Getting prequalified just means that you have told a
lender your income level and your debt and credit information, and the
lender has estimated what you can afford.
Preapproval, however, puts you much closer to the actual loan and
means that the lender has done the legwork of pulling your credit
report, checking your debt-to-income ratio and more in-depth analyzing
of your potential situation.
In most cases, you're much better off getting preapproved so you
don't have any surprises when a lender checks your credit report --
particularly if you haven't checked the report yourself first.