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For most people, mortgages go hand-in-hand with buying a home. A National Associations of Realtors report from November 2023 noted that 80% of homebuyers financed their purchases, slightly higher than the 78% recorded last year but notably lower than the 87% reported two years ago. What is the best credit score to buy a house?
To take it one logical step further, credit scores go hand-in-hand with mortgages, so if you’re considering buying a home, you’ll also need to consider your credit score.
We researched top national credit score indicators to answer two important questions for homebuyers: How are credit scores determined, and what minimum credit score is needed to get a home loan in 2024 when so much is up in the air?
How are credit scores determined?
Your credit score is a number that gives lenders a snapshot of how good you are at paying bills on time and not overextending yourself financially. Lenders use this to gauge how likely you are to repay debt.
A credit report and a credit score are different, but a credit score is calculated using information in your credit report. By law, you’re entitled to a free annual credit report from each credit reporting company. Most people obtain credit reports from one of three major sources: Experian, TransUnion, or Equifax.
Those companies will also provide you with a credit score for a fee. Sometimes, your credit card company will share your credit score for free.
Because your credit score can affect credit card approvals, loan application approvals, insurance premium rates, rental prospects, and employment applications, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your credit report.
Check annually for discrepancies or fraud. Once you’ve obtained your credit report, you can get a basic idea of how a lender will view your credit, even if you don’t have a numerical score.
There is more than one type of credit score, and the credit score lenders look at will probably be slightly different than the score you can receive on your own. That said, here’s a general breakdown of the calculations behind different major types of credit scoring.
FICO scores range from 300 to 850. A FICO score measures several aspects of your financial health and weighs them according to the following percentages to determine your total score.
- Payment history (35%): Do you pay bills on time? Have you ever declared bankruptcy or experienced foreclosure?
- Amounts owed (30%): How much debt do you have? How much of your available credit are you using?
- Length of credit history (15%): When did you open your first and most recent accounts? How long has it been since you used various accounts?
- Credit mix (10%): What types of debt do you have — student loans, car loans, credit cards, retail credit, health payments?
- New credit (10%): Have you opened or attempted to open many new accounts recently?
Similarly, the VantageScore ranges from 300 to 850, but this score weighs the elements of financial health a little differently.
- Payment history: Of those with “prime” VantageScores – between 661 and 780 – 90% pay all their debts on time.
- Credit utilization: VantageScore urges consumers to keep their revolving balances under 30% of the total credit line. The length of your credit experience and credit mix also play a large role in determining your score.
- New accounts: Applying for multiple new credit accounts quickly can hurt your score.
- Amount of credit available: Lenders like to see low account balances and significant available credit.
Whatever the particulars of your lender may be, there are three main areas that lenders ultimately consider: on-time payments, income-to-debt ratios, and low credit balances.
Here’s the bottom line: A higher credit score typically gives you the most options and the best interest rates. But even if you don’t have great credit, you still have options in the home loan market.
In 2024, it may be hard to find lenders who will make a loan to those with lower credit scores. The probability of economic recession and volatility in the mortgage market have caused most lenders to impose overlays on any loans they offer.
Overlays are standards above and beyond the minimum requirements outlined by government or private investors. Lenders will use overlays to lower risk levels in adverse loan environments.
What that means for borrowers in 2024 is that the minimum credit scores outlined below will almost certainly be higher for most, if not all, of these loans.
It also means that if a lender imposes an overlay during the closing process, buyers might find themselves suddenly unqualified for a loan they thought they could get. It’s prudent for buyers in 2024 to shop toward the low end of their price range and bring a higher down payment than they might otherwise to ensure their loan closes without any snags.
Loan approval is not the only thing to consider. Lenders also look at credit scores when setting your interest rate. A higher credit score demonstrates less risk for the lender, which means they will offer a lower interest rate on the mortgage loan.
On the flip side, lenders will demand higher interest rates from homebuyers with lower credit to help minimize their risk.
FHA loans are backed by the government (Federal Housing Administration). Although FHA loans are issued by a lender (bank or credit union), the lender is willing to take on riskier buyers than they would otherwise because the federal government is helping insure that loan.
FHA loans generally require a score of 580 to obtain a loan with a 3.5% down payment. However, if your score is lower than 580, you may still qualify for a loan if you can come up with a 10% down payment.
A VA (Veterans Affairs) loan is available for veterans and is partially backed by the government. While a VA loan requires no credit score minimum, no down payment, and no PMI (Private Mortgage Insurance) to qualify, these loans are not made by the Department of Veterans Affairs but are made by private lenders and guaranteed by the VA. Typically, a lender will require a credit score of 620 or higher for a VA loan.
USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) loans are available for homebuyers looking to purchase property in rural areas. Again, the USDA does not require a certain credit score to qualify, but most lenders who write USDA loans look for a credit score of 640 or higher. However, if your score is lower (around 580 or higher), obtaining a USDA loan is still possible, as some lenders will look at other financial and income variables.
Conventional mortgage loans are offered to homebuyers through lenders, banks, or credit unions and usually require a minimum credit score of 620 to 640, depending on the type and size of the loan. CreditKarma says the average credit score for first-time homebuyers is around 684.
If you’re establishing an acceptable credit score, some additional resources may help you obtain a home mortgage. Several assistance packages are available for first-time homebuyers, including discounts for first responders, help for renovations, and closing cost assistance. Also, the HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development) has a catalog of homebuyer assistance options in your state, so be sure to check out which programs you qualify for.
Be persistent, and always ask what other avenues are available.
What impact will credit scores have in 2024?
In the Global Credit Outlook 2024 by S&P Global Ratings, they anticipate further credit deterioration in 2024, especially among lower-rated entities, with nearly 40% of credits facing potential downgrades.
If you want to buy a house right now, it’s more important than ever to consider multiple loans from several lenders to get the best deal that fits your needs.
Also, remember that shopping at the very top of your approval range is a dangerous game when markets are shifting so quickly. If your lender imposes an overlay before you close on the house, you might not be able to get another loan, and you could miss out on your dream home — so keep that in mind when you’re making an offer.
No matter where your credit is in 2024, becoming a homeowner may not be beyond reach. Discuss your credit and subsequent home-buying options with your real estate agent, who may connect you with a reputable loan officer, mortgage broker, or financial advisor.
Every credit situation is different, and these qualified experts can help you optimize your credit and leverage it into the best home-buying situation possible in 2024.
Header Image Source: (Micah Carlson / Unsplash)
- "NAR Finds Typical Home Buyer's Annual Household Income Climbed to Record High of $107,000 in Wake of Rising Home Prices and Mortgage Rates," National Association of REALTORS® (November 2023)
- "How do I get a free copy of my credit reports?," Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (August 2023)
- "What Is the Average Credit Score in the U.S.?," Experian (February 2023)
- "How to Improve Your Credit Score Fast," Time (October 2023)