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4 ways to increase your chances of getting a mortgage

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Taking a few steps before you apply for a mortgage can make it easier to get approved with favorable terms. (iStock)

The coronavirus pandemic has made a huge dent in the U.S. economy, but mortgage interest rates are at an all-time low. It’s no surprise then that in 2020, existing-home sales hit their highest level since 2006, according to the National Association of Realtors.

That said, because of the economic downturn, many home lenders have tightened their underwriting criteria, showing some caution about who they’re willing to lend to. So, even if you meet the minimum requirements to get a mortgage, it may still be tough to qualify.

If you’re hoping to buy a new home or even refinance your existing mortgage loan, here are four things you can do to increase your chances of getting approved.

  1. Check your credit score and report
  2. Shop around and compare mortgage lenders
  3. Pay down debt 
  4. Avoid taking on new debt

1. Check your credit score and report

Your credit score is a key indicator of your overall credit health. Use a free service like Experian or Discover Credit Scorecard to get free access to your FICO credit score, which is widely used by lenders — you may even already get free access through your bank or lender.

Due to the pandemic, the three national credit bureaus are offering one free credit report per week through April 2021 — normally, you can only get a free credit report from each bureau once every 12 months. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com to get your copy.

If you’re confident in your credit score, then you can plug in some of your information into Credible’s free online tool to find out what kind of mortgage rates you qualify for today.

WHAT IS A SUBPRIME CREDIT SCORE?

If you have bad credit, you should research ways to boost your credit score ASAP. Improving your credit score doesn’t have to be a difficult task. Here are some simple ways to improve:

  • Pay bills on time 
  • Get caught up on past-due payments
  • Pay down credit card balances
  • Keep a low balance
  • Dispute any errors or inaccurate information on your credit card report

2. Shop around and compare mortgage lenders

Each lender is different, not only in how they underwrite mortgage applications but also in how they assign interest rates. So, while one lender may reject your application, another may be more than willing to finance your home purchase.

The more mortgage lenders you compare, the better your chances of finding one or more lenders who will work with you. You’ll also improve your odds of getting the lowest interest rate that’s available to you.

Filling out applications with multiple lenders can be time-consuming, so consider using an online marketplace like Credible to shop around and compare offers from multiple lenders in one place.

HOW TO FIND THE BEST MORTGAGE RATES

3. Pay down debt

While your credit score is a key indicator of whether you qualify for a mortgage, another crucial element is your debt-to-income ratio (DTI), or the percentage of your monthly gross income that goes toward debt payments.

Many mortgage lenders prefer that your total DTI stay below 36%, and your front-end DTI, which only includes housing costs, to be no more than 28%. While some may go higher than those thresholds, the lower your ratio is, the better.

To maximize your efforts, focus on loans and credit cards with the lowest balances that you can pay off quickly. Even a small reduction in your DTI could make a huge difference.

HOW TO PAY OFF DEBT FAST

4. Avoid taking on new debt

A mortgage loan is a major financial commitment, both for you and the lender, so it’s natural for lenders to be sensitive to other debts that could make it difficult for you to keep up with your monthly payments. As you get your credit mortgage-ready, apply for a loan, and go through the home buying or refinancing process, it’s critical to avoid applying for other credit accounts.

If you expect to need a loan or credit card, complete that process six or more months before you submit your mortgage application.

WHAT CREDIT SCORE DO YOU NEED TO BUY A HOUSE?

What are today’s mortgage rates?

Mortgage rates have dropped significantly in 2020, but between August and September, they’ve remained somewhat flat. Unlike shorter-term loans, mortgage rates don’t have a strong tie to the prime rate or federal funds rate.

However, they are influenced by 10-year Treasury Notes and inflation rates, both of which have been relatively low in 2020. Here are the latest average mortgage interest rates for the week of Oct. 8, according to Freddie Mac:

  • 30-year fixed-rate mortgages: 2.87%
  • 15-year fixed-rate mortgages: 2.37%
  • 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgages: 2.89%

Based on the current mortgage and refinance rates, it may be a good time for you to refinance. To see how much you could save on monthly payments today, crunch the numbers and compare loan rates and mortgage lenders using Credible’s free online tool.

HOW DOES THE FED RATE CUT AFFECT YOUR MORTGAGE AND CREDIT CARDS?

The bottom line

If you’ve been thinking about buying a home or refinancing your mortgage loan, now is an excellent time to do it. There are even options with a low down payment if you don’t have a sizable savings account balance — though a lower down payment may result in private mortgage insurance.

Before you submit your mortgage application, however, it’s important to make sure you’re a good candidate for a loan. If you have bad credit, existing debts or more —make sure you do the above to improve your odds of getting approved. Check your credit score and work on paying down credit cards and other low-balance debts.

