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So, you want to own a home and need to borrow money to buy it?
There are many factors that contribute to getting a home mortgage. For starters, you have to determine how much house you can afford given your current income and expenses. You then have to prove your income is reliable and that you have enough money saved in your checking account to cover the down payment and closing costs.
You’ll also need a solid credit score to get approved for the loan. In fact, your credit score is the biggest factor when determining whether you’ll be approved or rejected for financing.
If you’re in the market for a house and are wondering if your credit is good enough to qualify for a mortgage, here’s what you need to know.
Credit Score for House Loan
There are quite a few perks that come with having a high credit score. One of those includes qualifying for low interest rates on your mortgage loan.
Because home mortgages tend to be quite large — often in the six-figure range — the slightest variance in your rate can make a huge difference when it comes to your monthly payments and the amount of interest you’ll pay over the life of the loan.
If you have a low credit score, lenders typically scrutinize your application more closely since they will have to rely on other aspects of your profile to qualify you for the loan. And, if you’re lucky enough to qualify for a mortgage with a low credit score, you’ll likely receive a higher interest rate to make up for the level of risk you potentially pose to the lender.
In short, if you have a great credit score, you can save big bucks over the life of your loan.
Minimum Credit Score to Buy a House
You now know that lenders are more apt to grant loans to borrowers with excellent credit.
Credit scores range from 300 to 850. Generally, these are the categories you can fall into as a borrower, depending on your credit score:
- Excellent —750 and up
- Good — 700 – 749
- Fair — 650 – 699
- Poor — 550 – 649
- Bad — 550 and below
Can you still get a mortgage if your credit score is “bad”? This depends on the lender and the type of mortgage you’re applying for.
A conventional mortgage is one of the most common mortgage types, and the minimum credit score you’d need to qualify is typically 620. An FHA loan has more lenient requirements as it’s backed by the Federal Housing Administration, so you may be able to get this type of loan with a lower score, typically 500-580.
According to CNBC, the following is a list of common mortgages and the minimum credit score you’ll need to qualify, along with the ideal score you’ll need to earn the best interest rates.
|Mortgage Type||Minimum Credit Score||Ideal Credit Score|
Mortgage Loan Types
Read on to learn more about each mortgage type and the minimum credit score and down payment needed for each.
Conventional loans are a type of traditional mortgage such as those offered by banks and credit unions. They will usually require a down payment of between 3% and 20%, and a minimum credit score of 620 or higher, though a score that’s above 740 will help you get the best rate. The down payment and income requirements are set by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and they usually have a range of interest rates available, depending on your credit score and other factors.
FHA loans are insured by the Federal Housing Administration (hence the name FHA), and can be a great option for lower-income or first-time homebuyers, as it’s usually easier to get approved for an FHA loan than other types of loans. If your credit score is 580 or higher, you can get approved with just a 3.5% down payment. If your credit score is 500-579, you can get approved with a 10% down payment.
VA loans are mortgages backed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. VA loans are a great financing option for veterans, those who are married to veterans, or qualified service members. Unlike other mortgage loans, there’s no down payment needed for a VA loan, and VA lenders choose their own credit score requirements, meaning there’s no industry-minimum credit score for a VA loan. That being said, it’s a good rule of thumb for borrowers to aim for a credit score of 580 or above.
USDA loans are backed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and are designated for those who live in a qualified rural area. Similar to VA loans, USDA loans don’t have a set minimum credit score — and lenders can require their own score minimums. But in general, most USDA lenders will require you to have a minimum credit score of 640.
Jumbo loans are normally used to finance properties deemed too expensive for a conventional loan. Because of the high loan amount, jumbo loans are riskier for lenders. Therefore, most lenders will require that borrowers have a minimum credit score of 680, and sometimes as high as 720, with a 10% to 30% down payment.
How Lenders Check Credit for Co-Borrowers
Will you be applying for a mortgage with a co-borrower, like a partner or a spouse? If so, both of your credit scores will be considered in your loan application.
For a joint mortgage, the lender will pull each person’s credit scores from the 3 major bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. Then, the lender will take the middle score and choose the person with the lowest middle score to use for the mortgage application.
For example, let’s say borrower #1 on the joint application has these 3 credit scores: 730, 720, and 695. Borrower #2 has these 3 credit scores: 690, 655, and 640. The middle scores are 720 and 655, respectively. The lowest score out of the two is 655, and that’s what the lender will go with.
