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How to Buy a House With Bad Credit in 2022

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You can buy a house with bad credit. 

Every day, mortgage lenders around the country approve applications for first-time buyers with low credit scores. Mortgage lenders care less about bad credit than most people think.

According to government data, since 2018, lenders have been making more loans to buyers with below-average credit scores. But, having lower credit scores can affect your mortgage rate, your associated fees, or how much down payment you’re required to make.

The good news is that small changes to your credit can yield significant changes in your score, and with every 20-point improvement, you save money.

Do you know what your current mortgage credit score is?

Mortgage lenders use a different credit scoring system from auto lenders and credit card companies. Mortgage credit scores range from 300 to 850 and utilize algorithms specific to the mortgage industry.  

If you haven’t had your credit checked by a mortgage company in the last 90 days, it’s smart to get pre-approved before looking for a home – even if you’re in the “thinking about it” phase.

Most first-time home buyers have never had their credit examined by a lender, and when they do, 34 percent find mistakes. You can’t leave credit errors to the last minute and expect to get approved to buy a house.

Use time to your advantage. Get a mortgage pre-approval and gain access to your mortgage credit report. Whether your credit history is strong or weak, you’ll have a clear plan forward.

Let’s review buying a house with bad credit.

How to Buy a House with Bad Credit [First-Time Home Buyer Guide]

What is Considered Bad Credit?

Bad credit is when your credit score or payment history falls short of your lender’s minimum standards.

Some mortgage lenders enforce a minimum credit score of 500 on a scale of 300-850, and others set their floor at 580 or 620 or higher.

Minimum credit scores vary among lenders because lenders don’t necessarily care about your credit score. What they really care about is whether you’ll pay them back each month.

Credit scores are one of many predictors to a mortgage lender. Lenders also care about your employment stability, your annual income, the home you’re buying, and more. 

In other words, to a mortgage lender, there’s no such thing as bad credit. There is only qualifying credit, which is the minimum score required to approve a mortgage application.

5 Ways to Buy a Home with Bad Credit  

You can still buy a home and get great rates with bad credit. You can even get government subsidies if you’re a first-time buyer.

There are five standard mortgages for buyers with bad credit. Your lender will assign the one that’s best for what you need.

1. Conventional Loans: 620 minimum credit score

Conventional loans are the generic name for mortgages backed by the government’s largest mortgage agency, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA).

The FHFA backs 81 percent of all U.S. mortgages, so your mortgage will probably be backed by the FHFA, too. 

Currently, conventional loans require home buyers to carry a 620 minimum credit score and make a minimum down payment of three percent.

2. USDA Loans: 620 minimum credit score

The USDA loan is a no-down-payment mortgage for buyers in rural parts of the country and lower-density suburbs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture subsidizes the program. It requires home buyers to have a minimum credit score of 620 at the time of purchase.

Learn more about USDA loans.

3. FHA Loans: 500 minimum credit score

FHA loans date back to 1934 and are the original “bad credit” mortgage loan.

FHA loans require a minimum 500 credit score, and applicants with credit scores of 580 or higher can make a 3.5 percent down payment. The FHA even makes provisions for buyers with no credit score whatsoever.

Learn more about FHA loans.

4. VA Loans: 580 minimum credit score

VA loans are a no-down-payment mortgage for veterans and active-duty members of the military. The Department of Veterans Affairs runs the VA loan program. It requires home buyers to show a minimum credit score of 580 at the time of purchase.

Learn more about VA loans.

5. Homebuyer Assistance Programs: 580 minimum credit score 

Homebuyer assistance programs rarely enforce credit score minimums. Instead, they adopt the standards of their accompanying mortgage.

For example, if you’re a home buyer who uses a conventional mortgage with a 620 credit score requirement, the homebuyer assistance program you use for a down payment will also use the 620 minimum. 

For more information about homebuyer assistance programs and grants for first-time home buyers, visit us in the chat.

Get pre-approved for a mortgage today.

How To Improve Your Credit Score Before Buying

Yes, you can buy a house with bad credit – but you can also buy with excellent credit!

Remember: credit scores are temporary, so you can change them by changing your behaviors. Even slight changes can make significant differences. 