Also, make sure to avoid new credit applications several months before you file a mortgage application, as well as during the homebuying process. And to ensure that you get the best rate available, visit Credible to shop around. You can also get in touch with experienced loan officers and get all of your mortgage questions answered.

HOW TO NEGOTIATE A BETTER MORTGAGE RATE

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What Is A Thin Credit File?

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The size of your credit file is important when it comes to applying for any type of loan. A credit file shows you have a proven track record of repayment and can be trusted with a line of credit. If you’ve recently been told you have a thin credit file, you can take steps to build it. Let’s explore what a thin credit file is and how to improve it.

Definition of Thin Credit File

A thin credit file is one with a limited number of credit accounts. For instance, if the only line of credit you’ve ever had is one car loan, that would be considered a thin credit file. Most lenders consider a portfolio of four or less accounts to be ‘thin.’

If you have no credit history at all, you are considered ‘credit invisible.’ This means that you have nothing positive or negative on your credit report. Invisible credit is still considered a thin credit file.

Common Reasons for Having a Thin Credit File

Young adults typically have thin credit files because they have not yet had time to build credit. Some parents have begun adding their teenagers as authorized users to their credit accounts to help build their children’s credit files before they turn 18. This gives teens an opportunity to start adulthood with a positive credit score, especially when coupled with proper financial education. As many as 17% of preteens in America are authorized users on their parents’ credit card accounts.

Being young isn’t the only reason one may have a thin credit file. If you’ve had little need or desire for a line of credit, you may not have any accounts on your credit history. If most of your credit is from several years ago, you may have a thin credit file now. Accounts fall off your credit reports after seven years. That means someone with a formerly ‘fat’ credit file could have a thin file after years of inactivity.

Immigrants may also have a thin credit file when coming to the United States, even if their credit was strong in their home country. This is because the U.S. measures credit differently than other countries, and the data is not usually transferable. American Express
AXP
recently collaborated with Nova Credit to alleviate this issue. American Express can access credit reports from select countries and create a U.S.-equivalent credit score. This information is used to approve credit card applications from international applicants.

The Downside of Having a Thin Credit File

Having a thin credit file may make it difficult to receive credit in the future. A home loan, credit card, personal loan, or other form of borrowing may be denied due to a lack of credit history. You may not need a line of credit now, but what about five years from now? It can take years to build a solid credit portfolio. If you take those steps now, you may have credit available when you need it most.

Is Thin Credit Bad Credit?

It’s important to distinguish between thin credit and bad credit. Bad credit refers to a delinquency in payments or other negative mark on a person’s credit report. Thin credit is a lack of credit accounts, whether the payments made were on-time or otherwise. A person can have good credit or bad credit with a thin credit file. A person with bad credit may have a robust credit file. The two terms do not always go hand-in-hand.

How to Build Your Credit Portfolio

Want to make your thin credit file a little fatter? Here are some steps that may help:

  • Start with a small line of credit. This could be something like a secured credit card, an entry-level credit card, a student credit card or a small personal loan. Approximately 38% of consumers use credit cards to become credit visible. Make sure the line of credit will report to all three credit bureaus, and make your payments on time each month.
  • If you already have a credit card, use it! Put all your daily purchases on the credit card, and pay off the entire balance at the end of the month. This will show consistent credit history, and could lead to a larger credit limit in the future.
  • Diversify your credit portfolio. If you have a car loan and nothing else, apply for a low interest credit card. The goal is to make your credit history diverse so lenders can see your true credit worthiness.
  • Avoid applying for everything at once. You want a diverse credit file, but you don’t want to look desperate. Once you establish a new line of credit, wait about six months before applying for a new one. Building credit takes time.
  • Get help from someone with good credit. You could do this by becoming an authorized user on their credit account or by having them co-sign on a line of credit with you. Keep in mind that missing a payment or racking up an unexpected bill will negatively impact both their credit and yours. Only agree to this if you can commit to the payments.
  • Check your credit reports for existing accounts. If you have old debts or anything in collections, pay them off to revitalize your credit. This creates a solid foundation for a portfolio of positive accounts.

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Citi Secured Mastercard Review | NextAdvisor with TIME

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We want to help you make more informed decisions. Some links on this page — clearly marked — may take you to a partner website and may result in us earning a referral commission. For more information, see How We Make Money.

Citi® Secured Mastercard®

Citi® Secured Mastercard®

  • Intro bonus: No current offer
  • Annual fee: $0
  • Regular APR: 22.49% (Variable)
  • Recommended credit score: (No Credit History)

The Citi Secured Mastercard is a good starter card option for consumers with no credit history. You can use this secured credit card — which Citi reports to each of the three credit bureaus — to improve your credit score while making timely payments and practicing other credit-building habits like keeping a low credit utilization rate and paying balances in full each month. To get started, you’ll need to put down a cash deposit of at least $200 after approval. The amount you chose to deposit will serve as your new card’s credit limit.

