Filing for bankruptcy doesn’t mean that you’ll never qualify for a mortgage. One reason to file for bankruptcy is to eliminate burdensome debt so you can get a fresh start. Some lenders, such as credit card companies and even certain car loan creditors, will take a chance on you right after you emerge from bankruptcy.
Mortgage lenders and guarantors want to ensure that they won’t compromise their resources by lending to someone who’s not ready for the responsibility of home ownership. Therefore, they usually won’t approve loans right after the borrower gets a bankruptcy discharge. There could be a waiting period of up to five years.
You’ll pay a higher interest rate, and the terms may not be as favorable as you like, but some credit is available for most former bankruptcy debtors. Mortgages are a different story.
During that waiting period, you must keep your new developing credit record clean. If you run into trouble, you might have to restart the clock. Every lender or guarantor has its own set of guidelines. If you can obtain a mortgage right away, and that mortgage is foreclosed a year after your bankruptcy case is discharged, you’ll have another waiting period before you can qualify.
Check Your Credit Reports
Your first step before applying for a mortgage after a bankruptcy is to check your credit reports. Use the credit reports to ensure that your discharged debt is listed as "included in bankruptcy." Any credit cards that were discharged, but don't show that they were, can hurt your credit even further.
Once you're sure that your credit reports are accurate, consider getting pre-approved for a loan through your preferred lender. With bumps and bruises on your credit history, you may be required to provide explanations or produce proof that you’ve re-established good credit, which can take time. Pre-approval can help save you from much frustration when you find the home of your dreams.
Before pre-approval, use a mortgage calculator to get an estimate of how much house you might be able to afford.
Popular Lending Programs
Let’s explore the additional requirements you must meet for some of the most popular lending programs and insurers:
Federal Housing Administration (FHA)
FHA has separate guidelines for Chapter 7 and Chapter 13.
Chapter 7: If you filed a Chapter 7 straight bankruptcy and received a discharge, you’ll have to wait two years from the discharge date before you apply for an FHA-backed loan. FHA doesn’t provide loans directly to consumers. It guarantees loans made by commercial banks. Often, the banks will impose qualifications or minimum requirements that are more stringent than what the FHA or other government agencies have in place. Many banks require that you wait three years before applying.
Chapter 13: In a Chapter 13 case, you’ll make payments through the court for three to five years to pay down or pay off your debt. You don’t have to wait until two years after the bankruptcy to apply. In fact, you don’t have to wait until the bankruptcy is over. As long as you’ve made your Chapter 13 payments on time for a year, you can qualify for an FHA loan.
While you’re in a Chapter 13 case, your financial life is governed by the bankruptcy court. Even if you’re approved by your bank and the FHA, the bankruptcy court and the Chapter 13 trustee will still have to weigh in to ensure that you’re not taking on a bigger obligation than you can manage.
Veterans Administration (VA)
The time requirements for a VA loan are similar to those required by the FHA, but with more hoops to jump through before approval.
Chapter 7: Two years after you receive your Chapter 7 discharge, you can apply for a VA loan. During those two years, you must take steps toward re-establishing good credit. You will also be asked to provide an explanation for the Chapter 7 bankruptcy and to show that your income is stable.
Chapter 13: You must show a year of on-time bankruptcy plan payments to qualify for a VA home loan, and you must obtain bankruptcy court approval.
Fannie, Freddie, and Ginnie
Most conventional mortgage loans in the United States are owned or insured by the government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or Ginnie Mae. These backers have similar loan-eligibility requirements for borrowers who have filed bankruptcy cases. These are guidelines, and your mortgage lender or mortgage broker can help you with the specifics.
In addition to a waiting period, these organizations require borrowers to demonstrate that they have re-established credit after the bankruptcy.
Chapter 7: The waiting period is four years, or two years with extenuating circumstances (those outside the borrower's control). Extenuating circumstances might include a layoff and extended unemployment, or medical issues.
Chapter 13: The waiting period is two years from discharge and four years from dismissal, or two years from dismissal with extenuating circumstances.
If you have had more than one filing within the past seven years, the waiting period is five years from the most recent discharge or three years with extenuating circumstances.
Other Conventional Loans
Although the vast majority of home loans in the United States are owned or insured by one of the agencies listed, it is still possible to get a loan from your local bank without agency involvement.
In those cases, the lender will establish its own lending criteria for people who have had to file a bankruptcy case or who have had a prior foreclosure, short sale, or deed in lieu of foreclosure. You'll need to check with the individual financial institution. A pre-existing relationship with the financial institution may help.