Keep in mind that the 720 credit score may have earned a lower interest rate. This is why it’s important to review your co-borrower’s credit score ahead of time. From there, you can work to improve both of your scores before applying for a mortgage.
How to Build Credit to Buy a House
Now that you know what lenders look for in a home borrower and what the minimum credit score requirements are for mortgages, it’s now time to figure out where you stand. Here’s how you can improve your creditworthiness and increase your candidacy for homeownership.
Review the following tips for building credit before you buy a house.
Tip #1: Always Pay Your Bills On Time
Paying your bills on time each month is the best way to improve your credit score — your payment history determines 35% of your overall score. When evaluating your creditworthiness, lenders want to see that you are reliable when it comes to paying your bills.
Setting up auto pay is a great way to stay on top of your bills. Also consider creating a monthly budget and tracking your spending, creating bill due date alerts through an online bank account so you know when bills are due, and setting up automatic savings deposits to help build an emergency cushion for unexpected expenses.
Tip #2: Resolve Any Credit Issues
Keep an eye on your credit report and check for any errors. You can order one copy of each of your 3 credit reports — from Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — each year for free. If you find a mistake, contact the bureau and correct it. Resolving errors could immediately boost your credit score.
Tip #3: Pay Down Your Existing Debt
Paying down your credit card debt and balances is a great way to build up your credit score. Paying any outstanding debt in full brings down your overall debt responsibility, which, in turn, makes you a less risky borrower to lenders.
Paying down your debt also improves your credit utilization ratio — the percentage of available credit you’re using on your credit cards. Credit utilization ratios account for 30% of your credit score. The more credit card debt you have, the lower your credit score will be. Try to pay your credit card balances to below 30% of the card’s credit limit before applying for a mortgage.
Tip #4: Avoid Opening Several Lines of Credit
Opening a new credit card or loan puts a hard inquiry on your credit report. Too many hard inquiries negatively affect your credit score, and running up a large balance can work against you if it results in a higher overall credit utilization. If you’re trying to build up a thin credit history, you could consider a secured credit card or a credit-builder loan.
How much credit history is needed to buy a house?
There is no definitive number of years of credit history needed to buy a house, but it’s important to keep in mind that your length of credit history makes up about 15% of your credit score. There are some mortgage options for people with no credit history — sometimes referred to as “no credit score mortgages” or “no credit mortgages.” Although you can get a mortgage with no credit history, it’s worth building one and improving your overall credit profile before applying for a mortgage.
Can I get a mortgage with a low credit score?
You can still get a mortgage even if you have poor credit; it will just be more difficult to do so, and you’ll most likely need to pay more for it. Because a low credit score indicates to lenders that you are a riskier borrower, lenders will typically charge borrowers with poor credit higher interest rates. A lower credit score might also require borrowers to come up with larger down payments.
Can I get a mortgage if I've filed for bankruptcy?
If you’ve filed for bankruptcy or had some serious negative marks on your credit, you may be wondering if you can still buy a home. The answer is yes — with some work on your end.
While filing for bankruptcy will damage your score, you can rebuild your credit and still become a homeowner. But, you may need to wait for a period of time depending on the mortgage you’re applying for.
For example, with a conventional Fannie Mae loan, you’d need to wait at least 2 to 4 years after you receive a bankruptcy discharge. The waiting period with a conventional Fannie Mae loan is increased to 7 years if you’ve had a bankruptcy foreclosure.
What other factors do mortgage lenders consider?
Credit score is just one factor that goes into a lender’s approval of your mortgage. Here are some other considerations lenders look at:
- Income: Lenders want to make sure you make enough money each month to afford your payments.
- Debt-To-Income Ratio: Lenders vary, but they generally want your total monthly debts to consume no more than 43% of your gross monthly income.
- Down Payment: The bigger your down payment, the more likely you’ll qualify for a mortgage with a lower interest rate.
- Savings: Most lenders will want to confirm that you have enough money saved to cover at least 2 months of mortgage payments.
- Employment History: Most lenders like to see that you’ve worked at the same job, or in the same industry, for at least 2 years.
When it comes to getting your credit ready to buy a house, try to aim higher than the minimum credit score accepted. This may mean putting your goal of homeownership on hold while you work on improving your credit. But, in the end, it’ll be worth it.
Owning a home is probably the biggest purchase you’ll ever make. In turn, saving money on a mortgage by having excellent credit can make a huge difference in your financial life.