It never hurts to ask -- or does it? Here's what you need to know about how credit checks can affect your mortgage rate.
Almost all home buyers know that higher credit scores mean lower mortgage rates, so it’s no surprise that one of the top questions home buyers ask is: will shopping for mortgage rates lower my credit scores?
The short answer is “No.” But only if you manage your mortgage shopping process correctly. Here’s how to preserve your credit score while shopping for the best rates.
Is it safe to have multiple lenders run my credit?
Three bureaus generate your credit scores: Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. Lenders report your monthly activities on student loans, credit cards, auto loans and mortgages to these bureaus, who then score you on an ongoing basis. Your credit scores change constantly each month based on factors like:
When it comes to that last factor, credit card inquiries hit your score harder than car and mortgage inquiries. For example, if you’re out shopping at three department stores and allow all three stores to process new credit cards for you, the bureaus’ scoring models are coded to lower your score for each individual inquiry.
Each inquiry would lower your score by up to five points, or more if you have just a few accounts and/or a short credit history. The inquiries would stay on your credit report for 24 months, and your score wouldn’t recover for about 12 months — until you demonstrated strong payment history and balance-to-limit control on those new cards.
Car and mortgage inquiries make less of an impact because the bureaus know consumers shop for these big-ticket items. The bureaus’ scoring models are coded to “de-duplicate” multiple mortgage inquiries, since the end result of those inquiries would be one mortgage.
For example, if you were shopping for a mortgage with three lenders, and all three ran your credit one week, the three inquiries would show on your report, but would be scored as only one, so your shopping process would cause your score to shift by up to five points instead of up to 15.
How long can I shop for mortgages without damaging my credit?
Equifax, TransUnion and Experian are constantly changing scoring models. The newer the model, the longer a consumer can shop for mortgages with multiple lenders and have all inquiries scored as one. There’s no law requiring lenders to upgrade to the latest model, and it’s impossible to know which model is being used by which lender at any given time.
The oldest scoring models still being used by lenders de-duplicate multiple mortgage inquiries posted on your credit report in the past 14 days. The newest models de-duplicate multiple mortgage inquiries posted on your credit report in the past 45 days.
Obviously, the newer models allow for more shopping time, but since you won’t know which credit scoring model your various lenders are using, it’s safest to get your mortgage shopping done (including having lenders run your credit) within 14 days.
Will lenders take a credit report I ran myself?
You’re reminded constantly by the media and advertisements that you should check your credit regularly, but before you do anything, you must understand the following critical points:
Know which financial weaknesses stand out to lenders so you can strengthen your chances of loan approval.
Trained to spot financial mismanagement, mortgage lenders take careful time to review your finances before approving or denying you for a home loan. The role of the lender in approving a loan is to make sure you have enough money for a down payment and closing costs, and to assess whether you’re able to regularly make your monthly payments. Part of how they do that is by reviewing your bank statements. That’s why it’s important to make sure all your documents and records are sorted and straightforward.
Bank statement warning signs
Lenders typically include your last two months of bank statements in their evaluation of your finances. Having a long list of overdraft charges in your account isn’t the best indicator that you’ll be a good borrower. No matter the circumstances, having a history of overdrafts or insufficient funds noted on your statement shows the lender that you might struggle at managing your finances.
Another red flag to lenders is when a bank statement has irregular or lump-sum deposits. This can be seen as iffy because it could appear that those funds are coming from an illegal or unacceptable source. Unless you can provide an acceptable explanation for your large deposit, it’s likely the lender will disregard those funds and apply your remaining dollars to their assessment of whether you qualify for a loan.
Signs of the bank of mom and dad
One way to help ensure that your bank statement won’t raise any red flags with lenders is by having consistent, tracked payments. If, for instance, you have automatic monthly payments to an individual rather than to a bank, lenders could see that as a non-disclosed credit account. This would be the case if you were to take out a loan from your parents and make car payments to them rather than an actual bank, for example.
How to reduce bank statement scrutiny
Take extra care of your transactions for at least a few months before applying for a mortgage. Lenders want to know that the money in your account has been there for some time, not just recently deposited. One or two big deposits into your account right before applying could indicate to lenders that the money you claim to have isn’t actually yours or isn’t a “seasoned” asset, meaning the money hasn’t been in your account for at least two months.
