Page Header


Lender Spotlight: Joel Gardner, Renasant Bank, Birmingham

March 03, 2021

Joel Gardner began his career in the accounting field, but says, “I always enjoyed working with numbers, but wanted to work in a capacity where I could have more day-to-day interaction with people.” After entering the mortgage industry as a processor, he worked his way up to a loan officer assistant and is now a senior loan officer and assistant vice president at Renasant Bank where he has worked for nearly 8 years. In 2017, 2019, and 2020, he was the bank’s top CRA lender. Last year, he helped 204 families obtain their mortgage, bringing in more than $37.7 million in mortgage loans to the bank. 

Q: How did you hear about AHFA’s homebuyer financing programs?

A: Part of being a good community banker requires me to know about down payment grants and resources so that I can best help my customers who trust me to help guide them to the closing table with minimum resources. I work heavily in a market that requires down payment assistance. AHFA’s products have been a staple in my lending portfolio for quite some time. The loan itself has changed throughout the years, but it has always been a go-to for families looking to obtain homeownership within an affordable budget. 

Q: What do you think is the greatest benefit of Step Up for homebuyers?

A: I always compare mortgage loans to a carpenter’s tools. Depending on your personal situation, one loan might be better for your financing than another. The loan you choose should complement your upfront and long-term needs. The Step Up loan allows us to meet the financing goals of customers who look to obtain homeownership at a minimum upfront cost, while allowing more affordability in a home purchase than he or she might realize when renting.

Also, in today’s housing market, it takes a very competitive bid to actually “win” a completed sales contract. Sometimes to get an offer, a seller might not want to pay as much closing costs as they normally would, which leaves a buyer’s upfront cash stretched. I’ve been able to utilize Step Up for customers who might not have a lot upfront and between down payment, closing costs, and moving, they need to save their funds. This product really helps in those situations. 

Q: What is the best advice you can give to first-time homebuyers?

A: Talk with a banker 3-4 months prior to the date you wish to purchase. You can use this time to plan for any debt you might have to pay off, credit you might have to repair, or to better financially define what your mortgage might look like. 

Q: What do you enjoy most/find most rewarding about your job? 

A: I love the problem solving. I enjoy assisting my community obtain the benefits of homeownership when historically, it might not have always been available. Finding solutions or putting strategies together to help people achieve their short- and long-term goals and watching them execute and win is amazing. If I can assist anyone with their Step Up loan, they can find me at