Lenders Still Want Great Credit Scores for Mortgages
These days, many consumers are likely finding it easier to obtain many types of credit, as lenders have significantly slackened requirements for most loans and credit cards. However, the qualifications to obtain a good mortgage rate remain stubbornly high across the country.
Even as credit conditions improve significantly nationwide and many financial institutions are once again broadening lending efforts, many are still being extremely tight with financing for mortgages, according to a report from the New York Times. In fact, even as subprime lending for credit cards opens up considerably, many consumers with low credit scores will find themselves extremely unlikely to even be considered for a home loan approval.
A recent study by the Federal Reserve Board indicated that consumers with a credit score of 620 willing to make a 10 percent down payment are now less likely to be approved for a mortgage than they were in 2006, the report said. Further, some were even reticent to extend financing to borrowers making a similar down payment when their credit rating was 720.
This is because most lenders are still extremely gun-shy about lending large sums of money to anyone but the most qualified borrowers, the report said. In many cases, those who are approved for a home loan will also pay far higher rates on the mortgage than those who have top-notch credit scores, even as the average interest rate has hovered below 4 percent for some time now.
“If you don’t have good credit, you’re not going to get that crazy low rate,” Deborah MacKenzie, the director of counseling at the Stamford, Conn., nonprofit the Housing Development Fund, told the newspaper.
Typically, the only way consumers can improve their credit ratings so that they can qualify for a home loan is by being smarter about managing their various lines of credit, including keeping credit card balances low and making all payments on time and in full. These are the two biggest factors comprised in a credit score. However, consumers can also be hurt by applying for too many new lines of credit within a short period of time, so avoiding this ahead of shopping around for a mortgage can be crucial to maintaining good credit health as well.
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The rate at which consumers fell behind on their home loans declined considerably in the first quarter of the year, and now stand at levels not seen in years.
The delinquency rate on home loans for properties of between one and four units fell to 7.4 percent of all outstanding loans in the first quarter of the year, down from 7.58 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011, and 8.32 percent in the same period last year, according to the latest statistics from the Mortgage Bankers Association. While declines are traditionally viewed in the first quarter of every year, the MBA’s data shows that the drops this year were more significant than traditional adjustments would have predicted, showing that the declines are real, rather than the result of seasonal norms.
“Newer delinquencies, loans one payment past due as of March 31, are down to the lowest level since the middle of 2007, indicating fewer new problems we will need to deal with in the future,” said Michael Fratantoni, the MBA’s vice president of research and economics. “The percentage of loans three payments or more past due, the loans that represent the backlog of problems that still need to be handled, is down to the lowest level since the end of 2008. Foreclosure starts are at their lowest level since the end of 2007.”
Delinquency fell for all types of mortgages except VA loans on a quarter-over-quarter basis, the report said. Prime fixed rate loan delinquency now stands at 4.07 percent, and late payments for prime adjustable-rate mortgages dropped to 9.05 percent, down from 9.22 percent in the fourth quarter. Further, loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration also saw drops in delinquency, falling to 12 percent from 12.36 percent a quarter earlier. The rate of homes that were in foreclosure increased on a quarterly basis, however, rising to 4.39 percent.
As the economy continues to generally improve, consumers are finding themselves in a better position to pay off all their outstanding debts on time. Factors such as declining unemployment rates and rising salaries have contributed to Americans feeling better about their personal financial situations. Experts believe that these trends will likely continue for some time, meaning that the housing industry may continue to improve, encouraging more qualified buyers to enter the market.
In the last year or more, many consumers have made conscientious efforts to reduce their reliance on credit cards and increase the timeliness of their payments, leading instances of delinquency and default to slip to at or near all-time historic lows.
But lenders will likely see their net charge-off rates slip for one more quarter before expanding again by the end of the year, finishing 2012 with higher rates of defaulted accounts than they began with, according to the latest report from analysis firm Fitch Ratings, entitled “Credit Cards: Asset Quality Review.” At the end of the first quarter, the net charge-off rate observed by the nation’s seven largest credit card lenders stood at 4.02 percent, down from 4.2 percent at the end of 2011, and 6.39 percent in the first quarter of that year.
Further, charge-offs are well below the five-year average of 6.51 percent observed between 2007 and 2011, the report said. And because of trends in 30-day credit card delinquencies, which itself is well below the five-year average, it’s likely that the current charge-off rate will decline once again in the second quarter of this year.
However, the trend may soon reverse because consumers are once again feeling better about their finances in general, the report said. Portfolio contraction among major lenders more or less held steady in the first quarter of the year, and smaller card issuers actually saw more consumers opening new accounts.
As a consequence of this trend, which may also be the result of expanding credit standards that are allowing subprime borrowers to once again access lines of credit they were unable to tap just a year ago, it’s likely that defaults will begin expanding once again, trending back toward historical averages from the current levels. Many had long projected that there must be a logical point at which charge-offs bottomed out, and we could soon see that point.
