Can you get a mortgage if you have bad credit? With certain loan programs and lenders, it may be possible—especially if you can make a big down payment, prove large cash reserves and have a low debt-to-income ratio.
About 15% of American consumers have credit scores in the 500 to 599 range on an 850-point scale, which is considered poor to fair credit, according to FICO. Another 10% are in the 600 to 649 range, which is considered fair credit. You’re in good company if your score is less than ideal, and the right lender can help you get a mortgage or explain how to get approved in the future.
What Is a Bad Credit Score for a Mortgage?
A bad credit score for a mortgage is one that doesn’t allow you to get a loan, only lets you get a more expensive loan or requires a larger down payment in order to qualify for a loan. What’s considered “bad” depends on the type of loan you’re applying for: conventional, FHA, VA or USDA. Most successful homebuyers—about 93%—have credit scores of 650 or higher, according to Ellie Mae, a technology solutions provider for mortgage lenders.
A steady income, a small amount of debt compared to your income and a significant down payment can help you get a mortgage despite a bad credit score. But if your score is below 500, you’ll almost certainly be rejected. A recent foreclosure or bankruptcy can also really hurt your score and keep you from getting a loan for at least one year—and possibly several years.
What Is the Minimum Credit Score to Get a Mortgage?
The minimum credit score to get a mortgage depends on which type of mortgage you’re applying for. It also depends on which lender you’re working with. Some lenders are more willing to work with low-credit-score borrowers than others.
Conventional Mortgage Credit Score Requirements
Conventional mortgages have the strictest credit score requirements, but they’re still more lenient than you might think.
Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the two huge companies that help make conventional mortgages widely available, have strict credit score requirements for borrowers making the minimum down payment of 3%: Freddie Mac’s minimum credit score is 660 and Fannie Mae’s is 620. Freddie will allow a credit score as low as 620, too, but only with a down payment of at least 25%.
Most lenders follow these rules because after they close your loan, they sell it to one of these companies. The table below shows how few borrowers get conventional loans with credit scores below 700.
Sometimes lenders grant exceptions if a borrower’s credit score is below the minimum because the borrower doesn’t have enough credit history. However, that’s different from having a bad credit history. It’s only an option if the items that do appear in that limited history aren’t derogatory and if the borrower can prove their creditworthiness with verifiable payments that don’t appear on traditional credit reports, such as rent or utilities.
Conventional borrowers who barely make the credit score cut-off will usually need a debt-to-income ratio no higher than 36% and must be buying the home as their primary residence. Lenders may also require at least two months of cash reserves.
FHA Loan Credit Score Requirements
You can get an FHA loan with a credit score as low as 500. However, if your score is 500 to 579, be prepared to put 10% down. With a score of at least 580, you can put down just 3.5%. FHA loans have the second-loosest credit score requirements after VA loans and are quicker than conventional loans to offer borrowers a second chance after a bankruptcy or foreclosure.
Still, you might find that some FHA lenders will not work with you unless your score is at least 620. They’re allowed to have their own, stricter requirements. As a result, you may have to put more work into loan shopping if your score is below 620. Most FHA borrowers have credit scores in the 650 to 699 range, as the table below shows.
VA Loan Credit Score Requirements
VA loans have the most generous credit score requirements: there’s no minimum credit score. No other mortgage offers this benefit, but these loans are only open to eligible military service members, veterans and surviving spouses.
Like FHA loans, they’re more forgiving of negative credit events, but again, lenders can set their own minimums and might require a higher score. The average homebuyer who closed on a VA loan within the last year and a half had a credit score in the low 700s.
USDA Loan Credit Score Requirements
USDA loans have different credit score requirements depending on the program and the lender. Section 502 Guaranteed Loans, for example, don’t have a minimum credit score requirement. USDA mortgages are available to low- to moderate-income borrowers who want to buy a home in an area with a population of less than 35,000.
Low Credit Score Costs
On a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage for $150,000, having a credit score of 620 to 639 could cost you tens of thousands of dollars more over 30 years compared to having a credit score of 760 or higher. Check out the table below to see how much more you’d pay.
Still, 4.5% is, historically speaking, a great interest rate. There’s hardly been a more affordable time to get a mortgage if you have bad credit.
Improving Your Credit Score Vs. Getting a Mortgage Now
You could spend several months or more improving your credit. But what will happen to interest rates during that time?
- If they go up, you may not save any money despite your improved credit.
- If they go down, you could save money from both your improved credit and the market’s lower rates.
No one knows where interest rates are headed. The country’s most educated guess comes from the Federal Reserve, so that’s a good source to consult.
In the press release section of the Federal Reserve website, look for the most recent economic projections from the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC). Do they think the federal funds rate is headed up or down?
If they think it’s headed up, mortgage rates could be headed up. Right now, they expect the federal funds rate to stay around zero through 2021 and possibly 2022. But that’s a prediction, not a guarantee.
5 Tips for Getting a Mortgage with Bad Credit
- Know your options. If you can’t qualify for a conventional mortgage, what about a VA, USDA or FHA loan?
