the better choice for us.

Now, the scales may be tipping as we get visibility into later stages of retirement. The prospect of home ownership has again dawned. Up to now, we have loved our vagabond lifestyle, traveling the west from our home base in Santa Fe. Buying a home now would be a tacit acknowledgment that we were “settling down” in one place for our retirement. But this would be no snap decision for us. Our financial independence hinges on keeping our nest egg working hard. We can’t afford a six-digit mistake.

And, if we were to buy a home, another problem presents itself: We can well afford it, on paper, but where would we get the cash? Yes, we do keep a few years of living expenses on hand. But we don’t have any more than that lying around. The proceeds from our previous home sale in Tennessee have long since been folded into our growing portfolio. And, our other investment positions go back many years. So we can’t sell assets without incurring large capital gains taxes. This all means we would need a mortgage….

But we, like other early retirees, aren’t the typical mortgage applicants. No W-2, Social Security, pension, or annuity income. We aren’t even withdrawing from our IRAs yet. Still in our late 50’s, and without steady income, we have nothing but assets….

We already experienced jumping through special hoops to document our assets when we applied for our current rental. So, would a bank even lend us money for a mortgage? I decided to find out in advance of the need….

If you Google for “asset-based” mortgages you’ll get hits. But they’re mostly from the financial press. There are a few articles about the “asset depletion” rules for loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. They can use assets such as IRAs and 401(k)s to allow mortgage applicants to meet income requirements.

However, the reality as I started calling around was somewhat different: Not every institution I talked to offered an asset-based mortgage, and those that did had widely differing rules for valuing your assets as income. Most critically, the interest rates varied widely: The spread was more than 2%.

Shopping around is absolutely essential if you’re in the market for an asset-based mortgage. You’ll need due diligence to find an adequate loan at a competitive interest rate.

My first stop for mortgage shopping was my trusted bank of several decades and a favorite financial institution. But USAA had nothing to offer me. The loan officer told me that unless we could show a “set” amount of income that we were receiving every month from a financial institution in retirement, we couldn’t qualify for a mortgage there. Disappointing.

Given our early-retired status, and my ad hoc system for performing retirement withdrawals, committing to a monthly withdrawal from our accounts at this point would be grossly inefficient. For starters, being younger than 5&-½, we would have to do a 72(t) distribution to avoid the 10% penalty. And that would commit us to at least 5 years of unnecessary withdrawals. Just to get a mortgage, we’d be introducing financial complexity into our life and probably growing our remaining assets sub optimally. No thanks.

The loan officer was unaware of any guidelines for deriving income from assets. I love USAA and recommend them as an institution. But I’ve had mixed experience with their agents over the years, when it comes to our unique early-retired situation. It’s a reminder not to turn off your brain, or stop looking after the first opinion, when seeking financial advice. I’ve met plenty of “experts” over the years who only know the minimum required to guarantee their own paycheck.

After USAA, I contacted Charles Schwab, custodian for some of my non-retirement money. Schwab advertises mortgages prominently on their web site and in email campaigns, and I was curious to see what they offered. Turns out that Schwab’s mortgage business is administered by Quicken Loans. I was assigned a dedicated purchase banker there who worked only with Schwab clients. And, over the course of a couple phone calls, I found him to be an efficient and reliable contact.

Quicken Loans could offer me not only their conventional mortgage products, but some more specialized “non-agency loans,” coming from Schwab itself. And one of those turned out to be best for our situation. It required a 20% down payment and documented assets, but no income or tax returns.

The formula for computing the eligible loan amount was based on 60% of retirement assets (if you’re below age 5&-½) plus 70% of non-retirement assets. It then computed a monthly income assuming 2% growth and 360 payments (30 years). Of that computed monthly income, the mortgage payment including taxes/insurance/HOA could constitute about 45-50%. Given that mortgage payment, and the interest rate for the loan, you can then calculate the loan amount.

