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Can You Get a Mortgage as a First-Time Homebuyer With Bad Credit?

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

When you’ve got bad credit, the dream of buying your own home can seem like just that — a dream. But thanks to programs designed to help more Americans become homebuyers, you could be in luck.Here’s what it takes for first-time homebuyers with bad credit to make their dreams come true.

A look at credit scores

Before we dive into the options for folks with bad credit, you’re probably wondering what credit score qualifies as “bad” vs. “good.” Lenders typically break credit down into three categories using a FICO credit score, a number that’s based on several factors, including your payment history and the longevity and types of your credit accounts:

  • Excellent credit: a score of 660 or above
  • Fair credit: a score between 580 and 660
  • Bad credit: a score below 580

So where does your credit fall? If you don’t know your number, you can find out for free. You can also check your full credit report from all three major credit bureaus once every year for free, through AnnualCreditReport.com.

What to expect as a first-time homebuyer with bad credit

If your credit score falls below that 580 number, you can expect it will be a bit tougher to find a lender, said Nathaniel Butler, marketing manager for Falls Church, Va., lender Washington Capital Partners.

“While it doesn’t bar you from securing a loan outright, it means that the property deal that you present to the lender must be so incredible/profitable that it mitigates the added risk of a bad credit history,” Butler said. Hard money lenders like Butler are private entities (separate from a bank) that lend based off of a hard asset (for example, the real estate value itself).

In other words? It’s tough, but not impossible. Here are some hurdles you might be facing:

  • Higher interest rates or origination points paid at closing: These will make the buying process much more costly, as banks put more financial burden on buyers with bad credit. “These are both tools that lenders use to mitigate the additional risk of lending to an individual with bad credit,” Butler said.
  • Larger down payments: Low credit scores affect the loan-to-value (LTV) ratio you can qualify for, said Jesse Gonzalez, broker of record at North Bay Capital in Santa Rosa, Calif. That means a lender will only finance so much of the property, leaving the rest up to the buyer to contribute out of pocket in order to buy the property.
  • Down payment financing options: If you can’t come up with a larger down payment, some buyers may be able to use private mortgage insurance (PMI) to reduce the amount a lender asks for upfront. According to Evan Wade, co-founder and partner of Philadelphia Mortgage Brokers, PMI is often less expensive than buyers think, and the premium can often be bundled into a mortgage payment so buyers have just one bill to pay each month.
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Is buying a home the best option now?

When to buy a home is a personal decision, no matter what your credit score is. As Wade said, “I would never try to force someone into buying a home if they feel they’re not ready yet.”

But there are some factors that buyers with poor credit should keep in mind:

  • Buying vs. renting: Average rents and home prices vary by location, but buying now could end up saving you money as you build equity by owning your home. To figure out whether you might save by buying, the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. (also known as Freddie Mac) offers a rent vs. buy calculator.
  • Should I rent and rebuild credit? Putting off a home purchase gives a buyer time to clean up their credit, Butler noted, which might end up saving them money in the long run. After all, a higher credit score might give access to loans with lower interest rates and fewer fees.
  • Rising interest rates: Take a peek at the market. If interest rates are low, it might be a reason to buy now, while you can save a little cash. If interest rates are climbing, it will affect any mortgage you might get, Wade said.

Mortgage loan programs for first-time homebuyers with less-than-stellar credit scores

There’s no question that it can be a tougher road to homebuying for people with bad credit, but there are options designed for folks in exactly that situation. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA), for example, offers a loan that’s available to buyers with a score as low as 500, and other programs are available. Let’s take a look at some of the programs out there with federal backing:

  • FHA loan — Insured by the FHA but granted by private lenders, FHA loans are some of the most forgiving of bad credit, Gonzalez said, offering loans to folks with scores as low as 500. LTV requirements vary from 65% to as high as 90%, depending on a borrower’s score, and these loans do require PMI. Bonus? The FHA makes loans available for mobile and manufactured homes as well.
  • VA loan — Designed to help veterans of the U.S. military as well as Active Duty servicemembers and some eligible spouses and beneficiaries, VA loans are insured by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). These loans carry no credit score requirements and require no down payment for eligible borrowers, unless it’s required by the private lender approved by the VA to make the loan.
  • USDA loan— The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) helps make loans available for low- and very low–income buyers who cannot access a mortgage via other means (such as being denied due to credit score). These loans typically do not require a down payment; however, buyers should be aware that USDA loans are limited to purchases in areas designated as rural by the agency.
  • Home Possible® Mortgage — Buyers with bad credit or no credit score at all may be able to find help via the Freddie Mac Home Possible Mortgage program. These loans, designed for low- and moderate-income buyers, have down payment requirements as low as 3% for some buyers.
  • Good Neighbor Next Door: If you’re a law enforcement officer, teacher, firefighter or emergency medical technician, you might be able to qualify for this U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program that’s open only to people in these particular fields. The program cuts the sales price of HUD homes by as much as 50%, and allows buyers to use a federally backed or conventional loan to buy the home. The program does require you have PMI and that you live in the home for at least three years.