At the end of the day, it’s best to start the process of organizing your bank activity and statements prior to applying for a loan. When you start looking for a home, it’s best to have your financial information sorted in case your dream home hits the market and you have to move fast.
If you keep your bank statements top of mind in the initial search phases, you may have an easier time applying for a loan and ultimately securing it. Remember: Underwriters review your accounts once more, just prior to closing. So, be sure to maintain healthy finances throughout the closing process too.
Your partner’s credit history can influence your future interest rate.
Whether you’re a seasoned or first-time home buyer, be prepared to know your FICO score and have a firm understanding of your credit history. And if you’re buying with another person, their credit history can affect your joint home purchase.
What is a FICO score?
First things first — what’s a FICO score and why does it matter? FICO is an acronym for the Fair Isaac Corporation, the company that developed the most commonly used credit scoring system. Everyone is assigned a number ranging from 300 to 850. The number assesses your credit worthiness through previous payment history, current debt, length of credit history, types of credit and new credit. For the purpose of buying a home or obtaining a loan, it’s the score most commonly used by lenders to determine the borrower’s level of risk. Many people simply refer to the FICO score as “credit score,” so we’ll do that moving forward.
Which score do lenders look at?
Typically, your lender will look at three credit scores reported from each of the three credit bureaus — Experian, TransUnion and Equifax — and then take the median score of the three for your application. Borrowers should hope for at least a 680, which is generally the minimum score for getting approved for conventional loans. For borrowers with lower credit scores, FHA loans allow a 580 score, or even as low as 500 if a 10 percent down payment is made. In any case, the higher the score, the better interest rate you’ll be offered.
Should I apply with my spouse or alone?
Deciding whether or not to include a spouse or a co-borrower on a mortgage application often comes down to whether it makes the most financial sense.
There’s not a ton of wiggle room when it comes to qualifying for a loan. You typically qualify or you don’t. If the only way you can qualify for the loan is by applying jointly to include the total income of both borrowers, then that might be your only option. But even if your credit and income are good enough to qualify for a loan on your own, applying together still might be a better option, as each scenario has its tradeoffs.
My partner has bad credit
When applying jointly, lenders use the lowest credit score of the two borrowers. So, if your median score is a 780 but your partner’s is a 620, lenders will base interest rates off that lower score. This is when it might make more sense to apply on your own.
The downside in applying alone, however, limits you to just your income and not the combined amount from you and your partner. While your credit score might be better, having a lender evaluate you on only your income could lower the total loan amount you qualify for.
If having your name on the home is a big deal, don’t worry. You can still be on the title of the home, just not on the mortgage.
Relocating for a new job can be a challenge to navigate, especially when juggling a mortgage. Review the details that matter to your lender.
It’s true that changing jobs can affect your loan approval, but, like most mortgage-related questions, the devil is in the details. So long as you are moving from one position to one with equal or higher income, and you are able to provide documentation of your work and income history, any changes to your loan approval chances should be minimal. The most important thing for lenders and their underwriters is ensuring you can repay the loan, and the best indicators of that are your income and history of employment.
Lenders want to know you have reliable, steady income that is ongoing, for at least the next three years.
If you’re thinking about accepting a new job or recently moved positions, consider the ways it may hinder your mortgage acquisition.
What to expect when changing jobs before getting a mortgage
If your new job is within the same industry as your last, and if the transition earns better pay, then lenders likely will not have a concern. Promotions are looked at favorably. Even lateral moves to stronger companies offering increased salary or improved benefits are sensible business decisions that shouldn’t impede loan acquisition.
Your lender likely will want to ensure the longevity of your new role and confirm your new salary. Full-time positions with long-term contracts are ideal. Expect to work in your new role for at least 30 days before earning loan approval. Typically, you’ll need to provide your first pay stub from the new company and disclose your offer letter confirming your salary. Be prepared for lenders to omit commission earnings from your total salary since your commission is unproven in the new role, which could affect your total loan amount.
