Trudy Conley's Blog
Preparing to buy a home is a long and stressful process for many. You’ve spent months, or even years, saving for a down payment, planning your future, and building your credit to ensure you get the best possible interest rate on your loan.
Then you find out, when getting preapproved for a mortgage, that your credit score dropped by a few points. So, what gives?
There’s a lot to understand about how credit scores affect mortgages and vice versa. In today’s post, I’m going to attempt to cover everything you need to know about how applying for a mortgage can affect your credit score so you’ll be prepared when it comes time to buy a home.
Prequalification, preapproval, and credit checks
There are a lot of misconceptions about what it means to be preapproved or prequalified for a loan. Some of it is due to the jargon that is used in real estate transactions, and some of it is just a marketing technique on the part of lenders.
So, what does it mean to be prequalified and preapproved?
The short version is that getting prequalified is a quick and easy process to determine whether you’re eligible to lend to and how much you’re likely to receive. It involves a quick review of your finances, and often includes either a self-reported or soft credit inquiry.
A “soft inquiry” is the type of credit check that employers typically use for a background check. It doesn’t affect your credit score, as you are not applying to open a new line of credit. In fact, many lenders’ process for prequalification is a simple online form that doesn’t even require a credit check. We’ll talk more about the difference between soft inquiries and hard inquiries later.
The simplicity of prequalification makes it a simple and easy way to get started. But, it isn’t always accurate in how well it predicts the type of mortgage and loan amount you can receive. That’s where preapproval comes in.
When you get preapproved for a loan you fill out an official application (you often have to pay for these). This will request documentation for your finances and assets, and will ask your approval to run a detailed credit report.
These credit reports are considered “hard inquiries” and are a vital step in getting approved or preapproved for a mortgage. However, they also, at least temporarily, lower your credit score.
Why hard inquiries lower your credit score
When any creditor, be it a bank or credit card company, is determining whether to lend to you, they want to know that you are a safe investment. To determine this, they want to know how frequently you pay your bills on time, how much you owe to other creditors, and how financially stable you are right now.
When you make multiple inquiries in a short period of time, it’s a red flag to lenders that you might be in trouble financially. Thus, hard inquiries will lower your credit score for 1 to 2 months.
Applying to multiple lenders: the silver lining
When borrowers apply for a mortgage, they often shop around and apply to multiple lenders. While it may seem that all of these hard inquiries will add up and drastically lower their credit score, this isn’t the case.
Credit bureaus take into account the source of the inquiries. If they realize that you are applying for mortgages, they will typically recognize this as rate shopping and group these applications together on your credit report, counting them only as a single inquiry. This means your score shouldn’t drop multiple times for multiple mortgage preapprovals that were made within a small time frame.
Now that you know more about how mortgage applications affect your credit score, you can confidently shop around for the best mortgage for you and your family.
Carefully document your incomeWhen you sit down with a lender and hand them your proof if income, you want to make it as obvious as possible that you're earning money in a reliable and predictable way. Lenders will want to see multiple documents that can help paint a better picture of your income and finances, including:
- Bank statements
- Schedule C tax forms
- Profit and loss tax forms
- Completed tax returns
- Credit score (they will run a credit check)
Separate your business and personal financesIf you own your own business, you likely have business banking accounts you use for expenses and invoices. But freelancers and contract workers often simplify things by just using their personal checking and savings accounts for income. To make things clear for lenders, you should put your income and business expenses into a separate business account. Not only will this make it easier for lenders to quantify your income, but they can also use this information to see that your expenses are for helping your business rather than personal spending.
Timing is everythingThere are a number of factors that go into choosing the right time to apply for a mortgage. Being self-employed only complicates the matter since your income might not be as steady as your average wage worker. You'll want to commit to a mortgage at a time when you've had at least two consecutive years of good, reliable income. You'll need to prove this with the aforementioned documents (bank statements, tax forms, etc.). Part of this planning could be to avoid large business expenses in the two years leading up to your mortgage application. This isn't always possible, of course, but it could be enough to boost your apparent income to get you approved for a better loan.
Seek specialized lendersSome lenders are aware that there is a large portion of the country made up of self-employed workers and small business owners. They go out of their way to work with people who are self-employed so they can give them fair deals on their mortgages. To find specialized lenders, you'll have to do some research online, but it could make all the difference when it comes to getting approved for the loan you're looking for.
Everyone knows that their credit score will affect the mortgage they qualify for and the interest rate they receive. The details of how exactly those numbers are arrived at, however, are a bit hazy for the average prospective homeowner.
This confusion is due to a number of reasons. Chief among them is the fact that your average person isn’t well-versed in credit terminology or the variables that go into determining their credit scores.
In this article, I’m going to break down credit scores and credit bureaus, then discuss how each of them affects the mortgage rate you could receive. Then, we’ll talk about some ways you can boost your score to qualify for a better rate.
Anatomy of a credit score
Credit scores are determined by five main variables. In order of importance, they are:
35%: your payment history on loans, bills, credit cards, etc.
30%: your total debt amount for all of your accounts
15%: length of your credit history (how long you’ve had open accounts for loans, credit cards, etc.)
10%: types of credit you have used (auto loan, student loan, credit card… diversity of loans matters)
10%: recent credit inquiries (such as taking out new loans or opening new credit cards)
To have a “good” (over 700) or “excellent” (over 750) credit score, you’ll need to focus on each of these factors. For most people, paying their bills on time over a long enough timeline is enough to get them into the excellent range.
But things happen in life. People forget to pay an important bill, they have financial emergencies, or they have to take out a loan for an unforeseeable expense.
The credit bureaus
So, who are the people that determine your credit score?
There are three main credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. Lenders will look at reports from all three bureaus to determine your rate. Due to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003, consumers are able to receive a free copy of their credit report from each bureau once per year.
Since then, companies like Credit Karma have made credit reports even more accessible. Users are able to check in on their credit as often as they want free of charge.
Since much of your credit score is out of your hands, at least in the short-term, what can you do to help boost your score over the next few months to increase your chances of getting a good interest rate on your loan? Two things.
Credit and mortgages
So, just how much of an impact does your credit score have on your mortgage rate? Having an excellent score can give you a full percentage point lower on your monthly interest rate.
One percent doesn’t seem like much, but over the period of a 30-year loan that can amount to tens of thousands of dollars that you could have saved if you had a better credit score. As you can imagine, having an extra $2,000 per year can be quite helpful to a new homeowner.
So, what can you do to boost your score?
Since you have access to free credit reports be sure to go through your detailed report a few months before you plan to apply for a mortgage. Report any harmful errors to help you increase your score.
Don’t apply for new credit
The period from now until you apply for a mortgage is an important one. If you make new credit inquiries (i.e., open up new credit cards, take out new loans, etc.), your score will temporarily decrease. Wait until after you sign on your mortgage to take out other loans.