Renting a house or apartment comes with a number of perks, like minimal commitment to live in one place. After a certain point, however, most people want to put down roots — both emotionally and financially — and purchase their own home.
Owning your own home can often be a wise investment. Plus, you don’t have a landlord breathing down your neck about what you can and can’t do. But what kind of credit score is needed to buy a house?
We’ve got the answers, plus some extra tips on how to seal the deal no matter what kind of credit score you have.
How does your credit score affect buying a home?
Your credit score affects your ability to buy a home as a major factor in whether or not you’re approved for a mortgage. That’s because your credit score is a reflection of how likely you may be to default on your loan.
Weighing all of the items on your credit reports, such as payment history and amounts owed, a complex calculation then creates your FICO score. FICO scores are the credit scores that 90% of lenders use. They give mortgage lenders a better idea of how you handle your finances.
Even after you’re approved for a loan, your FICO score also affects the interest rate on your mortgage. Why is that a big deal? Well, depending on how expensive your loan is, you’ll likely end up paying tens of thousands of dollars (if not more) in interest — that’s on top of your principal loan amount.
An interest rate of even just ¼ percent less can save you a lot of money over the course of a 30-year loan. So it’s clear that your credit history is an important factor not just for getting approved, but also for getting the best interest rates to lower your monthly payments.
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What is a good credit score to buy a house?
The required minimum FICO score can vary based on the economy and the housing market. However, there are some basic guidelines you can go by to determine how likely you are to be approved for a home loan. First, the required score depends on what type of loan you’re getting.
For conventional loans, which come with the strictest lending standards, the credit score needed to buy a house is 620. With a conventional loan, the minimum down payment is 5% but could also increase based on your credit scores.
With an FHA loan backed by the Federal Housing Administration, the minimum is just 580 with a down payment of 3.5%. It’s possible to qualify for an FHA loan with a FICO score as low as 500, but you’ll need a 10% down payment.
Different mortgage lenders have different credit score requirements depending on how much risk they’re willing to take on a loan. Also, you may be required to pay mortgage insurance for the life of the loan, depending on the size of your down payment.
For Veterans Affairs loans, there is no set minimum credit score. Most lenders require at least a 620 credit score for a VA loan, however, some will allow a credit score as low as 580.
For qualified buyers purchasing a home in designated rural areas, there is no set minimum score from the USDA. However, a credit score of at least 640 is recommended.
Average Credit Score
The average credit score for buying a home is 680-739. However, those who have a credit score of 740 and higher will be offered the best mortgage rates.
It’s important to check your credit score to know where you stand. However, your credit score alone doesn’t determine whether you’ll be approved. Mortgage lenders also look at your employment history, how much debt you have, and your
down payment amount.
For example, buyers with higher credit scores could be eligible to put down as little as 3.5% of the mortgage loan amount with an FHA loan.
Those with lower credit scores, however, may be required to pay as much as 10% since they’re considered more at-risk for defaulting on the loan.
More Options for First-Time Homebuyers & Low-Income Borrowers
You can also explore newer mortgage programs available for homebuyers with low to moderate-income. The Freddie Mac Home Possible mortgage, for example, allows you to purchase a home with a down payment of just 3%. Fannie Mae also offers a 3% down payment option with the HomeReady loan, as long as you have a credit score of at least 620.
What else do you need to get approved?
In addition to your credit scores, your mortgage lender looks at a few other factors to approve your home loan. They’ll review your employment situation to make sure you have a steady income to make your monthly mortgage payments.
You’ll most likely need to submit pay stubs, bank statements, W-2s, and sometimes even a verification of employment form. If you’re serious about purchasing a home, start setting these documents aside in a safe place so you have them ready to give to your lender when the time comes.
Not only does the lender look at your debt-to-income ratio and other financials, but they’ll also check out the actual home you’re purchasing. Some types of home loans require the house to be in a certain condition, which can take rehabilitation projects off the table.
Before making an offer, check with your lender on what types of properties you can consider. That will allow you to avoid making an offer you can’t follow through on. The property’s appraisal also needs to come in at or above the amount of the loan, because a lender is not able to loan more than the appraisal value.
Can you get a mortgage with bad credit?
You can still get a mortgage even if you have bad credit, although you’re likely to pay a much higher interest rate to compensate for the increased risk to the lender.
Government-sponsored programs like FHA loans specifically cater to borrowers with lower credit scores. But even if you’re not sure you’ll qualify, it’s worth offering some extra security to your lender.
For example, you might give a larger down payment or set aside extra cash reserves to show the lender you have the money to repay the mortgage loan. Or you might give proof that you’ve consistently paid your rent on time for an extended period.
You could also try writing a letter to explain your credit situation. This can be done especially if it’s due to an extenuating circumstance like emergency medical bills. Be upfront in asking your lender what you can do to qualify for a loan even if you might not meet the usual underwriting standards right away.
If you’ve had a bankruptcy or foreclosure in your past, there are a few rules that you simply can’t get around. The exact specifics depend on your loan type.
However, in general, you have to wait for a predetermined “seasoning period” after the bankruptcy or foreclosure has been discharged before you can get approved for a home loan.
For bankruptcies, the seasoning period is typically between two and four years. For foreclosures, you’ll need to wait between three and seven years.
Can a cosigner help you get a mortgage?
For home buyers worried about their credit score when buying a house, you could consider getting a co-signer for your mortgage.
If you can get someone who has a good credit score (such as a family member) to sign the loan with you, it will strengthen your loan application. Just remember that your co-signer is equally accountable as you are for repaying the loan.
If you fail to make loan payments and your account goes into delinquency or even foreclosure, it will affect the cosigner’s credit.
If you decide to take on a co-signer to get approved, make sure that person understands the responsibility — and risk — that goes into the decision. It obviously takes a close relationship for this kind of situation to work out, so make sure you choose your co-signer wisely.
What if you don’t have any credit at all?
Building credit from scratch is challenging, but it can be done. Adding a co-signer to the mortgage loan application works for people with no credit as well as for those with poor credit. Another option is to start using a credit card responsibly.
Start off with a secured card and make your monthly payment in full each month to build credit. Or ask a close relative if you can be added as an authorized user on one of their credit cards.
You can agree not to spend anything (or make quick payments if you do). This simple step will add that credit card’s entire length of use to your own credit report.
You can also show your lender that you’ve regularly paid other bills on time, like your cell phone, utilities, or rent. Another method is to make a bigger down payment to compensate for your lack of credit. Talk to your lender to see what else you can provide to make the loan work.
How can you improve your credit to qualify for a mortgage?
There are a number of different ways you can improve your credit score — just realize that it won’t happen overnight. Get started by ordering copies of your credit report. This way you can get an idea of everything a lender would see when reviewing your loan application.
First, check to make sure that all the information is 100% accurate. From there, look at where there are weaknesses on your report. Is the amount of debt you owe really high?
Try to re-work your budget to pay off your credit card balances and other debt. This will lower your credit utilization ratio and ultimately increase your credit score.
Is your available line of credit really small? Ask an existing creditor to extend your maximum amount on one of your current credit cards. This will also lower your credit utilization.
If you have a lot of negative marks on your report and feel overwhelmed, you might consider hiring a credit repair company.
Check out our list of top ranked credit repair companies in your area to find a reputable one to work with. They’ll take the lead in disputing negative accounts with the credit bureaus and getting them removed from your credit history. Once that happens, you’ll automatically see your credit score increase.
Even if you don’t have the bare minimum credit score to qualify for a mortgage, there are a lot of ways to buy a house. From getting the right loan to improving your credit score, you’ll be able to quickly put yourself on the path to home-ownership.