Other lending help for first-time homebuyers

Buyers with bad credit may also be able to find help via local and national programs designed to make homeownership a reality for more Americans.

Local housing authority: Depending on where you live, you may be able to find help from a local housing authority to finance your first home. Programs are available around the country, designed to help buyers with budgeting, planning and, of course, accessing loans. Find a housing authority near you.

How to improve your chances of getting approved for a mortgage

If you’ve taken a look at your credit score and you’re feeling glum about your chances, there may still be some things you can do to get a mortgage as a first-time homebuyer with bad credit.

  • Find a co-signer/co-borrower. If a friend or family member has better credit and will agree to vouch for you, they may be able to help you secure a loan, Gonzalez said. “I’ve seen loans denied by the automated underwriting system (AUS) that will become approve/eligible simply by adding a co-borrower, even if the co-borrower is non- occupying.”
  • Put up a bigger down payment/find a loan with low LTV ratio. If you’ve got the cash to put down or a friend or family member is willing to chip in, a lender may look more favorably on you as a borrower, Gonzalez said. Because the lender didn’t front 100% of the cost of the property, it can fall back on the remaining value financed to recoup their losses, should you default. You will likely still face higher interest rates, but at least you’ll have a loan.
  • Build up a savings account. Borrowers want to see that you have the financial means to pay off your loan in the long run.“You need to properly maintain a budget to ensure you’re able to stay in your home and not face foreclosure or bankruptcy,” Wade explained. Building up savings signals to lenders that you have the budget to pay your mortgage each month.
  • Improve your score. Lenders are humans too, and they often want to help out prospective first-time buyers. That can even mean giving tips on how to improve your credit score. “We have methods with our credit reporting agencies to do a ‘what if’ scenario on your current credit report,” Gonzalez explained. “We punch in a desired credit rating and the scoring model will tell us what we need to do with the credit in order to obtain that higher score.” The lender can tell the borrower a few things to do to improve his or her credit, and the system will do a rapid rescoring of the report in as little as a few days.
  • Get credit errors fixed. One tip that often helps to improve your score? Getting errors on your credit report fixed. Is a loan that you’ve paid off showing up as in arrears? Did someone steal your Social Security number and open a credit card in your name that hasn’t been paid off? You can open a dispute directly with the credit reporting agency to have the faulty information removed and your score recalculated.

Bottom line

Before you start drooling over real estate photos, it’s important to take a hard look at your credit. If things look grim, it’s OK. Find out what you can do to fix it, or talk to a lender about the programs designed to help folks in your situation.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Jeanne Sager
Jeanne Sager |

Jeanne Sager is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Jeanne here

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Should You Save for Retirement or Pay Down Your Mortgage?

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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On the list of financial priorities, which comes first — paying off your mortgage or saving for retirement? The answer isn’t simple. On one hand, owning a home with no mortgage attached to it provides long term security knowing you’ll have a place to live with no monthly payment except property taxes and insurance. However, you’ll also need income to live on if you plan to retire, and how much you save now will have a big impact on your quality of retirement life.

We’ll discuss the pros and cons of whether you should save for retirement or pay down your mortgage, or maybe a combination of both.

Pros of paying down your mortgage vs. saving for retirement

The faster you pay your mortgage off, the sooner you own the home outright. However, there are other benefits you’ll realize if you take extra measures to pay your loan balance off faster.

You could save thousands in long-term interest charges

Most homeowners take out a 30-year mortgage to keep their monthly payments as low as possible. The price for that affordable payment is a big bill for interest charged over the 360 payments you’ll make if you’re in your “forever” home.

