FICO® Scores And Your Mortgage

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Years ago, credit scoring had little to do with mortgage lending. When reviewing the credit worthiness of a borrower, an underwriter would make a subjective decision based on past payment history.

Then things changed.

Lenders studied the relationship between credit scores and mortgage delinquencies. There was a definite relationship. Almost half of those borrowers with FICO® scores below 550 became ninety days delinquent at least once during their mortgage. On the other hand, only two out of every 10,000 borrowers with FICO® scores above eight hundred became delinquent.

So lenders began to take a closer look at FICO® scores and this is what they found out. The chart below shows the likelihood of a ninety day delinquency for specific FICO® scores.

FICO® Score Odds of a Delinquent Account
595 2 to 1
600 4 to 1
615 9 to 1
630 18 to 1
645 36 to 1
660 72 to 1
680 144 to 1
780 576 to 1

If you were lending a couple hundred thousand dollars, who would you want to lend it to?

FICO® Scores, What Affects Them, How Lenders Look At Them

Imagine a busy lending office and a loan officer has just ordered a credit report. He hears the whir of the laser printer and he knows the pages of the credit report are going to start spitting out in just a second. There is a moment of tension in the air. He watches the pages stack up in the collection tray, but he waits to pick them up until all of the pages are finished printing. He waits because FICO® scores are located at the end of the report. Previously, he would have probably picked them up as they came off. A FICO® above 700 will evoke a smile, then a grin, perhaps a shout and a “victory” style arm pump in the air. A score below 600 will definitely result in a frown, a furrowed brow, and concern.

FICO® stands for Fair Isaac & Company, and credit scores are reported by each of the three major credit bureaus: TRW (Experian), Equifax, and Trans-Union. The score does not come up exactly the same on each bureau because each bureau places a slightly different emphasis on different items. Scores range from 365 to 840.

Some of the things that affect your FICO® scores:

  • Delinquencies
  • Too many accounts opened within the last twelve months
  • Short credit history
  • Balances on revolving credit are near the maximum limits
  • Public records, such as tax liens, judgments, or bankruptcies
  • No recent credit card balances
  • Too many recent credit inquiries
  • Too few revolving accounts
  • Too many revolving accounts

Sounds confusing, doesn’t it?

The credit score is actually calculated using a scorecard where you receive points for certain things. Creditors and lenders who view your credit report do not get to see the scorecard, so they do not know exactly how your score was calculated. They just see the final scores.

Basic guidelines on how to view the FICO® scores vary a little from lender to lender. Usually, a score above 680 will require a very basic review of the entire loan package. Scores between 640 and 680 require more thorough underwriting. Once a score gets below 640, an underwriter will look at a loan application with a more cautious approach. Many lenders will not even consider a loan with a FICO® score below 600, some as high as 620.

FICO® Scores and Interest Rates

Credit scores can affect more than whether your loan gets approved or not. They can also affect how much you pay for your loan, too. Some lenders establish a base price and will reduce the points on a loan if the credit score is above a certain level. For example, one major national lender reduces the cost of a loan by a quarter point if the FICO® score is greater than 725. If it is between 700 and 724, they will reduce the cost by one-eighth of a point. A point is equal to one percent of the loan amount.

There are other lenders who do it in reverse. They establish their base price, but instead of reducing the cost for good FICO® scores, they add on costs for lower FICO® scores. The results from either method would work out to be approximately the same interest rate. It is just that the second way looks better when you are quoting interest rates on a rate sheet or in an advertisement.

FICO® Scores And Mortgage Underwriting Decisions

FICO® Scores as Guidelines

FICO® scores are only guidelines and factors other than FICO® scores also affect underwriting decisions. Some examples of compensating factors that will make an underwriter more lenient toward lower FICO® scores can be a larger down payment, low debt-to-income ratios, an excellent history of saving money, and others. There also may be a reasonable explanation for items on the credit history report that negatively impact your credit score.

They Don’t Always Make Sense

Even so, sometimes credit scores do not seem to make any sense at all. One borrower with a completely flawless credit history can have a FICO® score below 600. One borrower with a foreclosure on her credit report can have a FICO® above 780.

Portfolio & Sub-Prime Lenders

Finally, there are a few portfolio lenders who do not even look at credit scoring, at least on their portfolio loans. A portfolio lender is usually a savings & loan institution that originates some adjustable rate mortgages that they intend to keep in their own portfolio rather than selling them in the secondary mortgage market. These lenders may look at home loans differently. Some concentrate on the value of the home. Some may concentrate more on the savings history of the borrower. There are also sub-prime lenders, or “B & C paper” lenders, who will provide a home loan, but at a higher interest rate and cost.

Running Credit Reports

One thing to remember when you are shopping for a home loan is that you should not let numerous mortgage lenders run credit reports on you. Wait until you have a reasonable expectation that they are the lender you are going to use to obtain your home loan. Not only will you have to explain any credit inquiries in the last ninety days, but also numerous inquiries will lower your FICO® score by a small amount. This may not matter if your FICO® is 780, but it would matter if it is 642.

Don’t Buy A Car Just Before Looking for a Home!

