When you apply for a home loan, your lender will request a lot of information, including your current credit score. The score will be weighed with other factors to determine the interest rate you will pay on your mortgage. But where does this important number come from and what can you do to boost your score?
A credit score is a number ranging from 300 to 850 based on information in your financial history that measures your risk level to lenders. Lenders need to know if you will pay back the money they loan to you. The score helps them determine how likely it is that you’ll pay back (or, not pay back) the loan. The score changes based on your activity in five categories:
- Credit mix
- New credit
- Length of credit history
- Payment history
- Amounts owed
According to NerdWallet, in 2018 the average FICO credit score was 704. As of April of 2018, less than 20% of credit scores were lower than 600, 22.6% of scores ranged from 600 to 699 and 58.2% of scores were 700 or higher.¹
What do lenders care about?
Where home loans are concerned, your credit score is just one piece of the puzzle. Lenders do use your score to help make lending decisions, but they consider other factors as well.
Since a credit score doesn't indicate whether you can afford to make your payments, lenders also look at your current and past employment, other debts you may have, and assets you have accumulated, which could affect your down payment. They’ll also look at your debt-to-income ratio – another number that reflects the amount of debt you have in relation to your income.
There isn't typically a cutoff score under which you need not apply for a loan. And a good credit score does not guarantee your loan will be approved. You could have a good credit rating but owe too much in other debts.
How do I improve my score?
Don’t worry if your score is on the lower side, because you can take steps to improve it.
- Pay your bills on time. Automatic bill pay might help you avoid missing deadlines.
- Be aware of your total debt as well as credit utilization. That's the ratio of your credit card balances to the credit limits on those cards. Auto loans and school loans with specific terms are viewed more favorably by credit bureaus than revolving credit, such as department store cards.
- Think before closing old accounts, since the length of your credit history matters.
- Take steps to have errors on your report corrected or removed. Be prepared since this process takes patience.