- Don’t give up easily. You may hear a lot of no’s from lenders before you hear a yes.
- Try a mortgage broker. They may know which lenders are the best match for your circumstances. (Lenders pay brokers; their services are free to borrowers.)
- Spend a few months improving your credit before applying for a mortgage. Paying down high-balance credit cards, making on-time payments and disputing credit report errors can help your score considerably.
- Save up a down payment of at least 10%. Lenders will see you as less risky when you have more skin in the game.
When You Should Ask for a Rapid Rescore
You should ask for a Rapid Rescore when you’ve taken actions that will boost your credit score, such as paying off a judgment or an account in collections, but your score won’t reflect those changes fast enough to benefit your mortgage application.
Rapid Rescore can update your score, well, rapidly—not after the 30 days or more it could take through the usual process. Your lender can request a Rapid Rescore on your behalf, but you can’t request it on your own.
When You Should Rent Vs. Buy
Your credit score can offer insight into whether you should rent or buy. Lenders use your credit score as a crystal ball to predict how likely you are to repay a mortgage. But they don’t actually know you. What do you think about your credit score? Does it say more about the type of borrower you are today or the type of borrower you were in the past?
If you have a bad score because you didn’t understand how to manage credit, but you’ve learned since then; because you went through a rough patch, but you’re fine now; or because a divorce or identity theft trashed your credit, you might be comfortable buying a home now if you can get a loan despite your credit score.
If you have a bad credit score because you’re not good at making payments on time or you tend to overspend, renting while you improve your habits is probably the wiser option.
Some people aren’t going to qualify for a mortgage, period. And some people won’t have the mitigating factors they need—like 10% down—to qualify despite having bad credit.
But having bad credit doesn’t have to stand between you and your desire to own a home. Credit history is only one piece of your overall financial picture. If you have the income and savings to afford a home, buying may be the right choice for you, even if you have to look harder for a lender or pay a higher interest rate.
3 credit habits that you need to break
Are you using your credit card responsibly? Or do you have a few bad habits? Take a look at three common bad habits that people have with their credit cards and the best ways to stop doing them.
Habit 1: Pushing the limits
The first bad credit habit is pushing your outstanding balance close to its limit. What’s wrong with that? The first problem is that you’re giving yourself a larger debt load to contend with every month — one that accumulates interest the longer that it sits. It could be very difficult to pay down, and it could even lead to you maxing out your card.
The second problem with this habit is that it leaves you vulnerable to emergencies. You’ve taken up the majority of your available credit, so you can’t depend on it for unexpected payments. What if you need to pay for an urgent repair and there’s not enough room on your card? What can you do?
To avoid that difficult situation, you could apply for an online loan to help you cover the emergency costs and move forward. See how you can apply for an online loan in Ohio when you have no other safety nets to fall back on. It’s important that you only turn to this solution when you’re dealing with an emergency. It’s not for everyday purchases or small budgeting mistakes.
In the meantime, you should try your best to keep your credit utilization at 30% or lower — this means that your balance should be below the halfway point of your limit.
Habit 2: Paying the minimum
You pay your credit card bills on time, but you only give the minimum payment. While this habit can stop you from racking up late fees and penalties, it can still get you into hot water if you’re not careful.
Only paying the minimum for your bill will make it very difficult for you to whittle down the balance, especially when you’re continuing to charge expenses on your card. You’re only taking $20-$25 off a growing pile.
So, what can you do? If you’re paying this amount by choice, stop it — you’re only making things harder for yourself down the line. If you’re paying this amount because you don’t have any more funds, look at your budget to see whether you can cut your monthly costs to get more savings and use them to tackle your balance.
Habit 3: Using it for every single expense
You don’t need to put every single expense on your credit card. Your morning coffee? Your afternoon snack? Putting these small, everyday expenses on your card is a habit that can make your balance climb quickly.
You also don’t want to put some very important expenses on there, like mortgage payments. For one, these payments are large and will take up a significant amount of your credit. Secondly, if you need to use a credit card to make these payments on time, you need to reinvestigate your budget to see whether you can actually afford your living space.
So, what you should you do? Use a debit card, cash or checks to pay for the items above. Only put expenses on your credit card that you’re positive you can pay off in a reasonable timeframe.
Don’t let these bad habits drag you down and get you into financial trouble. Break them now, before it’s too late.
Free credit reports have been extended; here’s why it’s important to check yours regularly
Typically, you’d be able to check your credit report — at least for free — just once annually through each of the three major credit reporting agencies. But thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, credit reports are now more accessible than ever.
Credit reporting companies Equifax, Experian and TransUnion are all offering free credit reports weekly through April 20, 2022.
The move means better insight into your financial health during what, for most, is an economically challenging time. According to experts, it might also be a time that’s ripe for at-risk personal information and identity theft, too — even more reason consumers should be checking their credit on the regular.
Have you checked your annual credit lately? If not, here’s what you need to know about these free nationwide credit reports and how to get them. If you’re not sure where you fit on the credit score spectrum, you may want to start using a credit monitoring service to track changes to your credit score. Credible can get you set up with a free service today.