For example, a 30-year fixed $200,000 loan at 4.375% comes with a lifetime interest charge of $159,485.39. That’s if you never pay a penny more than your fixed mortgage payment for that 30-year period. Using additional funds to pay down your mortgage faster can significantly reduce this.

Even one extra payment a year results in $27,216.79 in interest savings on the loan we mentioned above. An added bonus is that you’ll be able to throw your mortgage-free party four years and five months sooner.

You’ll build equity much faster

Thanks to a beautiful thing called amortization, lenders make sure the majority of your monthly mortgage payment goes toward interest rather than principal in the beginning of your loan term. Because of that, it’s difficult to make a real dent in your loan principal for many years. You can, however, counteract this by making additional payments on your mortgage and telling the lender to specifically put those payments toward your principal balance instead of interest.

Not only do you pay less interest over the long haul with this strategy, but you build the amount of equity you have in your home much faster. And to homeowners, equity is gold — you’re closer to owning your home outright, and equity can also be a resource if you need funds for a home improvement project or another big expense.

You can access that equity as your financial needs change by doing a cash-out refinance or by taking out a home equity loan or home equity line of credit (HEL or HELOC).

You won’t lose your home if values drop

When you contribute extra money into a retirement account, there is always the risk that you’ll lose some or all of the money you invested. When you contribute money to paying off your mortgage, even if the values drop, you still have the security of a place to live, and are increasing the equity in the home, no matter how much it’s ultimately worth.

Making extra payments ensures you’ll eventually have a debt-free asset that provides shelter to you and your family, regardless of what happens to the housing market in your neighborhood.

Cons of paying down your mortgage vs. saving for retirement

There are some cases where paying down your mortgage faster might actually hurt you financially. Before adding extra principal to your mortgage payments, you’ll want to make sure you aren’t doing damage to your financial outlook with an extra contribution toward your mortgage payoff.

You might end up paying more in taxes

The higher interest payments you make during the early years of your mortgage can act as a tax benefit, so paying the balance down faster could actually result in you owning more in federal taxes. If you are in a higher tax bracket in the early (first 10 years) of your mortgage repayment schedule, it may make sense to focus extra funds on retirement savings, and let your mortgage interest deduction work for you. Of course, everyone’s tax situation is different, so you’ll have to decide (with help from an accountant ideally) if it makes sense to itemize your taxes in order to claim mortgage interest payments as a deduction.

You won’t get to enjoy the return on your paydown dollars until you sell

The only real benchmark for figuring out the value of paying down your mortgage is to look at how much equity you’re gaining over time. However, the equity doesn’t become a tangible profit until you actually sell your home. And the costs of a sale can take a big bite out of your equity because sellers usually pay the real estate agent fees.

Home equity is harder to access

The only way to access the equity you’ve built up is to borrow against it, or sell your home. Borrowing against equity often requires proof of income, assets and credit to confirm you meet the approval requirements for each equity loan option. If you fall on hard financial times due to a job loss, or are unable to pay your bills and your credit scores drop substantially, you may not be able to access your equity.

Pros of saving for retirement vs. paying down your mortgage

Depending on your financial situation and savings habits, it may be better to add extra funds monthly to your retirement account than to pay down your mortgage. Here are a few reasons why.

You may earn a higher return on dollars invested in retirement funds

The growth rate for a stock portfolio has consistently returned more than housing price returns. The average return in the benchmark S&P stock fund is 6.595% for funds invested from the beginning of 1900 to present, while home values have increased just 0.1% per year after accounting for inflation during that same time period.

Assuming your portfolio at least earns 7%, if you consistently invest your money into a balanced investment portfolio, you can expect to double your money every 10 years. There aren’t many housing markets that can promise that kind of growth.

Retirement funds are generally easier to access than home equity

Retirement funds often give you a variety of options for each access, with no income or credit verification requirements, and only sufficient proof of enough funds in your account to pay it back over time. For example, a 401k loan through the company you work for will just require you to have enough vested to support the loan request, and sufficient funds left over to pay it off over a reasonable time.

Just be cautious about making a 401k withdrawal, which is treated totally differently than a loan. You aren’t expected to pay it back like you would a 401k loan, but you could get hit with taxes and penalties.

Cons of saving for retirement vs. paying down your mortgage

You’ll need to weather the ups and downs of the market

Most people who have invested money in the stock market or tracked the performance of their 401k over decades have stories about periods when the value of those investments dropped substantially. While the 7% return on investment is a reliable long term indicator how much your retirement fund might earn, the path to that return is hardly linear.

