Q: My boyfriend and I will be looking for a home in the near future, and we want to see if we can find a lender or mortgage company that we can walk-in to rather than trying to get prequalified or preapproved over the Internet.

We live in the suburbs of Chicago, and were hoping to find a place where we could sit down and talk to someone who is knowledgeable, but not pushy. We also want to do this before we sit down and talk to a real estate agent.

Can you recommend a loan officer for us to talk to who could help us but wouldn’t require all of the personal information all of the Internet sites want?

A: First, any lender worth his or her salt is going to want to take a look at some very personal information, including your credit history and credit score, your income and your bank and brokerage account statements.

To get preapproved for a loan — which is the way you want to go — you’ll need to actually apply for your loan and provide all of the documentation the lender needs to verify your income, liabilities and assets.

As far as recommending specific lenders, it’s the long-standing policy of this column not to directly recommend lenders. I’m sure you can understand the reason: If something goes wrong, I wouldn’t want you to be angry with me because I recommended a particular person.

On the other hand, I do think it’s a good idea to learn how to shop around and compare lenders. The easiest way to start is to go to www.BankRate.com and check out lenders working in Chicago. Next, make some appointments, and go in to the bricks and mortar lenders around town. You should try big, national lenders, local lenders, and a well-respected mortgage broker or two.

Once you know the lending landscape, and you’ve had a chance to interview the loan officers, you can start to make an intelligent decision about who to use, and what kind of deal is being offered.

May 21, 2004.