In New Mexico they could offer us a 30-year ARM (Adjustable Rate Mortgage) fixed for 5-10 years, with rates in the 3.5% range. (That number includes a 0.25% discount for Schwab customers, making it especially competitive.) They couldn’t offer a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, but that’s less of an issue for us, because this mortgage would be about managing cash flow in the short term. We’d almost surely pay it off in 5-10 years anyway.

After talking with the two national companies, I decided to contact local mortgage brokers in a couple of regions where we could conceivably settle down if not New Mexico: Colorado and Tennessee. Both contacts were helpful, though neither turned out to be as competitive as Schwab/Quicken Loans….

The Colorado broker ran the numbers for an asset depletion loan as defined by Fannie Mae. In this case the loan amount would be based on retirement assets only, with a 10% reduction since we were younger than 5&-½. A 30% down payment coming from different assets would be required. The calculation then simply takes 70% of the retirement assets and divides by 360 to produce an eligible payment amount. In this case they could offer us a conventional 30-year fixed loan at 4.125%, or a 10-year ARM at 4%.

Next I spoke with a friend of a friend in the mortgage business in Tennessee. His company had offered a Fannie Mae asset-based loan before a recent ownership change. Now they could offer an “asset depletion program” with generous loan amounts, but not-so-competitive interest rates. Their formula used a straight 15-year depletion with no growth. So it simply divides your total assets by 180 (15 years x 12 months/year) to get a payment. In our case, the implied loan amount was 2-3 times the size house we had targeted! So no problem with loan amount. But the rates were problematic: over 6% for a fixed rate mortgage, and about 6% for an ARM.

So this quote was a non-starter given the much lower rates we’d already been given. The broker did helpfully suggest that we try working with a local bank in town which held their own mortgages (sometimes called a “portfolio bank”). They might be able to give us a better rate.

Given my research, it seems we’ll have no trouble qualifying for an asset-based mortgage, with Schwab/Quicken Loans being the leading contender. But, if we couldn’t qualify, what would be our other options?

For starters, could we just produce more income to show on our 1040? Yes, in theory we could tilt our investments toward dividend payments. And/or we could harvest more capital gains than needed for our retirement living expenses. This artificial investment activity would likely cost us in fees and taxes, but might be worth it if we could qualify for a mortgage no other way.

However, according to one of the loan officers, we’d need at least two years of tax returns showing adequate dividend income. And banks are skeptical about counting future capital gains: The burden would be on us to prove those could continue for at least three years.

So I explored another option, sometimes called a Security-Backed Line of Credit (SBLOC). This is not a mortgage loan secured by real property but rather a line of credit secured by your investment securities. I called Schwab and talked to a regional banker about their Pledged Asset Line (PAL) to find out how it would work. Compared to most housing loans, the terms are blessedly simple: They will loan you up to 75% of your total liquid non-retirement assets for a term of 5 years, which can be renewed. There are generally no fees, and as long as there is credit to cover the amount of interest due, no monthly payment is required. The quoted interest rate — variable and possibly negotiable depending on your assets — was pretty competitive at 4.48%, given the flexibility of the loan.

But there are downsides: The assets you pledge as collateral must be held in a separate account. You can trade in that account, but you can’t make withdrawals without the bank’s consent. So you couldn’t tap that money even for a short-term emergency. Secondly, if the value of your investments decline by more than 10%, you will need to deposit money or sell securities, possibly at a loss, to avoid a default. It’s very similar to a margin loan, though with slightly more generous parameters.

For me, that’s just too risky. Buying a home is stressful and expensive enough already, without introducing market risk into the equation.

The last option for some who want to finance a home without steady income in retirement is known as a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) for Purchase. This uses a reverse mortgage at the time of purchase to finance a portion of the home. But it often covers only about half of the purchase price: You would need cash available to pay the difference. And, since all owners must be at least age 62, this isn’t an option for us, yet. Finally, given that reverse mortgages are complex and potentially expensive, this approach should be a last resort for many….

