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Why Are So Many Latino Americans Struggling to Get Mortgages?

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With the exception of 2009 and 2010, Latinos have driven homeownership growth in the U.S. for more than a decade, according to Census Bureau data. Still, they’re experiencing significant obstacles to homeownership, which is the subject of a recent report from the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals.

Hispanic mortgage applicants were denied loans at twice the rate of non-Hispanic white applicants in 2013 (22% vs. 11% denial rates), and in the same year, Latinos accounted for only 7.3% of purchase mortgages, even though they make up 17% of the U.S. population, according to the report. (The report uses Hispanic and Latino interchangeably.)

In the report, that disparity is largely attributed to the use of conventional credit scoring models and the lack of affordable home options. Despite these obstacles, Hispanics represent half of the U.S. homeownership growth since 2010, with 614,000 more Hispanics becoming homeowners in that time.

“While Hispanics remain poised to drive homeownership growth for the next several decades, with only a few exceptions there is little evidence that the industry as a whole has done much to address the unique nuances of many Hispanic homebuyers,” the report says.

For example, immigrants are more likely to repay their mortgages than their credit scores suggest, according to a Federal Reserve study cited in the report, and while not all Hispanic homeowners are immigrants, many are. Additionally, about half of Latino households are considered unbanked or underbanked, according to a study from the Center for American Progress, and unbanked consumers tend to be left out of traditional credit scoring models, which are used to underwrite mortgages.

“Traditional models generally do not capture transactions outside the conventional banking payment systems,” reads the NAHREP report. “This omission puts ‘unbanked’ borrowers at a disadvantage, since their good payment history using cash transactions are not considered in their credit score.”

This data paints a picture familiar to many aspiring homeowners, regardless of ethnicity: People want to buy homes and may even feel financially ready to do so, but their preparedness doesn’t allow for them to with a tight mortgage market and a short supply of affordable homes.

There’s not a lot consumers can do to change this, other than work on their credit scores and thoroughly research their options for buying a house. There are a few mortgage programs designed for first-time homebuyers, including those that require a low down payment (the NAHREP report notes that Hispanics are more likely than other consumers to make low down payments on homes). We explain how to figure out your down payment here.

On the credit side, you’ll need to regularly review your credit standing in the years and months leading up to the time when you buy a home — it’s a habit you should maintain throughout your life. There are many ways to get your credit scores and reports, one of which is the free credit report summary on Credit.com. It’s updated every 30 days and helps you make a plan to improve your credit.

More on Mortgages & Homebuying:

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