In just my first year in the mortgage business, just a little after the turn of the century, me and the people I worked with killed over 133 trees.

Usually, people are all “Loosey-Goosey” when they throw around numbers like that, fudging stats to prove whatever point they’re trying to make at the time… But if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to offer a lengthy explanation as to why you shouldn’t dismiss my estimate of 133 trees as hyperbole. It’s at least an educated guess with some thought put into it.

At the end of my longwinded explanation, there’s another point – I promise – But even if that point isn’t anything overly amazing, in the worst-case scenario you’ll have made your brain run through some minor arithmetic lessons along the way. Remember, research shows that our brains change, and they get stronger when we use them, so really… I’d be doing you a favor if you think about it.


Myspace was just about to become a thing when I started in the mortgage business. Technology was just starting to provide a glimpse of what it was going to become.

Computers were already making the mortgage industry more efficient by the time I arrived, but just barely. My managers told me stories from just a couple years before when they had only one hardwired Internet line coming into the building. They could only upload a mortgage application if they were the individual in possession of the wire connecting the modem to their computer. So, it was one person, one loan at a time, and when loan season was busy some grew more impatient than others when they’d have to wait for “the wire.”

Compared to today, processing a mortgage application was still pretty old school when I first started. Most applications were taken by phone, and that was always followed by a barrage of paperwork – Stacks of disclosures piled neatly, with highlights or sticky arrows next to signature lines on the various pages throughout the stack, all held in place  by a removable clip. The documents went into a folder with a pre-written welcome letter and instructions tucked inside the cover. Then the folder went into an overnight envelope with a pre-paid return slip, and then into the bin before last pickup at 6:07 p.m.

Part of being a lackey was making copies and packaging applications. I was around so much paper, I can still remember exactly how it smelled when it came out of the burning hot copy machine in the back corner of the office.  

Longwinded Explanation

The short version — I did the math.

The explanation only becomes long because I showed my work, just like my math teachers back in school used to ask.

The work:

On average, one tree makes 8,333 sheets of paper.

The Initial Disclosure Package

When I first started in the business, I was trained to print 4 copies of an application Two were sent to the applicant, one for them to sign and return, and one copy for their records. I sent one copy to my processing center in Orange County, New York, and I kept one copy of all my live applications. Because there are dozens of legal disclosures and consent forms, a mortgage application might be close to 50 pages long. 50 pages X 4 copies = 200 sheets of paper

Rate Lock Disclosures – if you didn’t lock your rate up-front, at whichever point during the process you do opt to lock into a rate, you would get a disclosure package that confirmed that your interest rate was locked for a specified period of time. This disclosure was typically no more than 3 pages. I’d send 2 copies to the applicant via regular mail, 1 to sign and return, and one for their records. 3 pages X 2 copies = 6 sheets of paper

Redisclosures – Every time something significant changed on a loan application, like if an applicant decided to make a bigger or smaller down payment, or perhaps they decided to switch from a 30-year fixed rate mortgage to an Adjustable Rate mortgage – any change like that would require an updated set of disclosures to go out. This might have happened 2 or 3 times during a process, but for this exercise, let’s assume it was only once. 10 pages X 1 copy = 10 sheets of paper

Commitment Letter/Approval Notice – I’m guessing a little on how many pages for this. Usually, a processor would send this out rather than me. It would have likely been similar in number of pages to a redisclosure package. 10 pages X 2 copies = 20 sheets of paper

Closing Disclosure Package

Similar to the initial disclosure package, about 50 pages, 3 copies (1 for processor file, 1 for the applicant to sign for the bank, 1 for applicant’s records). 50 pages X 3 copies = 150 sheets of paper

Miscellaneous Documents

Credit Reports, Appraisal reports, Letters of explanation. 40 pages X 1 copy = 40 sheets of paper

Applicant’s Income and Asset Documents

2 copies of each, one for me, and one for my processor/underwriter.

  • 30 days of paystubs = 1-page X 2 copies = 2 sheets
  • 2 years W2 forms = 1-page X 2 copies = 2 sheets
  • 2 years tax returns = 30 pages X 2 years = 60 pages X 2 copies = 120 sheets
  • 60 days of complete bank/retirement statements = 7 pages X 3 Accounts X 2 copies = 42 sheets
  • 2 + 2 + 120 + 42 = 166 sheets of paper

According to my calculations, that’s 592 sheets of paper for each mortgage application. 200 + 6 + 10 + 20 + 150 + 40 + 166 = 592

There may have been 15 Loan Officers working in that office. The best of them closed 250 loans or more in a year, but most closed closer to 100, so we’ll call it an average of 125. 15 Loan Officers X 125 closed loans = 1875 total closed loans.

1875 Closed loans X 592 sheets of paper = 1,110,000 sheets of paper

Final Analysis:

1,110,000 sheets of paper ÷ 8,333 sheets per tree = 133.205328 trees, give or take. Maybe I should call all the people from the old team and ask them to plant trees this year. I can commit to that.

The Other Point

It’s been about 2 years since I last wrote a mortgage application. But it’s my job to stay close to the action and to know how things are evolving in the industry.

I absolutely cannot believe how paperless the industry has become!

Web-based application software is leaps and bounds better than what it was just 2 years ago. The screens are more intuitive, and even allows for screen-sharing between the applicant and loan officer. It’s less intimidating than a stack of papers 50 sheets high.

An applicant’s income and asset documents are loaded directly into the system, and future transaction summaries can automatically be summoned electronically to supplement bank statements that were originally provided. Some systems even offer template letters of explanation for dozens of situations that might require a written explanation before a loan is cleared for closing.

Most importantly, through these improved platforms, clients are given the opportunity to sign everything electronically through a DocuSign portal. It’s less work for the mail carrier. Less emails for the applicant and the lender. Faster. More efficient. WAY LESS PAPER!!!

But even with all the technological advancements in place, many lenders were not at all equipped to handle all the volume that came in 2020. With record-low mortgage rates throughout the year, everybody refinanced!!! Most Loan Officers originated more loans than in any other year of their career. So many banks, broker shops and mortgage companies didn’t have the infrastructure or the manpower to pull it off and maintain an acceptable level of customer service – at the very least, their processes were slowed down, in some cases considerably.

Not every lender is “out-of-the-weeds” yet, so when choosing one press hard on process questions. Ask the loan officer to provide a timeline that you can hold them to.