So I’ve learned that if you’re a retiree with little to no documented income, but plenty of assets, you can certainly get a mortgage to buy a house. And you can probably find a competitive interest rate. But you’ll need to shop around. Some mortgage brokers won’t be familiar with these asset-based kinds of loans. And others won’t necessarily have competitive products to offer.

In our case, it’s a relief to know that, if we find the ideal home for our golden years, we can get the financing to buy it, without having to sell assets and incur large capital gains in a single year.

That solves the financial problem, but leaves the emotional one….

Do we really want to complicate our simple renters’ life with the obligations, constraints, and risks of home ownership? Are we ready to commit to living in one area for the years it would likely take to recoup our transaction costs?

If not, a blunder of the magnitude involved in purchasing a house could severely damage our financial independence.

Are the benefits of owning a home again really worth the costs to us? Stay tuned to find out….

Here are questions people may ask when buying a home.

The decision to rent or buy a home differs for everyone, as there are benefits to both. Buying a home could be a better deal for you depending on how long you plan to live in your home and the loan you choose. Try our Rent vs. Buy Calculator to help you decide which option is best for you.

A home purchase gives you personal benefits such as a sense of investing in your community and pride for achieving the dream of homeownership. There are some strong financial benefits as well, especially the tax savings you may enjoy. Interest payments on a mortgage are typically tax deductible (consult your tax advisor for more information). As you continue to make mortgage payments, you'll build home equity, as opposed to paying rent to someone else.

Everyone's financial situation differs; it is important to recognize what you can comfortably afford to borrow. In general, the loan amount you can afford depends on four factors:

  • Your debt-to-income ratio, which is your total monthly payments as a percentage of your gross monthly income
  • The amount of cash you have available for a down payment and closing costs
  • Your credit history
  • The value of the property you are purchasing

For a better understanding of how much you can afford to borrow, use our Affordability Calculator.

Your down payment requirements will depend on your lender, the type of home loan you choose and the type of property you are buying. Your required down payment can range anywhere from 3%-20% of the home's purchase price. Lenders offer a variety of different loan programs, including low down payment options. Each loan programs has different rules regarding the down payment required. Down payments can also vary by the amount you want to borrow, as well as factors like credit history.

1. What is the difference between a fixed-rate mortgage and an adjustable-rate mortgage?

An ARM is a loan that starts off with a low fixed interest rate for an initial period of time (anywhere from 1-10 years), and then the rate adjusts periodically to reflect changes in market interest rates. As a result, your monthly payment could either go up or down depending on interest rates when your loan adjusts. With a fixed-rate mortgage, the interest rate remains the same throughout the life of the loan, and your monthly principal and interest payments won't change. As a tradeoff for the security of knowing that your monthly payment won't increase, fixed-rate mortgages typically have a slightly higher initial interest rate than adjustable-rate mortgages. Homeowners who plan to remain in their homes for a longer time or prefer steady rates and monthly payments may prefer a fixed rate. One of our mortgage bankers can help you compare mortgages and choose one that works with your individual goals.

A conforming loan is a mortgage whose amount is under the maximum amount for loans that the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac) are legally allowed to buy.

An FHA loan is a loan insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). The FHA is a division of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that insures residential mortgage loans made by private lenders and sets standards for underwriting mortgage loans.

With the wide variety of loan programs available today, there are many home finance options. With a minimal out-of-pocket cost loan, you'll see immediate reductions in your payments, and you won't have to sacrifice your savings or equity to get a great rate. Closing costs on these loans may be added to the principal balance or reflected in a higher interest rate.

1. What is the difference between prequalification and preapproval?

To get prequalified, you will need to provide the lender with some financial information such as your income and the amount of savings and investments you have. The lender will use this information to estimate how much money we may be able to lend you and therefore the price range of homes you can start looking at. To get prequalified the lender will request a formal credit check. The estimate of the loan amount provided to you does not guarantee you will ultimately be approved for that amount.

To get preapproved, however, you will need to provide the lender with financial documents including W-2 statements, paycheck stubs and bank account statements. The lender will use these documents to verify your financial status and request a formal credit check. A preapproval will help you when shopping for homes because sellers will have more confidence that you will be able to obtain a loan to purchase their house.