How to get a mortgage with a new job
Avoid transitioning to a job that doesn’t make financial sense, such as a lateral move for less pay, a change from full-time employee to contractor or a major industry change. Employment history showing frequent career moves could be a red flag for lenders that you may not be able to maintain steady income.
Another red flag for lenders is an extended gap in employment history. Chances of acquiring a mortgage may be stronger if your period of unemployment was less than six months. However, some exemptions include military service members returning from deployment or full-time students transitioning into the workforce; these paths are viewed as forms of employment.
How to get a home loan when relocating
If your new job requires you to move, you’ll need to solidify living arrangements before relocating. If you don’t mind renting in your new location for at least 30 days to provide lenders with your first pay stub, it’s likely the least stressful solution. Extended-stay hotels are popular options while familiarizing yourself with the surrounding community and local real estate market. On condition that you’re sticking to the same industry and the new role offers a financial or career advantage, the new job should not restrict quick loan acquisition in a new city.
Alternatively, you could attempt purchasing and closing on a home in the new location before giving notice to your current job for a smooth, one-time move. If you’re moving fast, understand a purchase offer takes 30-45 days to close, on average. Lenders verify employment during loan application and then again just prior to closing, so be sure to maintain employment until the sale closes.
If you’re a homeowner and need to sell while shopping for a new home, and possibly live in a rental simultaneously, finances can become demanding. Selling your current property before buying can provide cash from closing to help fund your down payment, which could boost your loan eligibility. But if you can afford carrying two mortgages for a period of time, you can purchase a home in the new location, move in directly and then work to sell the initial property remotely. Again, you’ll be limited to the speed of the purchase agreement or expect to disclose your new role to the lender.
Can relocation packages help with home purchases?
Often, companies offer relocation packages that range in coverage from paying for a moving service to a generous Guaranteed Buy Out (GBO). A GBO is when the company buys your home for an average appraisal value if it does not sell in a fair timeframe. Other relocation packages might help with closing costs of your home sale or pay the real estate commission fees. If you’re underwater on your home, your new employer might cover the loan difference at resale.
Some relocation packages assist their new employees purchase a local home within a year of moving, they may buy down your interest rate or contribute to a down payment.
Whether buying a house out of necessity or preference, acquiring a new job within the same industry for better pay likely won’t prevent loan approval, but it may slow the process down by a month.
Home equity burning a hole in your pocket? You may want to think twice about that boat.
Home equity is a valued resource, and if you have it, you might be tempted to tap that wealth for other purposes. A home equity loan, which allows you to use your home’s equity as collateral, is a great way to do this. But depending on your personal situation, it may not be the right thing to do.
Here’s when a home equity loan makes sense — and when it doesn’t.
DON’T: Fund a lifestyle
Remember when homeowners yanked cash out of their homes to fund affluent lifestyles they couldn’t really afford? These reckless borrowers, with their boats, fancy cars, lavish vacations and other luxury items, paid the price when the housing bubble burst. Property values plunged, and they lost their homes.
Lesson learned: Don’t squander your equity! Look at a home equity loan as an investment — not as extra cash when making spending decisions.
DO: Make home improvements
The safest use of home equity funds is for home improvements that will add to the home’s value. If you have a one-time project (e.g., a new roof), then a home equity loan might make sense.
If you need money over time to fund ongoing home improvement projects, then a home equity line of credit (HELOC) would make more sense. HELOCs let you pay as you go and usually have a variable rate that’s tied to the prime rate, plus or minus some percentage.
DON’T: Pay for basic expenses or bills
This is a no-brainer, but it’s always worth reiterating: Basic expenses like groceries, clothing, utilities and phone bills should be a part of your household budget.
If your budget doesn’t cover these and you’re thinking of borrowing money to afford them, it’s time to rework your budget and cut some of the excess.
DO: Consolidate debt
Consolidating multiple balances, including your high-interest credit card debts, will make perfect sense when you run the numbers. Who doesn’t want to save potentially thousands of dollars in interest?
Debt consolidation will simplify your life, too, but beware: It only works if you have discipline. If you don’t, you’ll likely run all your balances back up again and end up in even worse shape.
