What Credit Score Do You Need to Buy a House in 2019?

Want to buy a house? Here’s the credit score you’ll need to do it.

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Your credit score plays a major role in your ability to secure a mortgage loan. Not only does it impact your initial qualification for a loan, but it also influences your interest rate, down payment requirements, and other terms of your mortgage.

Are you considering buying a house and want to be sure your credit is ready? Here’s what you need to know.

How Credit Score Impacts Your Mortgage Prospects

If you’re planning to buy a home, your credit score will play a big part in the process. At the start, it will determine which loan options you can even consider as a homebuyer. While some loan types require minimum scores as high as 640 (conventional loans), others go down to 500 (some FHA loans).

But more than this, your credit score will also impact the costs of your loan. This is because your credit score represents your level of risk to a mortgage lender. A higher score means you pay your bills on time and can be expected to repay your mortgage just the same. As a result, you’ll qualify for lower interest rates.

If your score is low, however, that means you’re a risky bet for a lender. To compensate for the extra risk—that chance you don’t pay your loan or foreclose on the house—they’ll boost the interest rate to protect themselves.  

Let’s say you’re purchasing a $250,000 home in Texas and putting 10% down. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at the time of writing, your interest rates would most likely look like this:

Effect of Credit Score on Loan Rates
Credit Score Range Interest Rate
620 to 639 5.25% to 5.99%
640 to 659 4.125% to 5.875%
660 to 679 4.0% to 5.625%
680 to 699 3.875% to 5.625%
700 to 719: 3.75% to 5.5%
720 to 739: 3.75% to 5.125%
740 to 850 3.625% to 4.99%

The difference in interest paid over the life of the loan could be substantial. On this specific loan amount, just a one-percentage-point difference (3.625% vs. 4.625%) would equal more than $11,000 less in interest over the first five years and nearly $50,000 less across the 30-year loan term.

Credit Score Requirements by Mortgage Loan Type

There are four main types of mortgage loans:

  • Conventional loans, which are backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac
  • FHA loans, or those from the Federal Housing Administration
  • USDA loans, which are designated for rural properties and are guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  • VA loans designed for military members and veterans

Each of these loans has different credit score requirements. Here’s how they break down:

  • FHA loans: Minimum 500, with an average score of 680
  • Conventional loans: Minimum of 620 to 640, depending on the type of loan
  • USDA loans: Minimum 580, though 640 preferred
  • VA loans: No credit score requirement

On FHA loans, your credit score is directly tied to the down payment you’ll be required to make. If you have a score of 580 or above, you’ll need to make at least a 3.5% down payment. If it’s 579 or lower, your down payment will need to be at least 10%. 

What Kind of Credit Report and Score Do Lenders Use?

There are several versions of your credit score, depending on who issues the score (a bank, or FICO or VantageScore) and the lending industry (auto, mortgage, credit card). To offset their risk and ensure they’re getting the most accurate picture of a mortgage borrower, most lenders will use what’s called a “tri-merge” credit report showing credit details from multiple credit bureaus or they may use a “residential mortgage credit report,” which may include other details about your financial life such as rental history or public records. These reports reveal the borrower’s credit details from multiple bureaus—TransUnion, Experian, Equifax—or all three. 

In many cases, the credit score you see as a consumer—possibly through your bank or credit card company—is different than what a potential mortgage lender would see.

Improving Your Credit Score

There’s a lot that goes into determining your credit score, including your repayment history, the total balances on your accounts, how long you’ve had those accounts, and the number of times you’ve applied for credit in the last year. Improving in any of these areas can help increase your score.

You can:

  • Pay down your existing debts and credit card balances
  • Resolve any credit issues or collections
  • Avoid opening new accounts or loans
  • Pay your bills on time, every time

You should also pull your credit report and check for any inaccuracies or errors you might see. If you find any, file a dispute with the reporting credit bureau and include the appropriate documentation. Correcting these inaccuracies could give you score a boost.

By law you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus every year. If you haven't already, get yours from annualcreditreport.com before you start shopping for a mortgage loan.