At a Glance

  • Establish credit use and payment record with limited or no credit history 
  • No annual fee
  • Security deposit between $200 and $2,500 required
  • Standard variable APR of 22.49%

Pros

  • Available to individuals with little or no credit history

  • No annual fee

  • Payment reported to all three credit bureaus

Cons

  • High penalty and cash advance fees

  • High variable APR

  • No rewards

Additional Card Details

The Citi Secured Mastercard is a secured credit card that comes with fewer benefits than other conventional cards. Secured credit cards are primarily credit-building tools for people with limited or negative credit histories, so they’re more useful for building good habits than reaping benefits and rewards. But you will get the chance to pick your own credit card due date and online access to your FICO credit score to help monitor your progress over time.

Another Citi feature is account alerts, which you can set up to notify you when a purchase is made using your Citi Secured Mastercard, when payment is due, and more. Plus, you’ll get access to Citi Identity Theft Solutions, which can help resolve issues like a stolen card or  compromised personal information so it doesn’t negatively affect your credit. 

Should You Get this Card?

The Citi Secured Mastercard is a solid credit-building option for anyone with limited or no credit history. It’s also a good option for repairing damaged credit, but you may have more difficulty qualifying with a bad credit history than those starting from scratch. Citi specifies that applicants must meet certain credit qualification criteria, including no pending bankruptcies or bankruptcy within the past two years and review of the information you submit when applying.

Since it’s a secured credit card, you will be required to make a security deposit between $200 and $2,500 (this amount acts as your credit limit), but unlike some credit-building cards, there’s no annual fee. 

Secured credit cards can be a useful tool, offering the chance to build credit and improve your creditworthiness over time. And when your secured credit card is closed in good standing or you upgrade to an unsecured card, you’ll receive your security deposit back.

How to Use the Citi Secured Mastercard

When you sign up for the Citi Secured Mastercard, you’ll be asked to put down a cash deposit of at least $200 (you must provide your bank information for this deposit within 14 days of approval). This amount will also be your credit limit. If you put down $200 in cash, you’ll have a $200 credit limit, while a $600 deposit equals a $600 credit limit, and so on.

It’s important to choose your deposit amount wisely, because your credit limit can impact your credit utilization, one of the main factors in your credit score. If you only put down a $200 deposit, and you spend up to that limit each month, you’ll carry an extremely high utilization rate, which can hold down your credit score. Experts recommend keeping a utilization rate under 30%, and ideally under 10%, for the best credit results. In other words, keep your total charges under 30% of your available credit. Put another way, if you can put down a $1,000 security deposit, you’ll be able to spend $300 on your card each month and maintain a good utilization rate.

Once your new account is set up, begin using your Citi Secured Mastercard like a debit card. Only charge purchases you can afford to pay off each month, and make sure you always pay your bill in full and on time. This will help boost your credit score each time Citi reports your activity to each of the three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion). 

Pro Tip

Secured credit cards are great tools for building credit with no credit history or repairing a damaged credit score. With any credit card (including secured cards) remember to practice smart credit habits that can benefit your credit score over time, like paying your balance in full and on time each month and spending only what you can afford to pay when your statement is due.

You should also avoid any of the high fees that come with this card. If you pay late, for example, you’ll incur a fee up to $40 and may even take on a penalty APR up to 29.99% (compared to the already high 22.49% regular APR). 

If you’re worried you’ll forget about your payment due dates, you can use Citi’s free account alerts to get updates when you make a purchase, when you’re close to your credit limit, and when you need to make a payment.

Citi Secured Mastercard Compared to Other Cards

Citi® Secured Mastercard®

Citi® Secured Mastercard®

  • Intro bonus:

    No current offer

  • Annual fee:

    $0

  • Regular APR:

    22.49% (Variable)

  • Recommended credit:

    (No Credit History)

  • Learn moreexterna link icon at our partner’s secure site
Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card

  • Intro bonus:

    No current offer

  • Annual fee:

    $39

  • Regular APR:

    26.99% (Variable)

  • Recommended credit:

    (No Credit History)

  • Learn moreexterna link icon at our partner’s secure site
BankAmericard® Secured Credit Card

BankAmericard® Secured Credit Card

  • Intro bonus:

    No current offer

  • Annual fee:

    None

  • Regular APR:

    22.99% Variable

  • Recommended credit:

    (No Credit History)

  • Learn moreexterna link icon at our partner’s secure site

Bottom Line

EDITORIAL INDEPENDENCE

As with all of our credit card reviews, our analysis is not influenced by any partnerships or advertising relationships.