A word of advice not directly related to FICO® scores. When people begin to think about the possibility of buying a home, they often think about buying other big-ticket items, such as cars. Quite often when someone asks a lender to pre-qualify them for a home loan there is a brand new car payment on the credit report. Often, they would have qualified in their anticipated price range except that the new car payment has raised their debt-to-income ratio, lowering their maximum purchase price. Sometimes they have bought the car so recently that the new loan doesn’t even show up on the credit report yet, but with six to eight credit inquiries from car dealers and automobile finance companies it is kind of obvious. Almost every time you sit down in a car dealership, it generates two inquiries into your credit.

Credit History is Important

Nowadays, credit scores are important if you want to get the best interest rate available. Protect your FICO® score. Do not open new revolving accounts needlessly. Do not fill out credit applications needlessly. Do not keep your credit cards nearly maxed out. Make sure you do use your credit occasionally. Always make sure every creditor has their payment in their office no later than 29 days past due.

And never ever be more than thirty days late on your mortgage. Ever.

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Testimonials about Leah

Hiring Leah to be our realtor was the best decision we made when we sold our home in Oakland. We moved to Illinois for my work, and our relocation company required us to interview multiple realtors, all from the Oakland/Berkeley area. Leah was the first agent we interviewed, and while we completed our interviews with the other realtors, we knew right away that Leah was going to be our favorite. When Leah arrived at our house, she was full of enthusiasm and friendliness. She started off by making very positive comments about our location, the view, and her overall first impressions. Her opinions on how our location compared to different neighborhoods in the area meshed with our thinking exactly. Then she had us walk through the house, where she paid attention to every inch of every floor and walls and fixtures, asking lots of questions and taking notes and photos. After giving her the tour we sat down and Leah told us she thought our house could sell for just over 700K, and showed us the comps and discussed the trends that supported her position. She explained why certain lower comps were not applicable based on her research of those sales, and why buyers who had been in the hunt for a while (it's a seller's market in Oakland) would understand why our home had more value. She explained that she didn't think we needed to do any major repairs or upgrades, as they wouldn't increase the price of our home nearly as much as the investment we would have to put in. We left very impressed and excited (we had purchased the house a few years before for a much lower price and had expected it needed a lot of repairs). The other realtors we interviewed over the following week didn't show as much interest in our house, paid minimal attention to the details, and suggested that a lot of work was needed if we were going to get over 600k for the house. They used the comps that Leah had discounted, and scoffed at the idea that houses in the next neighborhood over would be comparable to ours. We agonized over the decision for a while. We liked Leah, we knew she would give 100% to sell our house, but what if it really wasn't worth as much as she thought? We reviewed the sales plans of each realtor, and in the end we came to the conclusion that we trusted Leah over the others, and even if she was wrong on the starting price, she would present out house in the best possible light because she understood it's value. But our fears were unfounded, Leah turned out to be completely right and worked harder than we had hoped to prove our trust was well-placed. Leah held 5 open houses and a realtor tour in 3 weeks before opening up for offers. She had a handyman make minor touches (fence repair, painting our mailbox) and paid for those repairs herself. She coordinated the cleaning, the carpet washing, the staging (she met with multiple stagers before choosing the one she felt fit our house right). While we focused on our new life in Chicago, she was back in Oakland meeting with 4 appraisers, 2 home inspectors, a termite inspector, a mold inspector, and coming to the house dozens of times to interview contractors for bids for termite work and mold remediation, and to inspect their work for thoroughness afterwards. She advised on us which contractors seemed the most professional, who was overcharging us, and made herself available whenever we scheduled a new one out for a competitive quote. When our buyer tried to get a discount after the first appraisal, she proved herself a shrewd negotiator and was able to work with the buyer's agent to avoid a significant price reduction. When our company-appointed relocation agent was slowing down the process, Leah set her straight so we could keep the deal moving. We sold our house for $705k. The other agents we had interviewed told us we'd need to do a lot of upgrades to even sell between 600 and 650, but Leah insisted our house was worth at least 700. We believed she was right. And she was right. I know the other agents would not have gotten us such a high price, and would not have showcased our best features like Leah did. Overall, I would definitely recommend Leah for anyone looking to sell their home. She puts your needs first, and will work tirelessly and enthusiastically to make sure you are happy. We used a relocation company who referred Leah (and the other realtors) to us but Leah made it clear that she worked for us, not for them. When the relocation company dragged out the process, Leah was positive, helpful, and remained enthusiastic, and we knew she had us covered. I really cannot express enough the gratitude my wife and I feel towards Leah, who took care of us so well and gave so much of her time and her own resources so that we would have the best experience and get highest sales price possible. Hire Leah. Justin R.
Thank you for lowering your fees to get our offer accepted. Thank you for paying for the home inspection and termite inspection to get it done quickly. Thank you for understanding that my deposit should not be put at risk if I don't feel comfortable. Every time I called with lender complaints you where there for me and got on the phone and straightened it out for me. You explained documents when lenders could not help me understand. You were the best buffer I have experienced. I trust you like family. I will use you again when it's time to buy or sell. Thank you so much. A.Wouldo, Buyer
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