DON’T: Finance college
If you have college-age children, this may seem like a great use of home equity. However, the potential consequences down the road could be significant. And risky.
Remember, tapping into your home equity may mean it takes longer to pay off the loan. It also may delay your retirement or put you even deeper in debt. And as you get older, it will likely be more difficult to earn the money to pay back the loan, so don’t jeopardize your financial security.
In early 2011, you may remember there was a lull in foreclosure activity – a lull that was prompted by nationwide scrutiny into lenders’ home-seizure practices. But in more recent months, as barriers that have been holding foreclosures back have been removed, banks, anxious to rid their books of long-delinquent mortgage loans, have been stepping up foreclosures — all over the country.
Granted, we’re well below the peak levels we saw from 2007-2010, but even so, consider this: In March, 2012, foreclosure filings were reported on nearly 200,000 properties — that’s 7.4 out of every 10,000 homes. With many more foreclosures in the pipeline, here’s how to avoid becoming a statistic:
Buy a home you can truly afford
Ok, so this is an obvious point, but reiterating the numbers is never a bad idea: Your housing costs (mortgage, insurance, taxes) should be no more than 25-28% of your monthly take-home pay. Use Zillow’s affordability and mortgage calculators. They’ll estimate the monthly costs of home ownership within the context of your monthly budget. If the payments seem too unruly (Give them a test drive!), you may need to come up with a larger down payment or shelve your purchase plans altogether.
Contact your lender immediately!
Doesn’t look like you’re going to be able to make that payment .. again? You need to let your lender know about your financial woes immediately, and, ideally, while your head is still above water and your credit is in tact.
Consider temporary relief
If you think that your inability to your make your mortgage payments is going to be temporary, see what kind of temporary relief your mortgage servicer can offer. They may be willing to accept reduced payments over a certain period of time; they may allow you to skip payments over a certain period of time; they may extend the grace period for late payments. Just remember: these solutions are temporary, so in the interim, try to find new ways to slash spending and save more. You must also prioritize your bills, paying attention to the ones that are the most essential.
Look into a modification
If your financial situation has permanently changed, then temporary relief is not going help much. You may need to have your loan modified. And while there are many different ways to do a modification, they generally incorporate interest rate cuts, term extensions and principle reductions – or a combination of these methods. Yes, there is a lot of paperwork involved, and yes, it can be complicated, but banks are under pressure to do these modifications and as a result, we are seeing higher success rates: the average savings, per modification, is about $500 a month. To see if you are eligible for a modification, go to makinghomeaffordable.gov.
Explore a short sale
If you’re underwater (as 23% of homeowners are today), cash-strapped, desperate for relief, and foreclosure is looking imminent/speed is of the essence, then you might want to consider a short sale. This where you’re selling your home, for less than what you owe on it, to your mortgage lender. The upside: No more negative equity burden; it’s not as damaging to your credit as a foreclosure is; you can purchase a home again in as little as 3 yrs; and you’re selling your home with your pride in tact.
When it comes time for you to decide on how long you want your mortgage to last, you have several options to choose from, each with their own pros and cons. Since no two people or families are exactly alike, each homebuyer will have his or her own specific financial capabilities and goals.
To accommodate these differences, you can obtain different terms for your mortgage depending on how long you want to pay it back. With 30-, 20- and 15-year terms available, you can choose the option that best suits your short- and long-term financial priorities.
Let's take a look at what these different options mean for you:
While three decades might seem like a long time to pay off a mortgage, the 30-year term is actually standard for a majority of homebuyers. According to Freddie Mac, 2016 saw approximately 90 percent of homebuyers opt for the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. Its popularity stems from the length of the mortgage, which allows for lower monthly payments for the homeowner.
"The 30-year note allows for lower monthly payments for the homeowner."
Having to make smaller monthly payments makes a lot of financial sense for new homeowners who might not have the ability to make larger payments. However, it should be noted that 30-year terms often come with a higher interest rate than shorter mortgages.
Keep in mind that you can still make additional payments on the loan principal, which shortens the term length. This can help you speed up the repayment process and save money on interest.
