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Once burned, twice shy doesn’t seem to apply to those who were burned by the housing downturn. Even those who lost their homes to bankruptcy or foreclosure in the past few years are often eager to take advantage of lower housing prices and ultra-low interest rates available now. The question they often ask us is, “When can I qualify for a mortgage again?” (If you’re not sure what your credit profile looks like, you can check your credit score using a free tool like Credit.com’s Credit Report Card, which gives you your score plus a breakdown of the major components of your credit score – payment history, credit usage, length of credit history, mix of credit and new credit – to see what areas you need to work on. You can then do a deeper dive by checking your three major credit reports, which you can get for free every year.)

To answer that question, I interviewed with Joe Kelly, founder of a national mortgage firm, ArcLoan.com, on my radio show Talk Credit Radio. (ArcLoan.com is a sponsor of that show). Following is an edited excerpt from that interview.

Gerri:   A few years ago, if you could breathe, you got a loan. Now it’s changed. So can you still get a mortgage if your credit isn’t perfect?

Joe:  It really depends. The majority of lenders across the country are all operating under the same Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac underwriting guidelines. (The application is) going into a computer and it’s spitting out an answer; we will approve your loan or we won’t approve your loan.

There are also what are called “portfolio lenders.” They are small community banks (who) look at a wider variety of scenarios. Maybe your credit is not as good but you have other compensating factors such as liquid assets.

When you go to get a mortgage, what is generally considered a bad credit, good credit, great credit? What’s going to give you some issues and what’s going to get you in the door with no problems?

As of today (and it does change) bad credit in the mortgage world is considered below a credit score of about 620 — 640. Good credit is generally 640 — 740. Great credit from a mortgage standpoint in today’s world is a FICO score of 740 or above.

We’re talking FICO scores here. And we’re talking FICO scores on a mortgage credit report, not where you pull an individual credit report and get one score.

How does it work if you have great credit or not-so-great credit and your spouse is in the opposite position? What is the lender looking at when you have two borrowers with different credit scores?

The important thing to look at is whether they qualify for the mortgage just on the person who has the better credit. That’s because the lender is going to look at the lowest middle score of both of the people on the loan.

Let’s say that I’ve got a credit score of 640 and my wife’s got much better credit, she’s got a 780. It turns out that I’m the one working at the better job and making more money, but she’s got the higher score. If we need both of our incomes to qualify, they’re going to go off my score because it’s the lower score. But if it’s the opposite scenario, many times you can make the loan work and just remove the borrower who’s got the lower score (from the application).

Are there certain types of loans that are better if your credit isn’t perfect? For example, FHA is traditionally seen as the type of loan that’s available to a wider range of credit scores. Is that still the case?

Yes, it is still the case. FHA loans and VA loans have more flexible guidelines especially in the area of credit. I’ll give you an example — the minimum credit scores that we’re talking about for an FHA or a VA loan, typically in today’s market is 620. (Compare that to) a traditional conventional loan where the minimum score that you really are looking at is 680; otherwise, you get really hit with extra costs and penalties. So FHA and VA loans have more flexibility depending on what state you’re in. Sometimes there are state programs that you should inquire about that also have more flexibility.

If you have a judgment against you from a debt-buyer or a creditor, is a mortgage even a possibility?

A mortgage is still absolutely a possibility. In almost every case, a judgment will have to be paid and satisfied prior to approving and closing on that loan. It doesn’t have to hold you back from going in and getting the process started and talking to a lender. But in almost every single case we see you are going to be required to satisfy that judgment if you want a mortgage.

What if you’ve been through bankruptcy? We have approximately a million Americans filing for bankruptcy every year. When you add up the 7 to 10 years that it can remain on your credit report that’s potentially some 10 million consumers that have one listed on their credit reports. What are their options for getting a mortgage?

Many people think when they go through a bankruptcy that, “Hey that’s it, I’m not going to be able to buy a house again,” and that’s not true. It’s a matter of waiting a certain amount of time. Currently, if it’s an FHA or a VA loan, the government is more flexible. The waiting period from the time the bankruptcy is discharged — not when you started it, but when it’s completed — is two years. For a conventional loan, it’s four years. If someone’s going to get an FHA loan, with some some lenders in certain circumstances you can get a mortgage or refinance even sooner than two years.