So, whether your timeline to buy a home is six weeks, six months, or longer, you can improve your credit in time.

Here are five simple ways to improve your credit and save money on your mortgage, plus two shortcuts.

1. Check your credit report for errors

If you’ve never applied for a mortgage, you have never seen your mortgage credit report, and more than one-third of credit reports contain errors.

You can preview your report before you apply from AnnualCreditReport.com, or you can get your mortgage credit report as part of an online mortgage pre-approval. 

Errors are pervasive for renters who’ve changed residences a lot, people who pay or defer on student loans, and men and women who have changed their legal names.

Credit reporting errors can affect your score by more than 100 points.

2. Pay your bills on time, every time

Another terrific way to improve your credit score is to make on-time payments to your creditors. In as few as 30 days, you’ll start to see improvement.

If money is tight and you cannot afford to pay all of your bills in full each month, prioritize for minimum payments, at least. Minimum payments are still on-time payments. Missed payments, however, are derogatories.  

3. Give yourself a credit cushion

The second-largest component in your credit score is: How much credit do you have in your name, and it’s good to have a lot of it!

It’s a counter-intuitive concept.

Lenders want you to have vast amounts of credit because they know life is unpredictable. When things go sideways for you, those large credit lines can keep you afloat, so you have money to keep paying on your mortgage.

Play this to your advantage. On the back of every credit card you own, you’ll find a customer service number. Call it and request an increase in your credit limit.

You could reap 50-point gains or more.

4. Keep your credit accounts open (for now)

Just like adding to your limits can help raise your overall score, taking credit away from your accounts can move your score down.

Resist the urge to close the old credit cards you never seem to use; and, the personal charge card for the store you never visit. Those open accounts are part of your score, and every point helps. 

5. Avoid new credit cards and new debt

Sometimes, it’s unavoidable. But, do your best to work with the credit you already have. Don’t open a new credit card, don’t apply for a new auto loan, and sign for a new personal credit line. Each of these actions will lower your overall score.

Shortcut 1: Become an authorized user 

The credit agencies let two or more people share credit, so ask a family member to add you as an authorized user on their credit accounts. As they pay their bills each month, you’ll get the benefit of additional on-time payments. 

Caution: If your family member misses a payment, it will count as a missed payment for you, too. 

Shortcut 2: Build a managed credit account

After the Great Repression of 2009, subscription-based credit companies emerged to build consumers build good credit. One of those companies, Self.inc, has helped more than 3 million people. It’s not a free service, but home buyers report having good success with it. Consider opening a Credit Builder Account with Self.

Learn more about how to fix your credit score to buy a house.

Frequently Asked Questions From Other Homebuyer.com Readers

Here are some of the most common questions from our readers:

Can you buy a house with a 500 credit score?

Yes, the FHA mortgage carries a credit score minimum of 500. However, if you’re not buying a home in the next 30 days, you have time to improve your credit score. Get a mortgage pre-approval to see your current mortgage credit score. Let us help you get to a 580 score, then 620, then even higher to maximize your mortgage options.

What is the first step to buying a house with bad credit?

The first step to buying a house with bad credit is to get an official mortgage pre-approval. Your pre-approval will reveal your credit score, show your mortgage options as of today, and give a path forward for higher scores. Start this step now if you’re not buying a home in the next 30 days. 

How can I buy a house with bad credit and income?

You can buy a home with bad credit and low income because mortgage lenders look at your complete mortgage application — not just one part of it.

Final Thoughts: Start With a Pre-Approval

When you’re buying a home, there’s no such thing as “good credit” or “bad credit” – there is only qualifying credit. 

Some home buyers hold credit scores over 800 and can’t get approved, and others have credit scores of 500 and buy their first home in 30 days.

Get started today and formulate your plan with an online pre-approval. It’s never too early to get started, and it sometimes can be too late.

Get pre-approved for a mortgage today.

Dan Green
Dan Green

Dan Green is a former mortgage loan officer and an industry expert. He's appeared on NPR and CNBC, and in The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and dozens of local newspapers. Dan has helped millions of first-time home buyers get educated on mortgages, real estate, and personal finance. Have mortgage questions? Ask Dan in the chat.

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