Mortgage Essentials

Mortgage Career Resources

How to Become a Mortgage Loan Officer

How to Become a Mortgage Loan Officer

by The CE Shop Team

What Do MLOs Do? 

Becoming a Mortgage Loan Officer might be the single most important decision you’ll make in your lifetime. With limitless economic opportunity and the ability to make a difference in the lives of borrowers seeking home loans, the mortgage industry is fertile ground for those looking to make a career switch for the better. 

Not only does the mortgage industry have much to offer its professionals, but the required schooling can be completed from the comfort of home, and the average salary for MLOs is around $75k per year as of November 2021. Whether you’re a Mortgage Loan Officer who issues mortgage loans on behalf of a bank or credit union or a Mortgage Loan Originator who helps clients field multiple loan options from a variety of financial institutions, there’s no better time to grow alongside the momentous mortgage industry than now.  

Did You Know?

The terms “Mortgage Loan Officer” and “Mortgage Loan Originator” are often used interchangeably, and both are referred to as MLOs.

Personal MLO Requirements

There are many paths to success in the mortgage industry, but before you can earn your Mortgage Loan Originator License, there are a few requirements you must meet, including:

  • Being 18 years of age
  • Submitting your fingerprints to the FBI and pass a criminal background check ( felonies committed in the past seven years or any financial crimes concerning forgery, fraud, bribery, etc., will disqualify you)
  • Register with the National Mortgage Licensing System (NMLS)
  • Complete the state-required mortgage education
  • Pass the SAFE MLO test
  • Submit a credit report (though it’s worth noting that low scores don’t necessarily disqualify you)

Steps to Get an MLO License

If you meet the prerequisite requirements for age as well as the background check and you’re ready to pursue a path in the field of mortgage lending, there are a few steps you need to take to get your license. 

  1. Register with NMLS
  2. Research your particular state’s Pre-Licensure Education requirements 
  3. Choose your education provider 
  4. Complete all required coursework and pass each course’s final exam
  5. Pass the SAFE MLO licensing exam 
  6. Apply for your license, submit your credit report, and get a surety bond once you’re hired
  7. Get hired by a sponsoring broker or financial institution

Mortgage Pre-Licensure Education

Pre-Licensure Education is the coursework that the state requires pre-licensing, or before a license can be issued. Pre-Licensure Education requirements for mortgage professionals vary slightly from state to state, but most states will require at least 20 hours of mortgage Pre-Licensure Education. You can find more information on your state’s requirements by visiting the NMLS website

Take a Mortgage Exam Prep Course

The SAFE MLO Test is notoriously difficult. Only 56% of test-takers pass the exam on their first attempt. That’s why it’s highly recommended that students prepare for the exam with an Exam Prep course. An ideal Exam Prep program will cover everything you need to know to pass the test in a digestible and engaging format. 

Pass the SAFE MLO Test

The test itself consists of 120 multiple choice questions covering a range of mortgage-related topics (see the distribution below). Should a candidate fail their exam on the first attempt, there’s a mandatory 30-day waiting period until another attempt can be made. After three unsuccessful attempts, the candidate must then wait 180 days before another attempt can be made. Of course, an examination fee must be paid for each attempt. For a complete breakdown of the test itself, visit the NMLS testing website. For answers to questions you might have regarding taking the test, please visit the NMLS FAQ page

Content Area

Percentage of Test

Federal Mortgage-Related Laws


Uniform State Content


General Mortgage Knowledge


Mortgage Loan Origination Activities




NMLS Requirements 

The Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System (NMLS), sometimes referred to as the Nationwide Multistate Licensing System, was formed after the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 to increase accountability. Since then, federal law mandates that every mortgage professional must register and adhere to NMLS requirements, which include:

  • Registering to obtain a unique identifier (every mortgage professional must have an assigned number)
  • Paying fees (both federal and state) that cover initial set up costs including background checks, licensing, credit report, and testing along with fees to maintain the license (for a complete list of fees, visit the NMLS website)
  • Securing sponsorship, which must be reported when a mortgage professional enters a business relationship with a lender, Mortgage Broker, or lending institution. The Sponsoring Broker will then inform NMLS they’re supervising the mortgage professional’s licensed activities. Some states require an “Approved Sponsor”, so be sure to check your local laws! 

How Much Does It Cost to Become a Mortgage Loan Officer?

Anything worth doing requires a little investment. The same is true for becoming a licensed Mortgage Loan Officer. Costs involved with making the leap into the mortgage industry include fees associated with registering for and maintaining your license, exam fees, and your required education courses, both pre-license and once you’re an established MLO. 

As it currently stands, state registration and renewal fees are usually $30 each. Federal registration and renewal fees are also typically $30 — unless registration occurs from July to December, then it’s $60 (however, it’s $0 to renew for the next year).

Taking the SAFE MLO Test costs $110. The background check is roughly $36.25, and the credit report is $15. In total, most MLOs will have to pay about $221.25 plus the cost of education to get their license. 

The SAFE Act 

The SAFE Mortgage Licensing Act of 2008 is legislation that was passed in the wake of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, and it’s intended to help protect mortgage consumers in the future by holding mortgage professionals in every state to the same high standards. The SAFE Act requires mortgage professionals to register with a nationwide database, complete and pass at least 20 hours of Pre-Licensure Education along with at least 8 hours of Continuing Education per year after that, and pass the SAFE MLO Test with a score of 75% or better. It also requires that license applicants submit to a background check and credit check. Here is the complete list of SAFE Act stipulations:  

  • Register with NMLS and set up an NMLS account
  • Complete at least 20 hours of Pre-Licensure Education
  • Pass the SAFE MLO Test with a score of 75% or better
  • Submit fingerprints to the FBI and pass a background check pre-license (no felonies in the past seven years or any financial crimes concerning forgery, fraud, bribery, etc.)
  • Submit to a credit check pre-license
  • Complete at least 8 hours of Continuing Education for license renewal each year

Does the MLO Licensing Process Differ From State to State? 

Though the SAFE Act sets a high standard for mortgage professionals nationwide, some states require a few additional hours of Pre-Licensure Education to acquire an MLOlicense. For example, the state of Colorado only requires 20 hours of Pre-Licensure Education, while the state of Washington requires 22 hours. Some places even require prospective MLOs to take electives that relate to their specific states’ mortgage dealings. 

As a prospective mortgage professional, it’s important to familiarize yourself with your particular state’s requirements. To find your state’s unique obligations, visit the NMLS State-Specific Education Requirement page

How to Maintain an Active Mortgage License 

Like Pre-Licensure Education, the annual Continuing Education requirement necessary to maintain licensure can vary slightly from state to state. For instance, the state of Colorado only requires 8 hours of Continuing Education to maintain a license, whereas the state of Washington requires 9 hours. 

Not surprisingly, costs also vary from state to state and from provider to provider. Generally speaking, Continuing Education packages usually range anywhere from $50 to $150. The thing to remember is that, like anything, you get what you pay for in terms of education — so the cheapest offering may not always be the best option, particularly if you have to waste time taking courses over and over. 

Mortgage Loan Originators and Mortgage Loan Officers play a crucial role in the homebuying process, which is why they must undergo such specific education requirements to gain and maintain licensure. But at the end of the day, the perks of working as an MLO are well worth the effort. Not only can you enjoy commission checks based on the home loans homebuyers secure, but you also have a chance to help people finance their dream of property ownership. You’ll work side by side with real estate agents and other industry professionals to build your community, one loan application at a time.