For both prequalification and preapproval, final approval will also depend on the property purchased.

Prequalification can be a very quick process. It can take as little as 5 minutes. The lender will ask for your income, assets, employment and property information and obtain a credit report.

3. Should I get prequalified or preapproved before finding a home?

You don't have to apply for a loan before looking for a property. It is, however, a good idea to get prequalified or preapproved before you find a home; many real estate agents will take your offer more seriously if you've been preapproved. Also by going through this process, you'll have a better idea of the price range of homes that you might be able to afford.

The time needed to complete the mortgage process varies by customer and lender because it includes gathering information from a customer, verifying that information and processing the actual loan.

2. What documents do I need to apply for a mortgage?

View our Purchase Application Checklist to access a list of documents required to apply for a mortgage.

A Loan Estimate is a written estimate of costs the borrower will have to pay at closing, provided by a lender shortly after your apply for your loan.

To qualify for a loan, lenders will look at your loan-to-value (LTV) ratio. LTV is a ratio, expressed as a percentage, of the requested amount of your home loan divided by the purchase price or appraised value of your home. For example, if the home you are purchasing or refinancing has been appraised at $200,000 and you are requesting a loan for $100,000, the LTV is 50% ($100,000 / $200,000).

Your credit score is a way of measuring how likely you are to pay (or not pay) your bills. It's just one of the key factors that the lender looks at when deciding if we will approve your loan application and for what amount and at what interest rate. The higher your credit score, the better your chances of approval at a favorable interest rate. You should discuss your individual credit situation with your mortgage banker. In addition, you can obtain a free copy of your credit report once a year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies - Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion - by visiting You may also obtain a credit score from the agency for a small fee at any time, and your lender will provide your score when you apply for your loan.

6. Will my credit history prevent me from getting a mortgage?

A mortgage banker can explain how your credit score and credit history affect your ability to get credit and discuss available financing options.

A rate lock is when a lender guarantees an interest rate for a set period of time, usually between loan application and closing. During this period, typically 15-90 days, you're protected against rate fluctuations. Lenders have to pay to "reserve" your rate, so the longer your lock-in period, the higher your cost. A mortgage banker can answer your additional questions about rate locks.

2. What is the difference between "locking" and "floating" a rate?

In order to protect themselves against a potential increase in interest rates, many borrowers ask their lender to lock in the rate they have been quoted for a specific period of time, usually 30-60 days. Other borrowers prefer to take the chance that rates will decrease while the loan is processed and let the rate on their loan "float." The rate can then be locked in at any time until just before your loan closes.

An appraisal is a written estimate of a property's current market value, based on recent sales information for similar properties, the current condition of the property and the neighborhood. An appraisal is required because it provides written proof of your home's actual value which is used to determine the loan amount you can receive. Your lender will order your appraisal, but a third-party company will perform the appraisal. There will be a fee associated with your appraisal paid to the appraisal company.

Although a homeowner's inspection may not be required by a lender for your home purchase, it is highly recommended before purchasing a house to help verify the value and condition of the property.

Closing is the point when your mortgage or deed of trust will be given to the new lender. At your closing, a closing agent will meet with you at a location convenient to you to review and sign the necessary paperwork to finalize your loan. In some states (called escrow states), the closing takes place over a period of time. A neutral third party holds money and/or documents until the escrow instructions are fulfilled. The party can be a title company or an attorney, depending on state regulations.

Closing costs can be divided into two main categories: items controlled by the lender and items controlled by third-parties out of the lender's control. The sum of these items is what you will be required to pay for at closing.

  • Lender fees include any costs associated with processing your loan such prepaid interest for the extra days in addition to a full month before the first payment is due, discount points, origination charge and any rate lock fees.
  • Third-party fees include fees paid for services performed by parties other than the lender, established by the state or local government or set by the individual vendors that provide the service. They also include pre-payments for taxes and insurance that are placed in an impound or "escrow" account. Some examples of third-party fees are appraisal fees, title service fees and government recording fees.