After the 30-year, a 15-year note is also fairly common mortgage term. While not nearly as popular as the former, Freddie Mac noted that about 6 percent of homebuyers decided to go this route.
Since you'll pay off this loan in half the time as the 30-year one, it means you'll end up with a larger payment each month. Although you'll have a higher payment, the shortened term reduces the amount of interest that accumulates on the loan.
This is a great option if you want to finish your mortgage quickly and save money since you won't have to pay as much interest.
However, if your financial situation drastically changes, it could make it difficult to make these higher payments, so be sure you have a strong sense of your ability to pay off this mortgage.
In addition to the 15- and the 30-year terms, you can also implement a 20-year mortgage. This option typically has a repayment and interest rate that falls in between the other two options.
Homebuyers who have just started a new family or are planning on doing so shortly, a 20-year option makes for a great choice as you will have paid it off by the time the kids are ready to go to college.
The bottom line
With any major life decision that carries a long-term financial impact, it's crucial that you evaluate the different mortgage options and decide which one most closely aligns with your current and future situation. Talk with your First Centennial Mortgage loan officer to find out which term option works best for you and your financial situation.
You’re in the process of buying a home and you feel like everything is going well: you found the right house to buy, you’ve made an offer and began submitting your documentation for your mortgage – it seems like move-in day is not far away.
“An appraisal puts you one step closer to closing on a new home.”
However, there are some steps that must occur between this stage and receiving the deed and keys to your new home. One of the most important – and misunderstood – is the appraisal.
The basics of a home appraisal are simple. Once you have been fully vetted as a buyer, your home must also be assessed and determined to meet certain standards. Real estate appraisers assess the market value of a property, and if the appraised value is roughly in line with expectations, you will receive a final loan value and begin to proceed with the loan process.
The appraisal process
It’s helpful to understand how appraisers do what they do. Unlike home inspectors, who are typically checking for safety and maintenance-related items, appraisers are almost entirely concerned with market value. To determine the market value of an existing property, for example, an appraiser will usually take a look at how other similar properties have been valued in that location. Or, if a home is new and unique to the local market, he or she could determine its value based solely on construction costs. Either way, appraisers must compile a detailed report that backs up their final determination with public records, calculations and anything else used to arrive at that number. Copies of this report are made available to the buyer.
You’re in the home stretch.
When you decide you want to make the move toward becoming a homeowner, one of the first things you’ll need to do is prepare yourself for the home loan application process. From getting a copy of your credit report and scanning it for errors or inaccuracies, to gathering your proof of income, there are a lot of steps involved when it comes to getting your application ready.
Follow these tips for preparing all essential documents for your loan officer.
Create a checklist
My FICO suggests making a checklist of all necessary paperwork so you can make sure you are completely prepared when you submit your application. Unfortunately, not having everything ready or submitting the wrong document can delay approval.
Reach out to your loan officer and ask for a complete list of all the paperwork needed for a specific loan product. While there might be additional documentation requested, below are some items you’ll need. Remember, these documents are not necessary to apply for a loan:
Gather personal information
In addition to proving you have the finances to support the purchase of a new home, you will also need to provide personal information to your loan officer. Identification topics include your social security number, legal status and two forms of government identification.
“Reach out to your loan officer and ask for a complete list of all the paperwork needed.”
Come in prepared
Realtor.com indicated that you will want to be able to demonstrate your financial competence and ability to manage a mortgage loan responsibly. Bring along information about whatever home you are interested in purchasing. Have a folder with everything you need as soon as you head in to speak with your loan officer.
Know who can get your paperwork
Some of the necessary paperwork can easily be retrieved. However, information about the listing you are interested in will likely need to be gathered from the real estate agent or property manager. This is why you should enlist the help of a professional who has the experience and knowledge to understand what you need and where to retrieve it.
Invest in storage now
The earlier you get a filing cabinet or other type of organization system, the better off you will be when you decide to apply for a home mortgage. When you have everything in one spot and collect essential documents, the application process will be smooth and efficient.
Becoming more informed and organized will ensure your journey toward homeownership is pleasant and exciting. In addition, having all your documents ready to go minimizes the chances of denial.