What kinds of credit references do lenders want to see? Because what happens sometimes is people go through bankruptcy and they stop using credit altogether. They don’t really have any current credit references. Do you run into that problem?

We do. From the mortgage perspective, we’re looking for something called “re-establishing of credit” and folks can go and re-establish credit with a secured card. That gives them a trade line that helps them get that credit score back up. It shows that they are on the road to recovery.

Take someone who has been through a foreclosure or a short sale. They lost their home or sold their home, and now they’re saying rates are low and prices are low, I want to get back into a home. What are their shots of doing that?

So many people in the country have been through that. We see that so often and really, when it comes to getting another mortgage or refinancing a (current loan), it’s just a matter of waiting the appropriate amount of time.

Obviously, credit scores still come into play, but if that was the only impact on their credit, that credit score is going to continue to rise as time passes. The waiting period is currently two years for an FHA or VA loan and four years for conventional loans.  (Those are subject to change, though, so please check with your lender.)

We get many applications where that scenario comes up and that two-year mark is (just a few months away). Literally it just means, “Start that application process now. You just cannot get approved or closed on that loan until that time period has passed.”

Is there anything else you want to let folks know know about getting a mortgage if you’ve been through credit problems, and how to prepare for that?

Yes, Gerri, it’s the same thing I think I say all the time: be proactive. Don’t feel that it’s a definite closed door. Find somebody that is trustworthy and reputable and get a mortgage credit report pulled. See what that’s looking like. See whether if there’s incorrect information. See if you can do things to improve that score.

Don’t miss this chance at low rates. It’s worth putting in some hours of time and it does take work. It’s a lot of work to reestablish your credit or raise your credit score. But it’s worth it, especially if you look at it over a 5, 10, 15, 20-year period of time.

Even if you pay a little bit higher rate, you’re still probably getting a very low rate because rates are so low.

I think that’s an excellent final point. You may hear rates are 3%. If you’ve got credit issues, you might not get that lowest, lowest rate. The point is, if you can lower the rates that you’re paying now for a reasonable cost or for no cost — that’s an important improvement.

Listen to the full interview with Joe Kelly: Listen online here; download the mp3 here; or listen on iTunes here.

Image: The Shopping Sherpa, via Flickr

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  • Jean Payne

    I would like to know how I could reduce my Mortgage payment a month, as my present Mortgage company whould do it for me. I live in a Manufactured Home and Pay $ 982.80 monthly @ 10.% which is to much, I have retired and is a Widow please help me.

    Trying to get another Mortgage and reduce my payments. Thank you.

  • Cher Her

    I think it’s great that people are getting the kind of answers they’ve been wondering about. You guys do make alot of us home owners feel more confidence about buying or even refinance after bankruptcy. My question is that I bought my first home and there’s a mortgage insurance added on to the mortgage due to not putting down the amount of down payment needed to eliminate the mortgage ins. How long do I have to pay the mortgage or how far into the loan will the mortgage ins. be eliminate from the loan?

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  • defazeo

    this was a great article for me to read today. i have been getting nowhere trying to get a mortgage. i have more than amble income to qualify for the price point i am looking at $55k-95k but had a short sale and some negative credit accounts due to a divorce.
    my rent is currently $740 and in the price range i am looking would be no more than that amount. i feel as if i am really getting punished here in an attempt to lower my monthly living expenses. i can afford the rent i am paying now but its like i can’t get an opportunity to lower my monthly living expenses. whoa is me…..
    i am currently looking into this program called NACA. if you have any other places i could look to i would appreciate it.

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  • Miletour

    I had a foreclosure that sold in January 2010. There was a first (one west formerly IndyMac) and a 2nd (Chase). My 2nd lender was a home equity and they did not get anything – the home was worth less than the 1st. Chase showed as a charge off on my credit. In January of 2013, I settled with Chase for 10% of the loan value. Now, I’m trying to apply for a Mortgage and my lender has an issue with Chase reporting the loan paid for less than the amount in January 2013. I told them it’s related to the foreclosure in 2010. Is there anything I can do to change Chase’s reporting – my lender may make me wait until January 2015 for the loan. Any suggestions?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      Unfortunately, if that’s when you settled with them then that’s an accurate date and the credit reporting agency and creditor will continue to report it from that date. Either the lender will work with you or you’ll have to find another lender who will, but I can’t see a way around accurate information.