3. What homeowners insurance requirements will I need to meet at closing?

At the time of closing, lenders require you to show that you have adequate insurance in place. For example, if you're purchasing a home, your lender may require insurance that is valid for one year and covers at least 80% of the replacement value of your home. Although lender rules vary, you may want to consider purchasing full replacement costs insurance even if the lender doesn't require it, to make sure that you can repair or rebuild your home after a fire or other loss.

An escrow account is typically established at the time of your closing. An escrow account is held by the lender and contains funds collected as part of mortgage payments for annual expenses such as taxes and insurance.

1. What is the difference between APR and interest rate?

It is important to understand the difference between your interest rate and APR.

Your interest rate is the direct charge for borrowing money.

The APR, however, reflects the cost of your mortgage as a yearly rate and includes the interest rate, origination charge, discount points, and other costs such as lender fees, processing costs, documentation fees, prepaid mortgage interest and upfront and monthly mortgage insurance premium. When comparing loans across different lenders, it is best to use the quoted APRs for the same type and term of loan.

Paying points is a way to reduce your interest rate when you purchase or refinance your home. In essence, you pay up-front for a lower interest rate, reducing your monthly payments. One point is equivalent to 1% of your loan amount; one point on a $100,000 loan amount is equal to $1,000.

3. How can I compare loan offers when shopping for a mortgage?

If you are comparing loans across lenders, be sure to look at all costs, not just the interest rate. The annual percentage rate (APR) tells you the estimated cost of your loan, which includes the interest rate and other upfront fees that you pay for the loan (such as discount points and origination fees). The APR is based on the assumption that you'll keep the loan for its entire term, so you should only use it to compare loans of the same type and length. Estimate your monthly mortgage payment now

An index is a published rate used by lenders to calculate interest adjustments on ARMs (Index + Margin = Interest Rate). Some indexes may adjust more frequently than others. Common indexes used are LIBOR (London Interbank Offered Rate), Treasury rates, and the prime rate.

Closing costs are fees incurred in a real estate or mortgage transaction and paid by borrower and/or seller during a mortgage closing. These typically include a loan origination fee, discount points, attorney's fees, title insurance, appraisal, survey and any items that must be prepaid, such as taxes and insurance escrow payments. Your lender will give you a copy of your Loan Estimate that outlines all the closing costs associated with your loan soon after you apply.

Third-party fees are costs associated with your mortgage that go to a third-party for services. Lenders typically have no control over most of these fees. Third-party fees include, but are not limited to, credit report fees, hazard insurance, appraisal fees and title company search fees.

An origination fee is a fee a lender charges to process a mortgage, usually expressed as a percentage of the loan which pays for the work in evaluating and processing the loan.

Prepaid interest is a cost charged to a borrower at closing to cover interest on the loan for the extra days in addition to a full month before the first payment is due.

PMI is private mortgage insurance, which you'll need to pay for if your down payment is less than 20% of the purchase price or if the loan has more than an 80% loan-to-value (LTV) ratio. Even if you're refinancing, you'll need to pay PMI as long as your LTV remains above 80%.

2. What is the difference between mortgage insurance and homeowners insurance?

Homeowners insurance is an insurance policy you have on your property, which protects you and the lender against accidents and loss of property or its contents. Mortgage insurance, on the other hand, protects the lender against losses due to default of a mortgage.

Mortgage insurance costs are based on loan-to-value (LTV) and credit profile and can vary across lenders.

Title insurance is insurance that protects the lender or buyer against loss from defects that might exist in the title to a property. In order to protect your loan "investment", a lender will typically require the seller to pay for "lender's coverage" title insurance. You can choose "owner's coverage" to protect your investment in the title of your property.

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    CONTRIBUTOR TO; Business Week, The Globe, Toronto Star, CTV, Global News, CBC , BNN.