Millions of accounts were written off by lenders as uncollectable during and immediately following the recent recession as card issuers tried to shield themselves from significant loan losses as a result of consumers who could no longer afford to pay their bills. However, the improving economy has emboldened most major lenders to once again extend credit to those who previously defaulted on their accounts.
By: Gerri Detweiler
If it seems like everyone’s talking about credit scores these days, it’s probably not your imagination. Consumers appear to be getting smarter about credit scores. At least that’s what the results of a survey of 1000 consumers by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and VantageScore Solutions show. Compared to a year ago, a larger percentage of consumers correctly answered a variety of questions about credit scores. But there were a few key concepts that tripped up many respondents.
Most of those surveyed did well on the basics. They knew that:
- Mortgage lenders and credit card issuers use credit scores (94 percent and 90 percent correct respectively). And many other service providers also use these scores — landlords, home insurers, and cell phone companies (73 percent, 71 percent, and 66 percent correct respectively).
- The three main credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — collect the information on which credit scores are frequently based (75 percent correct) and that it is very important for consumers to review their credit reports with those agencies to learn if they are accurate. (82 percent correct).
- Consumers have more than one generic credit score (78 percent).
- The following types of information influence scores: missed payments, personal bankruptcy, and high credit card balances (94 percent, 90 percent, and 89 percent correct respectively). And that making all loan payments on time, keeping credit card balances under 25 percent of credit limits, and not opening several credit card accounts at the same time help raise a low score or maintain a high one (97 percent, 85 percent, and 83 percent correct respectively).
So What’s The Problem?
CFA’s Executive Director Stephen Brobeck said he has “have never seen such improvement from one year to the next,” in the organization’s consumer knowledge surveys. But there was still some basic information about credit scores that many didn’t understand. In particular, consumers didn’t seem to grasp how expensive poor credit scores can be. For example, fewer than one in three were aware that, on a $20,000, 60-month auto loan, a borrower with a low credit score is likely to pay at least $5,000 more than a borrower with a high credit score.
While credit scores don’t take factors like age, marital status or race into account, just over half thought a person’s age (56 percent) and marital status (54 percent) are factors used to calculate credit scores, and 21 percent incorrectly believe that ethnic origin is a factor.
Consumers are also confused about how inquiries affect credit scores. Just 9 percent correctly knew that “multiple inquiries during a 1-2 week window” will not lower scores. In reality, when it comes to FICO scores, recent inquiries within a short period of time for mortgage, auto or student loans don’t affect scores, and going back in time, multiple inquiries for the same type of loan in those categories are treated as a single inquiry. The exact time period varies, depending on which scoring model is used. Similarly, multiple inquiries within a 1-2 week window won’t lower VantageScore scores.
The Smartest Consumers Know Their Scores
Checking one’s credit scores apparently does help cut through the confusion; those who had seen their scores recently were more likely to correctly answer the survey questions. But fewer than half of those surveyed (42 percent) had received at least one of their credit scores during the past year. Of those who did see their scores, the top sources were a website (49 percent) and a mortgage lender (45 percent).
The number of consumers in the top credit score range has reached its highest level since fall 2008, a report by FICO Labs shows, which could indicate more Americans are working to better their personal finances, including improving their credit reports. (If you want to know more about how a credit score works, check out: What’s a Credit Score?)
More than 18 percent of consumers now have FICO scores between 800 and 850—the first time the ratio of consumers has grown to this figure since October 2008, FICO Labs reports.
However, the number of consumers with scores between 700 and 799 hasn’t improved in the same manner. The report states 15.5 percent of U.S. residents have scores in this range, which is the lowest the figure has been since FICO Labs began recording the statistic in 2005.
Additionally, the report found that nearly one-third of the country’s consumers have FICO scores between 550 and 699—the most amount of people with a score in this range since 2006.
According to FICO, this data likely denotes there are still a considerable amount of Americans in poor or average financial standing.
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Despite many Americans in evident need of a credit tune-up, Rachel Bell of FICO Labs stated the report indicates a considerable change in consumers’ attitudes toward their personal finances.
“Many consumers have moved into the top tier of the FICO Score range by redoubling their efforts to maintain an excellent credit profile,” said Bell. “Other people have fallen into lower tiers, most likely due to the financial stress that many households have been feeling. Despite this shift, we continue to observe more than half of FICO Scores in the U.S. are between 700 – 850, which means Americans have managed their credit well despite the economic downturn.”
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One facet of the report that stands out, according to Bell, is the percentage of consumers with FICO scores in the 300-549 range—nearly 15 percent. This is the lowest the figure has been since 2006. The reason for the reduced figure, Bell notes, is due to many lenders writing off a substantial amount of bad debt.
“Some consumers who had multiple bad debts and delinquencies a few years ago are now able to move on, and their credit scores are starting to move into the 550-699 range,” Bell added.