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  • Margarita

    This is my situation. I own a condo that is worth $25,000. I have not paid the mortgage since 2009 and have two loans on it. The first loan wanted to approve a short sale but the second loan didn’t approve it. Instead, they place a judgment on me for $26,000 which is not reported in my credit. neither the first loan is which is $108.000 is reporting any late payments or anything in my credit. My credit has no problems at all and it is about 705. However, when I was going to buy a house FHA they saw the judgement and I was not approved. My question is: If I am able to negotiate this judgement and erase it from public records would it be enough to be approved for a mortgage? or since I am still the owner of this property I will have trouble?. The association put a lien on it and the first mortgage was sold to a collection agency. The property is in Florida and I would like to buy a bigger house.

    Thanks a lot.

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      I am going to have to suggest you work with a mortgage professional who can help you understand your options for getting a loan. You have a lot of things going on here.

  • ScottSheldonLoans

    Hello,
    In short tell the truth, explain what happened to your loan officer, what events were happening in that timeframe, what is happened since and how there is zero likelihood of that event reoccurring. Lenders want to know what happened, why it happened, what with the circumstances leading to the event,, as well as what is happened since then to prevent the likelihood from that event from ever reoccurring again. If you can make sure to answer all of those key touch points, you will be well on your way to closing on the mortgage. Good luck!

  • ScottSheldonLoans

    Hi,

    You should be able to qualify to purchase the new home subject to your
    current home selling. You’ll probably need at least a 620 credit score
    depending on your individual lender requirement. The beauty of the VA loan
    program is that it requires no down payment, so your purchase price and loan
    amount are equal. Moreover, as long as you are VA eligible, and you have not
    previously used the VA eligibility, you should be able to do this successfully.

    The late payments in the past should not preclude you from being able to
    qualify to buy a new home, but the best thing to do would be to talk to a
    lender in your area, have them run an automated underwrite which is how all
    loans are originated today, and as long as it passes the automated underwriting
    the lender does initially- you should be ok for moving forward with your home
    purchase.

    Good luck on the purchase!

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    It’s hard to say Ramon. Are you buying a home that you feel is a really good deal, and that you won’t be able to get in a few years after you’ve rebuilt your credit? Are the payments at that interest rate affordable? How much will this house cost you in the long run after you have paid all that interest?

    There may not be a “right answer here; it may be a matter of just weighing your options. But the main thing to keep in mind is that it may be a while before you can refinance and interest rates may go up in the meantime. Will you be okay with that if that’s what happens?

    Also, I assume you have your free credit score and are working on rebuilding your credit. If not, of course I will recommend that you do so.

  • Yodle11

    I was always told someone would have to wait at least 7 to 10 years to finance a home after a foreclosure or bankruptcy. Yet I’m reading here that some people are able to finance in as little as two years. How is this even possible?

    I’ve never been foreclosed and I’ve never filed bankruptcy but I do have some credit cards that were charged off (although they are paid now). How will this affect me?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      Have you checked your credit reports and scores? Resolved credit problems shouldn’t stop you from getting a loan provided your scores are high enough.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    It depends on your overall credit score and qualifications. These articles may help: Link text and How to Get a Mortgage with Bad Credit.

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Talk with your mortgage lender. We have at least one reader whose mortgage is being held up by a balance on a 1099-C debt. (A story on that will be coming out next week.)

  • http://www.loredigital.com Samual Perry

    Great Article!! Excellent discussion. This is surely a good reference for those who are looking to buy a home but still confuse with many things. Especially, the borrowers who constantly seek for the guidance when it comes to get a mortgage after credit problems. Great job. Thanks!!

  • Jeanine Skowronski

    Existing judgements can make it harder to get a mortgage – or make it less affordable. Keep in mind, the judgement won’t come off of your report just because your pay it. Negative information can stay on reports for seven to ten years. However, your score will improve as you get further and further away from the judgment. You can find more information here:

    http://blog.credit.com/2014/02/get-a-mortgage-despite-a-debt-judgment-77044/

    Thank you,

    Jeanine

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