    I started out with a degree in Economics and Investments and quickly realized I enjoyed the aspect of “Giving Clients Money, vs. taking Clients Money”…It is all about having financial wellness and a mortgage with a plan is a great foundation for building just that.

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    MY MORTGAGE PLANNER doesn’t do a lot of advertising, we are on social media and do speaking engagements at professional association functions as well respected experts but… REFERRAL BUSINESS IS THE LIFE BLOOD OF OUR SUCCESS! It is our satisfied customers that are our best advertising, sending us family, friends and workmates, based on the success we had building their own MORTGAGE PLAN!

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    Mihaela’s responsibilities include preparing all mortgage documents for our borrowers to sign. She also orders appraisals and gathers other critical information to ensure closing takes place in a timely manner. She is certified to address all mortgage related questions.

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    Nadia manages the office, with all administrators reporting directly to her. Nadia’s responsibilities are to ensure that our systems and processes are implemented and effective. She is also certified to manage and approve all of our borrowers’ documentation to ensure clarity and accuracy both before and after closing. She has mastered alleviating borrowers’ “Mortgage Anxiety”.

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    Aba is at our front desk and focuses primarily on client care. Her responsibility is to ensure our clients have everything they need on a timely basis. She is also certified to address mortgage questions and is trained to assist Nadia. The management of our client data base is also a key responsibility for Aba.


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    You may be surprised to learn that mortgage interest is tax deductible, and secured line of credits need to be perceived as a powerful financial tool. Most hope to be financially independent sooner by building an investment portfolio, having said that; many home owners are unaware they may leverage their secured line of credit to buy investments and enjoy significant tax write offs by deducting all interest paid. This is known as “leveraged investing” and each individual has different tolerances and expectations therefore a thorough financial planning consultation is required before engaging in this manoeuvre.

    Discharging your mortgage early can come with a cost. A lot of banks charge what is called an Interest Rate Differential: a calculation that has no uniform system or rule among lenders or regulation by the Bank Act.

    They do this by comparing your interest rate to the banks current interest rate for the term closest to the amount of time left on your mortgage. So if you had two years and four months left on your mortgage, you would think the bank would be using their three-year rate. They don’t always do that. In many cases banks will use a lower rate, of one of the mortgage products that they are offering for the IRD calculation.

    And there is no rule about which rate to use, they can use any rate they want. For example if there is a 2% difference between one- and five-year rates, there is a lot of room to manipulate the IRD. On a $450,000 mortgage, that 2% would cost you $9,000 in penalty interest.

    Now that is an EASY QUESTION TO ANSWER….by building a MORTGAGE PLAN! Working together we will find the best solution to meet your needs while maximizing the interest you save over the life or your mortgage, not just over a 5 year term. The best way to avoid discharge penalties is to have a thorough understanding of the terms and conditions of your mortgage before closing. Discharged penalties may be calculated in various manners and targeting the lenders that have fair discharge calculations is important. Most mortgages are portable to other properties yet terms and conditions vary lender to lender. In most cases; when selling and buying no discharge penalty applies when porting a mortgage, and a blended interest rate will be offered for the new mortgage amount required. A discharge penalty can be reduced marginally by utilizing prepayment privileges just prior to discharging the mortgage so that the penalty is calculated on a lower mortgage balance.Call us today!

    Great question and one that really requires the advise of a licensed insurance professional. We can help you get that advise through our Canadian First Financial advisor who is also licensed in insurance. In the interim, why not take advantage of free, no obligation Mortgage life insurance (Creditor Life Plus) for the next 60 days while we get your mortgage in place. That way you can focus on the move and all of the details required in securing your new mortgage and home. Unlike bank creditor insurance this coverage is underwritten up front, is fully portable and the insurer is The Manulife Financial Insurance Company. In addition they offer very economical disability coverage. Canadians are vastly under-insured, especially young first time home buyers. This is a great way to get quick coverage and peace of mind until you are ready to explore further insurance coverage…and you can cancel at anytime. Talk to me about it when we review your mortgage commitment. It will only take about 15 minutes and coverage is virtually instant!

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