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The growing number of gig economy workers in this country may have the freedom to work whenever they want, and sometimes from wherever they want, but when it comes to buying a home, all of that freedom has its price.

It turns out employees who have many part-time jobs, hop from one short-term contract or project to the next, or rely on freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs, don’t come packaged in the tidy financial box that mortgage lenders typically like.

“Historically the mortgage industry wants everything — residency, credit score and a two-year history of employment. And we’re also trying to predict the likelihood of that continuing for the next three years,” said Whitney Fite, senior vice president, strategic accounts for Atlanta-based Angel Oak Home Loans. “With the gig economy, we’re seeing less and less people fitting in that box.”

Gig economy workers don’t often have the requisite stack of W-2s to document wages. And predictions for future income can be murky. All of which can make obtaining a mortgage an uphill climb unless you, as the gig economy worker, do your homework and start preparing your finances and paperwork well in advance.

Here are six tips to help prepare you for the home loan application process.

1. Get Organized

The No. 1 piece of advice Fite has for gig economy workers who want to own a home is to spend time organizing all of your documentation, including proof of employment and income, the names and phone numbers of references, previous employers, landlords and more. You’ll also want to pull your credit scores so you know exactly where you stand. You can get your two free credit scores on Credit.com.

“Have all of your records, have all the dates of where you worked, who you worked for. It’s going to be onerous from a documentation standpoint, but you need to be prepared,” said Fite.

Gathering this information is more important for gig economy workers than typical borrowers, because you will have to work harder to convince a mortgage lender to approve a home loan.

2. Go the Extra Mile to Educate Your Mortgage Lender

You need to be able to explain to your mortgage lender what you do for a living.

Take the time to educate him or her about your job. Perhaps print out a news article or other information that will help a lender understand what you do.

“You need to prove that your past two years are normal. And that the likelihood of continuance is there,” said Fite. “Be prepared to supply a lot of documentation for that, such as articles about your industry. Things of that nature go a long way. The mortgage lender is not going to make a decision based on it, but it will help create a level of comfort.”

In addition, showing consistency in terms of the type of work you do will improve your chances of obtaining a mortgage, said John Moran, a mortgage professional who runs The Home Mortgage Pro.

A mortgage underwriter is looking for a stable history. Even if the gigs themselves start and stop frequently, gigs within the same industry or utilizing the same skill set will be considered more favorably.

3. Ease Up on the Deductions…

Self-employed individuals, as gig economy workers typically are, often use a Schedule C when filing taxes to report income and write off numerous expenses tied to working the way they do.

The downside of deducting a long list of expenses from your income is that it reduces your profits on paper. You may bring in $73,000 in a given year. But after deducting the cost of everything from internet and cell phone bills, to travel, business meals and professional memberships, your net income on paper may be far less.

“Use caution in how you’re deducting expenses as it’s the net income that’s used to qualify for a mortgage, not the gross pay,” said Kevin Hardin, a senior loan officer with HomeStreet Bank. “It’s tempting to use the full breadth of the IRS tax laws to reduce taxable income, but every dollar that is reduced from that taxable income reduces the income that can be used for qualifying for a mortgage.”

So, if you know you want to buy a home in the near future, consider forgoing some or all of the deductions for a year or two to increase the income you’re reporting.

4. …But First, Talk With a Mortgage Officer About Your Goals

Before completely doing away with claiming any or all expenses on your tax return, however, talk to a mortgage officer about your home buying goals. Here are some tips for finding a good mortgage lender.

“Go to a mortgage officer and say, ‘This is the amount of home I want to buy, how much income will I need to show?’” said Hardin. “Don’t just arbitrarily stop writing things off.”

In other words, get educated about the income you’ll need to show on paper first, before throwing write-offs out the window. Once you’ve identified how much mortgage you’d like, it will be easier to determine what the monthly mortgage payment would be and thus, how much income you’ll need to be able to document.

“The first step is to talk to a mortgage loan officer and then take that information to your tax preparer and say, ‘This is the number I need to hit in terms of income,’” Hardin said.

5. Get Your Debt Down

Let’s stress this one more time — because you are a gig economy worker, mortgage lenders will require more assurance that you’re qualified for a loan and that you’re a good risk.

To that end, work to get your debt down to zero, or as low as possible before applying for a mortgage, and keep your credit score in excellent standing, said Casey Fleming, a mortgage adviser since 1995 and author of The Loan Guide: How to Get the Best Possible Mortgage.

“Self-employed borrowers are going to be held to a higher standard because there is an added layer of risk with them,” said Fleming.

6. Try a ‘Bank Statement’ Mortgage

Newly emerging “bank statement” mortgage programs may be a good option for self-employed or gig economy workers to consider, said Fite, of Angel Oak Home Loans.

Such mortgages rely upon reviewing 12 to 24 months worth of deposits to one bank account  and a profit and loss statement for your business, in lieu of the traditional two years of tax returns, W-2s, and payroll checks.

“These are geared toward the gig economy. It’s a rapidly growing segment of mortgages across our industry,” said Fite.

A variety of mortgage lenders are beginning to offer this loan option.

Image: Jacob Ammentorp Lund

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