When you are in the process of buying a home, it’s easy to get ahead of yourself. You start shopping for all the furnishings you’ll need, lured by all the “same-as-cash” credit offers you’ll see at home-improvement stores, furniture retailers, and bed and bath shops.
The 10% discount you get by signing up might be a great savings for that purchase, but it could also cost you your mortgage, if you haven’t closed yet.
Lenders perform a variety of checks on your accounts up until the day of your closing. Any changes to your income, credit or money in the bank could not only delay your closing — it could turn a loan approval into a denial.
We’ll discuss why you shouldn’t apply for new credit before your loan closes, and suggest what to do if you already did.
Why opening new credit before closing is bad
Mortgage approval is contingent on your financial information from the day you submit the application until the day the house is recorded into your name. Many first-time homebuyers don’t realize the verification process is ongoing, even after you get the initial OK. Lenders will even double-check your employment and credit — the two biggest factors affecting the decision to lend you money — right before closing, and in some cases even the day of closing.
Below are some of the reasons why applying for new credit before closing could create problems for you before closing.
Your debt-to-income ratio could rise too high
Your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio is a measure of the total debt you owe divided by your before-tax income. Depending on the lending program you apply for, the DTI ratio maximum is anywhere from 41% to around 50%.
Your loan officer won’t usually go over what your DTI ratio is — if you’ve gotten a loan approval, you can safely assume you meet the guidelines. However, you may be right on the borderline of the maximum for your mortgage; if a new credit account balance pops up, the resulting monthly payment could you push you over the limit.
You could get a new monthly payment on your report
Many retail home goods stores offer “No payment due for 12 to 24 months” credit lines, giving buyers the impression that there will be no payment counted against them since it is the same as a cash purchase if you pay off the balance within the specified time period. However, these accounts don’t mean “no payment” to a mortgage lender.
If the creditor doesn’t report a monthly payment, the underwriter will have to calculate an estimated minimum, which may be as high as 5% of the balance of the account — so that $2,500 furniture account could add a $125 per month payment to your total debt, even if you aren’t required to make a payment to the creditor for 12 to 24 months on a “same as cash” incentive offer.
Your credit score could drop
It can take a while to find a home, and credit reports are generally only good for 90 days. If you don’t find a home and close within that time frame, your lender will have to pull a completely new credit report.
If you’ve racked up some credit cards or even inquired about new credit several times, your score could easily drop. The lower your score, the higher your rate will be, and even if you’ve locked in your interest rate, if your score drops because you charged up new credit, you’ll be stuck with whatever the rate and costs are for the most current credit score.
You might have to document your assets again
Don’t be surprised if a lender suddenly asks for some updated bank statements if you recently applied for new credit. Some borrowers are given bad advice to charge up their credit cards to use for a down payment, but credit cards have never been an acceptable source of a down payment.
The only type of borrowed money you can use would be against a fixed asset like a car or boat, and even then you’ll have to provide a lot of documentation to show how much the asset was worth, confirm you owned it at the time of the loan, and show the transfer of all the money from the lender.
How lenders track your credit during the loan process
When you get approved for a home loan, mortgage companies are committing to lending you hundreds of thousands of dollars payable over a very long time, in most cases 30 years. Because of that, they need to make especially sure that at the time they make the loan, they can demonstrate that you have the ability to repay it.
If for some reason they make a loan you can’t afford, they face consequences from regulatory agencies, and ultimately lose money incurring the legal costs of a foreclosure. That’s why they have policies that pay special attention to how you manage your credit during the loan process.
Initial credit pull
When you apply for a home loan, one of the first things you lender will do is run an initial credit report to take a look at how you manage your credit. Sometimes the information on the credit bureaus can lag a few months, so if you recently applied for credit, make sure the balances and payments are reflected on the loan application you receive from your loan officer.
If not, provide your most current statement so the loan officer can accurately pre-qualify you for a mortgage.
Pre-closing soft pull
Once your loan approval is provided, there will be conditions that need to be met before your closing papers can be scheduled. Your loan officer will let you know if you need to provide anything, such as updated pay stubs or bank statements, before closing, and you’ll need to finalize things like your homeowner’s insurance company.
However, there are things that will be happening behind the scenes that you need to know about. One of the most important is the “pre-closing soft pull.”
A “soft-pull” is simply an update to track any activity on your credit since the initial approval. If your balance rises for something small, like charging your appraisal fee to a credit card, you won’t have anything to worry about.
What to do if you’ve already applied for new credit before closing
If you’ve already applied for new debt before your closing, don’t panic — just get the terms of the loan as soon as you can to your loan officer. The sooner you do, the sooner you’ll know if you have to take any drastic measures to fix any qualifying issues that may come up.
If there is a problem, you can take the following immediate steps.
Contact your loan officer immediately
Lenders are in the business of making loans, and the more proactive you are about communicating about any changes to your credit, income or money you have for a down payment, the sooner they can come up with a solution to keep your purchase from falling apart.
Get the terms of your new payment in writing
If the account is brand new, you’ll need to get something in writing as soon as possible that verifies what your new monthly payment will be. If you opened a deferred payment account, at least get something showing the balance so the underwriter can calculate the minimum payment that will be counted against you.
The lender will need to get it added to your credit report as soon as possible, and that process can take several days, since they have to coordinate with a third-party credit reporting agency.
Be prepared to pay it back and close it out
If you don’t qualify because of the new debt, the best plan is to pay if off and close it out, or return the items and get as much of a refund as you can. If you don’t have the assets to do that, you may have to make a painful phone call to a relative to get them to gift you money to pay it back, or you may be living on that brand new couch in their living room when your home purchase loan is declined.
You may have to switch loan programs or pay a higher rate
As mentioned above, not all DTI ratio requirements are the same. If you’re approved for a conventional loan, you’ll have a hard stop at a 50% DTI ratio, and even a fraction of a percentage over that will result in a loan denial.
You may have to switch to a more lenient loan program like the one the FHA offers, but that will mean a new approval, and potentially a new appraisal that meets the more stringent property guidelines required by the FHA. That is also the case if your score drops after updating an outdated credit report — conventional loans won’t be approvable below a 620 credit scores, while FHA will give you flexibility down to 580.
Either way, be prepared to jump through some extra hoops to undo the damage that applying for credit before closing can do to your loan approval.
Final thoughts: Avoid opening new credit until keys are in your hands
The best rule of thumb is to limit your credit use until you’ve got confirmation that the title company has recorded you as the owner of your new home, and you have the keys in your hand. If you have an emergency like a car that breaks down, or incur a major medical expense that you don’t have the cash to cover, talk to your loan officer about strategies to avoid any last minute crisis with your home loan closing.
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