For example, if you were considering retirement between 1999 and 2002, you may have had to delay those plans when the S & P plummeted over 23% in value in 2002. If you look at each 10-year period since the 1930s, every decade has been characterized by periods of ups and downs.

Calculating the benefit of paying down your mortgage vs. saving for retirement

If you’re torn as to what to do with that extra cash or windfall, let’s look at an example of someone who has an extra $200 to put into either their nest egg or their mortgage each month for the next 30 years.

For this scenario, we’re going to assume their retirement account earns an average 7% rate of return and that their mortgage loan balance is $200,000.

Here’s how much they’d save:

Savings From Paying $200 per Month Down on Your Mortgage
Years PaidMortgage Interest SavingsExtra Equity in HomeTotal Interest Savings and Equity Built Up
10 years$6,040$30,039$36,079
20 years$28,529$76,529$105,058
22 years 6 months$50,745$200,000$250,745

One thing you may notice about the mortgage savings chart — it includes how much extra equity you’re building. Often only the mortgage interest savings is cited when people look at how much you save with extra payments, but that ignores the fact that you’re building equity in your home much faster as well. So not only do you save over $50,000 in interest with your extra contribution, you replenish $150,000 of equity that was used up by your mortgage balance.

As you can see, adding that extra $200 to their mortgage principal each month saved them about $200,000 in the long haul — but the real savings don’t stop there.

By adding an extra $200 to their mortgage payment each month, this borrower turned their 30-year loan into a 22-and-a-half year loan and became mortgage debt-free seven years faster.

That means, in addition to saving $50,000 in interest savings and gaining $200,000 of equity, they also no longer have a mortgage payment. That frees up $998.57 per month that they can now use as discretionary income. That’s an extra $89,871 they could potentially save over that 7.5 year period.

When you add that to the $250,745.41 they saved on mortgage interest and earned in home equity, they’re looking at a total savings of $340,616.

That gives the mortgage paydown a $54,000 net positive edge over saving that extra $200 for retirement, as you can see in the table below.

Savings From Contributing $200 per Month to a Retirement Fund
Years PaidRetirement Balance
10 years$34,404
20 years$102,081
30 years$235,212

The one caveat for this retirement calculation is we assumed the saver was starting at a $0 investment balance. If they already had a healthy balance in their nest egg, they might actually come out in better shape than paying down their mortgage.

There are clearly benefits to each option, and you should consider running your own calculations with your real numbers to get the best answer for yourself.

Paying down your mortgage and saving for retirement at the same time

There’s a fair case to be made for both paying down your mortgage and saving more for retirement, but why choose? If you’re somewhat on track with your retirement savings goals, and like the idea of having your mortgage paid off quicker, you could allocate a certain amount to each.

Pick a number you feel comfortable paying to your principal every month, and then to your 401k, and put it on autopilot for a year. Any time your income increases, or you get bonuses, divide up the amount between principal pay down and retirement additions.

Let’s look at what happens if you evenly divide up your $200 per month between investing your retirement and paying down your mortgage. We’ll use the same $200,000 loan at 4.375% referenced above, and look at the lifetime results.

Savings From Paying $100 Down on Your Mortgage Until Paid Off
Years PaidInterest SavingsExtra Home EquityTotal Interest Savings and Equity Built Up
10 years$3,020$15,020$18,040
20 years$14,265$38,265$52,350
25 years$30,534$200,000$230,534
Savings From Contributing $100 to a Retirement Fund for 30 Years
Years PaidRetirement Balance
10 years$17,202
20 years$51,401
30 years$117,607

Balancing the $100 investment in both strategies still yields a six-figure retirement balance after 30 decades, a debt-free house after 26 years, and shaves off $30,000 in mortgage interest expense. If you don’t like putting all your eggs into one financial basket, this may balance the risks and rewards of each option.

Final thoughts

Looking at the short term and the long term may provide you with the best framework for making a good decision about how to spend dollars on retirement versus extra mortgage payments. Be wary of any financial professional that tells you one path is absolutely better than another.

Having a stable source of affordable shelter is equally as important as having enough income to live when you retire, so a balanced approach to paying down your mortgage and savings for retirement may help you accomplish both goals.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Denny Ceizyk
Denny Ceizyk |

Denny Ceizyk is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Denny here

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Life Events, Mortgage

What Is Mortgage Amortization?