A secured credit card could be the tool you need to jumpstart your credit journey. With no annual fee and a minimum deposit amount starting at just $200, Citi Secured Mastercard is a solid option to consider. Over time, the Citi Secured Mastercard can help you increase your credit score and build valuable credit history. With enough time and solid credit habits under your belt, you can upgrade or switch to an unsecured credit card with high-value rewards and perks in the future.

Frequently Asked Questions

Citi Secured Mastercard is a good credit-building option for consumers with limited credit history. There are no rewards or added benefits, but this card can help you establish a solid credit foundation for no annual fee.

If you are able to prove your creditworthiness and your credit score by establishing a history of timely payments in full, you may be able to upgrade your Citi Secured Mastercard to an unsecured Citi credit card. Once you’ve established a solid credit history, you may also qualify for great credit cards from any issuer offering perks and benefits that match your spending.

You may be able to increase the limit in your secured credit card by putting down a larger deposit as collateral. Call Citi using the number on the back of your credit card to see if you’re eligible.

*All information about the Citi Secured Mastercard has been collected independently by NextAdvisor and has not been reviewed by the issuer.

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The Benefits of Buying a New Car With Bad Credit

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If you have bad credit, it can be difficult to qualify for an auto loan on a new vehicle. It’s not impossible, though, and there are even some benefits to buying a new car in the long run. But, if you have your sights set on a brand new set of wheels, there are a few things you should keep in mind.

Are There Benefits to Brand New Cars?

Getting a new car can be exciting! They typically come with all the bells and whistles: latest colors, styles, and trim levels, infotainment systems, and technology. Brand new vehicles may also come equipped with more standard options than their used predecessors did – in comfort, convenience, and safety.

There are benefits to buying a new car if you can afford it, even with bad credit. Mostly the benefit comes in the form of standard safety features, and overall vehicle performance. In many cases, new cars have less risk for major damage from wear and tear and may go a long time without costly repairs.

But all these benefits come at a price.

Many times, those prices can be tough to swallow if you’re a borrower with bad credit. Not only is it harder to get approved for financing with a lower credit score, but it can also be more difficult to find a lender willing to give you a large loan. With the prices of vehicles these days, it may take a little legwork, and a large down payment to get into the new car you want with bad credit.

New Cars and Poor Credit

The average price of a brand new vehicle rose to over $36,000 in 2020, and it’s the second-largest expense for most Americans behind a home. Since many can’t typically shell out that much cash at once, most people turn to auto financing.

If you have good credit you’re more likely to qualify for preapproval from a direct lender such as a bank or credit union. You may also have an easier time getting a loan with a captive lender through an automaker.

With a lower credit score, it can still be a good idea to try for preapproval, and this may be less difficult if you’re a member of a credit union. They tend to offer lower interest rates and special deals to their members. If you don’t belong to a credit union or aren’t able to qualify for preapproval due to your credit score, you’re not out of luck.

If you don’t qualify for preapproval, and can’t afford to buy a car with cash, bad credit borrowers are left to finance through a subprime lender or with an in-house financier. And, this makes it harder to finance a new car. In fact, in-house financing only deals with used vehicles.

Finding a Middle Ground Between New and Used

When you need to get a bad credit auto loan, there’s still a chance that you can get a new car, but there’s a better chance of qualifying for a gently-used car, instead of a brand new car. A good compromise can be a certified pre-owned (CPO) vehicle. CPO cars are typically only a few years old, have likely only had one owner, or may have just come off lease.

The Benefits of Buying a New Car With Bad CreditThese vehicles can offer you the peace of mind of a new car, including a manufacturer-backed warranty, but without the high price tag found on brand new vehicles. They also tend to have fewer miles and more new safety and technology features than a used car that’s sold as-is.

Vehicles that are sold as-is typically go straight from the previous owner to a dealer’s lot with little more done than a spit and shine to make it ready for sale. A CPO car, on the other hand, is given a rigorous multi-point inspection and refurbished by a manufacturer-certified technician.

The good news is that a CPO can be easier to qualify for with a poor credit score than a brand new car, even if you’re working with a subprime lender.

Getting a Car Loan With Bad Credit

To give yourself the most car loan opportunity, it’s a good idea to stick with financing through a subprime lender that’s ready to work with bad credit borrowers. Not all lenders can finance a bad credit auto loan, but we know where to find the ones that can.

At Auto Credit Express, we’ve cultivated a coast-to-coast network of special finance dealerships that are signed up with the lenders you’re looking for. With our assistance, you can be on the path to your next auto loan without the hassle of searching for a lender on your own. There’s never any obligation to buy, and our auto loan request form is fast and free to fill out. Stop waiting to get the bad credit car loan you need – get started right now!

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