Free credit reports for all?
The nation’s three credit bureaus initially started offering free weekly credit reporting last year, just after the pandemic began. In early March, they announced they’d extended the offer for another year, this time through April 20, 2022.
To request your free credit reports and access copies, you can go to AnnualCreditReport.com and provide some basic information to verify your identity (things like your date of birth, Social Security Number, and address).
Once your report is ready, you should see a detailed list of all open and closed accounts in your name, your payment history, recent credit activity and more.
Protect yourself from identity theft
There are many reasons why checking your credit activity is important, but chief among them? That’d be the prevalence of data breaches in today’s world — not to mention the risk of identity theft they come with.
“In the past, it was perfectly acceptable for people to check their credit history once a year, but now with security breaches happening on a regular basis, consumers should be monitoring their credit more closely than ever,” said Clint Lotz, president and founder of TrackStar.ai, a predictive credit technology firm.
Lotz said the Equifax breach — which exposed over 147 million Americans’ personal information in mid-July 2017 — is the perfect example of why watching your credit report is important as far as identity theft protection goes. The pandemic, he said, adds an extra layer of risk to things.
“It took them [Equifax] months before they even realized they had been hacked, and considering that they hold files on hundreds of millions of Americans, it’s fair to say that many identities were stolen by the time they caught up to it,” Lotz said. “With many of us worrying about very serious issues not related to our credit, it’s a prime time for that stolen data to be put to work by bad actors in slow, methodical ways and in the hopes that nobody notices it.”
More reasons to check your credit
Checking your credit health often isn’t just good for detecting fraud alerts and to protect your identity, though. You can also monitor your report for errors — things like inaccurately reported late payments, for example — and then dispute those with the credit bureau.
If the error gets corrected, it could improve your credit score and make a jump from bad credit to a FICO score that’s more favorable. Not sure of your credit score? Head to Credible to check your score without negatively impacting it.
You can also use your credit reports and scores to monitor your financial habits — like the timeliness of your payments or how much debt you have left to pay off. Both of these factors can play a big role in your score, as well as how likely you are to get approved for loans, credit cards and other items.
“If you’re taking out a loan, getting insurance or even applying for a new job, checking your credit will allow you to see an overview of what would be seen by others looking at your credit,” said Leslie Tayne, a debt relief attorney with the Tayne Law Group. “Staying up-to-date on your credit reports and information allows you to know exactly where you need to improve.”
Want to be sure your credit is stellar before applying for a loan or insurance policy? Consider Credible’s partner product Experian Boost, which lets you use positive payment history on utilities, streaming and other bills to improve your credit score.
Set up a monitoring service, too
Though checking your credit reports manually is smart, you should also consider signing up for a credit monitoring service. These consumer financial services check your credit information and score regularly and alert you of any changes.
If you’re interested in monitoring your credit or improving your score, head to Credible and learn more about how Experian can help. You can also use Experian Boost to get credit for on-time bill payments.
Have a finance-related question, but don’t know who to ask? Email The Credible Money Expert at [email protected] and your question might be answered by Credible in our Money Expert column.
Do Personal Loans Have Penalty APRs?
Select’s editorial team works independently to review financial products and write articles we think our readers will find useful. We may receive a commission when you click on links for products from our affiliate partners.
The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, for instance, has a 13.99% to 23.99% variable APR, but the penalty APR is a variable 29.99% (see rates and fees). Penalty APRs usually last for at least six months, but card issuers often reserve the right to extend them — especially when you continue making late payments. A look at the terms for the Citi® Double Cash Card show us that the “penalty APR may apply indefinitely.”
Penalty APRs are certainly not a trap you want to fall into, but it’s not something you usually have to worry about if you have a personal loan. Personal loan lenders can, however, charge late fees upwards of $39 per late payment. Whether your loan charges late fees all depends on how good of a loan you qualify for, and that comes down to your credit score, borrowing history and ability to make your payments.
Personal loans also tend to charge lower interest rates than credit cards, too. The average personal loan interest rate for two-year loans is currently 9.46% according to Q1 2021 data from the Federal Reserve, compared to 15.91% for credit cards.
Typically, interest rates for personal loans range between roughly 2.49% and 24%, but personal loans for applicants with bad credit can come with even higher APR — so do your research before applying.
Other common personal loan fees include:
- Interest: The monthly charge you pay to borrow money
- Origination fee: A one-time upfront charge that your lender subtracts from your loan to pay for administration and processing costs
- Late fee: A one-time fee charged for each payment that you fail to make by the due date or within your grace period
- Early payoff penalty: A fee incurred when you pay off your balance faster than planned (because the lender misses out on months of expected interest payments)
As you can see, personal loans can be costly, even without a penalty APR. It’s obviously best to avoid paying extra fees whenever possible. That’s easier to do when you have a good to excellent credit score, since you’ll qualify for better loan options.
None of the loans on our best personal loan list charge origination fees or early payoff penalties, but some may charge late fees.
Find the best personal loans
For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, click here.
Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.
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