Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System (NMLS) Overview

John Smith
January 1, 2023
5 min read

Buying a home is one of the biggest financial decisions people make, one that has the potential to help them build wealth for their family through real estate. But choosing the right loan can be confusing. Between the different loan programs, all the various terms, and navigating the nuances of things like mortgage insurance and APR, the home loan process can feel overwhelming to first-time and experienced buyers alike.

Homebuyers rely on the expertise and guidance of mortgage loan originators (MLOs) to help them make the best decision for their family’s short and long-term goals. Yet after the mortgage crisis that sparked the recession over a decade ago, many consumers lost confidence in the mortgage industry and MLOs.

In this article, we’ll explore what the Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System (NMLS) is and why it was created in response to the 2008 mortgage crisis. We’ll also dive into details about licensing, testing and requirements, and share more about testing resources that are available.

What is NMLS?

The Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System, or NMLS, is “the system of record for nonbank, financial services licensing and registration in all 50 states, and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam. All jurisdictions manage mortgage licenses on NMLS and 64 regulatory agencies use NMLS for issuing licenses in the money services businesses, debt, and consumer finance industries.”

The NMLS was put in place when the Secure and Fair Enforcement for Mortgage Licensing Act (now called the SAFE Act) was passed to help restore confidence in the industry by creating national licensing standards for MLOs.

This new level of accountability as required by the SAFE Act meant that anyone who took a mortgage loan application needed to be licensed and registered as a MLO, with a unique NMLS number.

The NMLS Resource Center explains that the “NMLS Unique Identifier is the number permanently assigned by the Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System & Registry (NMLS) for each company, branch, and individual that maintains a single account on NMLS.”

This number follows MLOs throughout their career, allowing consumers to review MLOs’ background and credentials even if they move to different states during their career.

How Do You Get Your NMLS License?

While states have different licensing requirements, the NMLS Resource Center provides a handy checklist for getting started:

Step 1: Learn more about the specific licensing requirements in your state by visiting this State Licensing page. In addition, you should be prepared to take the National SAFE MLO test, complete pre-licensure education, and submit to a criminal background and credit check before submitting your NMLS application. Visit the Professional Standards page for all the latest details on these requirements.

Step 2: Be sure to check with your company’s human resources department before getting started. If your company is licensed or registered in a state through NMLS, either of you can complete your first Individual Form (MU4) in NMLS. Note that whoever submits the form must pay the associated fees. If your company submits the Individual Form (MU4) on your behalf, wait to hear from them before proceeding. If you’ll be submitting your own MU4, this checklist can walk you through the process.

Step 3: Create an account with NMLS by visiting Select “Request an Account” and then “Individual.” This step-by-step guide can walk you through the process.

Step 4: If your company completed your first Individual Form (MU4), they will provide you with credentials to log in, review the form and make any necessary corrections, as you will need to attest to its accuracy. For reference, see the Attestation Quick Guide. If you’re creating your own MU4, be sure to identify the jurisdictions where you want to be licensed, complete the MU4, pay any required fees and submit to your state’s regulators. Visit the​​ Form MU4 Filing Quick Guide and see NMLS Payment Options if you have any questions on these items.

What Is the NMLS Test?

The SAFE Act requires all MLOs seeking state-licensure to pass the NMLS-developed SAFE Mortgage Loan Originator Test with a score of 75% or better.

The NMLS Resource Center also outlines a step-by-step process for taking the SAFE MLO Test once you have created your NMLS account and received your individual NMLS ID number.

Step 1: Create a test enrollment window in NMLS, which can be paid for by you or your company. Once a SAFE test enrollment window is paid for, you have 180 days to schedule a testing appointment and take the test otherwise the test enrollment window will close and you would need to pay for a new enrollment window. This checklist can walk you through the process of creating and paying for a test enrollment window.

Step 2: Accept the Candidate Agreement, which can be viewed here and which outlines important security and confidentiality agreements you must follow.

Step 3: Schedule your appointment to take the test either online or at a testing center. Appointments can be scheduled in NMLS or on Prometric’s scheduling page. There you will also find important information about what is and isn’t allowed during the test.

Step 4: Study throughout your test enrollment period. The NMLS Test consists of 120 multiple choice questions (115 scored and 5 unscored) on the following topics:

  • Federal Mortgage Related Laws: 24% of Test
  • Uniform State Content: 11% of Test
  • General Mortgage Knowledge: 20% of Test
  • MLO Activities: 27% of Test
  • Ethics: 18% of Test

The NMLS provides a full content outline as well as sources and guides for all of the topics featured on the test. You are able to take the test three times, but a third failed test will mean you have to wait 180 days before being able to take it again. If you are considering a test prep course, the NMLS offers this guidance and list of things to be aware of.

For more information and resources on getting started and licensed with NMLS and becoming a MLO that homebuyers can trust and rely on, visit

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