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Portfolio lenders make loans in the usual way to consumers, but rather than sell the mortgages to agencies like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, they keep the loans on their books and often service them as well. Some 30 percent of all mortgages are typically underwritten through portfolio lenders, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

There are several good reasons to consider a portfolio mortgage lender, especially if you have credit or debt issues that might make mortgage approvals hard to get because of the stringent requirements for borrowers set by Fannie and Freddie, known as conforming mortgages.