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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One of the biggest advantages of homeownership versus renting is each mortgage payment gradually pays off your mortgage and builds equity in your home. The difference between your home’s value and the balance of your loan is home equity, and your equity grows with each payment because of mortgage amortization.

Understanding mortgage amortization can help you set financial goals to pay off your home faster or evaluate whether you should refinance.

What is mortgage amortization?

Mortgage amortization is the process of paying off your loan balance in equal installments over a set period. The interest you pay is based on the balance of your loan (your principal). When you begin your payment schedule, you pay much more interest than principal.

As time goes on, you eventually pay more principal than interest — until your loan is paid off.

How mortgage amortization works

Understanding mortgage amortization starts with how monthly mortgage payments are applied each month to the principal and interest owed on your mortgage. There are two calculations that occur every month.

The first involves how much interest you’ll need to pay. This is based on the amount you borrowed when you took out your loan. It is adjusted each month as your balance drops from the payments you make.

The second calculation is how much principal you are paying. It is based on the interest rate you locked in and agreed to repay over a set period (the most popular being 30 years).

If you’re a math whiz, here’s how the formula looks before you start inputting numbers.

Fortunately, mortgage calculators do all the heavy mathematical lifting for you. The graphic below shows the difference between the first year and 15th year of principal and interest payments on a 30-year fixed loan of $200,000 at a rate of 4.375%.

For the first year, the amount of interest that is paid is more than double the principal, slowly dropping as the principal balance drops. However, by the 15th year, principal payments outpace interest, and you start building equity at a much more rapid pace.

How understanding mortgage amortization can help financially

An important aspect of mortgage amortization is that you can change the total amount of interest you pay — or how fast you pay down the balance — by making extra payments over the life of the loan or refinancing to a lower rate or term. You aren’t obligated to follow the 30-year schedule laid out in your amortization schedule.

Here are some financial objectives, using LendingTree mortgage calculators, that you can accomplish with mortgage amortization. (Note that MagnifyMoney is owned by LendingTree.)

Lower rate can save thousands in interest

If mortgage rates have dropped since you purchased your home, you might consider refinancing. Some financial advisors may recommend refinancing only if you can save 1% on your rate. However, this may not be good advice if you plan on staying in your home for a long time. The example below shows the monthly savings from 5% to 4.5% on a $200,000, 30-year fixed loan, assuming you closed on your current loan in January 2019.

Assuming you took out the mortgage in January 2019 at 5%, refinancing to a rate of 4.5% only saves $69 a month. However, over 30 years, the total savings is $68,364 in interest. If you’re living in your forever home, that half-percent savings adds up significantly.

Extra payment can help build equity, pay off loan faster

The amount of interest you pay every month on a loan is a direct result of your loan balance. If you reduce your loan balance with even one extra lump-sum payment in a given month, you’ll reduce the long-term interest. The graphic below shows how much you’d save by paying an extra $50 a month on a $200,000 30-year fixed loan with an interest rate of 4.375%.

Amortization schedule tells when PMI will drop off

If you weren’t able to make a 20% down payment when you purchased your home, you may be paying mortgage insurance. Mortgage insurance protects a lender against losses if you default, and private mortgage insurance (PMI) is the most common type.

PMI automatically drops off once your total loan divided by your property’s value (also known as your loan-to-value ratio, or LTV) reaches 78%. You can multiply the price you paid for your home by 0.78 to determine where your loan balance would need to be for PMI to be canceled.

Find the balance on your amortization schedule and you’ll know when your monthly payment will drop as a result of the PMI cancellation.

Pinpoint when adjustable-rate-mortgage payment will rise

Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) are a great tool to save money for a set period as long as you have a strategy to refinance or sell the home before the initial fixed period ends. However, sometimes life happens and you end up staying in a home longer than expected.

Knowing when and how much your payments could potentially increase, as well as how much extra interest you’ll be paying if the rate does increase, can help you weigh whether you really want to take a risk on an ARM loan.

The bottom line

Mortgage amortization may be a topic that you don’t talk about much before you get a mortgage, but it’s certainly worth exploring more once you become a homeowner.

The benefits of understanding how extra payments or a lower rate can save you money — both in the short term and over the life of your loan — will help you take advantage of opportunities to pay off your loan faster, save on interest charges and build equity in your home.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Denny Ceizyk
Denny Ceizyk |

Denny Ceizyk is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Denny here

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