During the housing boom, mortgage requirements were relaxed to unsustainable levels. It seemed just about anyone could approach a lender and walk away with financing. But in an effort to recover from a record increase in foreclosures and loan defaults, lenders have become more stringent; loan applicants must now meet more demanding requirements to obtain a mortgage.
Does this mean that you won’t be able to get the financing you need? In a word, no. You do need to plan for it. Here are a few tips for a smoother path to home ownership.
Reduce your debt.
By paying down your debt, you will not only show a lender that you are a good risk for making regular payments, you will end up with fewer outstanding payments or accounts to factor into your debt-to-income ratio. Simply put, the fewer static payments you have on your financial record, the better. While it might not be feasible for you to pay off your car or student loans quickly, you should be sure that credit card and store balances are low or nonexistent.
Shore up your credit!
If there is one thing you can do to increase your chance of obtaining a mortgage loan, it is to take careful stock of your credit situation and address any issues that are lowering your credit score. The first thing to do is to order a copy of your credit record from all three major credit reporting agencies: TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. Look over this information carefully to make sure that all three agencies are aligned in their rating of your credit. If you see any errors, dispute them with the company in question. If your credit is too low to obtain an attractive interest rate on a mortgage (680 or higher is considered good; 720 will put your in very good position to secure financing), take a few months to increase it. One way to do this is to take out a credit card, use it to make regular purchases, and pay off the balance monthly.
If you can put off making any large purchases until after your home sale has closed, do so. This isn’t the time to run out and buy a luxury car or take a lavish vacation. The rule of the day is to be conservative with your spending – meaning more cash in hand for that down payment and reserve cash in the bank to fall back on once you need to start making your monthly mortgage payments.
Save. Save more. And then save more.
The amount of money you have in the bank is going to be important when you need to prove to a lender that you can offer up a healthy down payment. While 20% down is the conventional rule of thumb, there are mortgages available that require less cash up front. Your loan officer can point you in the right direction to take advantage of any low- or no-cost down payment programs for which you might qualify. But wherever possible, add to your savings – more money in the bank can only help you qualify for a loan.
Stability is key.
Maintaining steady employment or income is an absolute must when you apply for a mortgage. This isn’t the time to try a new career path on a lark or risk taking a new position without a lot of job security. Lenders are going to want to see that you have a proven, stable source of income, that you make regular payments on your rent or existing mortgage, and that you seem like a good risk for financing.
Obtaining a mortgage loan may seem like a challenge, but with a little diligence, a little financial restraint, and the aid of an experienced loan officer, you’ll have all the tools you need to secure the financing you need. If you can prove your commitment to the cause, you’ll be on the path to home ownership in no time.
Written by Chip Poli