Emily Hu's Blog
Preparing to buy a home is a long and stressful process for many. You’ve spent months, or even years, saving for a down payment, planning your future, and building your credit to ensure you get the best possible interest rate on your loan.
Then you find out, when getting preapproved for a mortgage, that your credit score dropped by a few points. So, what gives?
There’s a lot to understand about how credit scores affect mortgages and vice versa. In today’s post, I’m going to attempt to cover everything you need to know about how applying for a mortgage can affect your credit score so you’ll be prepared when it comes time to buy a home.
Prequalification, preapproval, and credit checks
There are a lot of misconceptions about what it means to be preapproved or prequalified for a loan. Some of it is due to the jargon that is used in real estate transactions, and some of it is just a marketing technique on the part of lenders.
So, what does it mean to be prequalified and preapproved?
The short version is that getting prequalified is a quick and easy process to determine whether you’re eligible to lend to and how much you’re likely to receive. It involves a quick review of your finances, and often includes either a self-reported or soft credit inquiry.
A “soft inquiry” is the type of credit check that employers typically use for a background check. It doesn’t affect your credit score, as you are not applying to open a new line of credit. In fact, many lenders’ process for prequalification is a simple online form that doesn’t even require a credit check. We’ll talk more about the difference between soft inquiries and hard inquiries later.
The simplicity of prequalification makes it a simple and easy way to get started. But, it isn’t always accurate in how well it predicts the type of mortgage and loan amount you can receive. That’s where preapproval comes in.
When you get preapproved for a loan you fill out an official application (you often have to pay for these). This will request documentation for your finances and assets, and will ask your approval to run a detailed credit report.
These credit reports are considered “hard inquiries” and are a vital step in getting approved or preapproved for a mortgage. However, they also, at least temporarily, lower your credit score.
Why hard inquiries lower your credit score
When any creditor, be it a bank or credit card company, is determining whether to lend to you, they want to know that you are a safe investment. To determine this, they want to know how frequently you pay your bills on time, how much you owe to other creditors, and how financially stable you are right now.
When you make multiple inquiries in a short period of time, it’s a red flag to lenders that you might be in trouble financially. Thus, hard inquiries will lower your credit score for 1 to 2 months.
Applying to multiple lenders: the silver lining
When borrowers apply for a mortgage, they often shop around and apply to multiple lenders. While it may seem that all of these hard inquiries will add up and drastically lower their credit score, this isn’t the case.
Credit bureaus take into account the source of the inquiries. If they realize that you are applying for mortgages, they will typically recognize this as rate shopping and group these applications together on your credit report, counting them only as a single inquiry. This means your score shouldn’t drop multiple times for multiple mortgage preapprovals that were made within a small time frame.
Now that you know more about how mortgage applications affect your credit score, you can confidently shop around for the best mortgage for you and your family.
Ready to buy a home? You'll likely need a mortgage to ensure you can afford your dream residence. Lucky for you, many banks and credit unions are happy to help you discover a mortgage that suits you perfectly.
Ultimately, meeting with a mortgage lender may seem stressful at first. But this meeting can serve as a valuable learning opportunity, one that allows you to select a mortgage that is easy to understand and matches your budget.
When you meet with a mortgage lender, here are three of the questions to ask so you can gain the insights you need to make an informed decision:
1. What mortgage options are available?
Most lenders offer a broad range of mortgage options. By doing so, these lenders can help you choose a mortgage that meets or exceeds your expectations.
Fixed-rate mortgages represent some of the most popular options for homebuyers, and perhaps it is easy to understand why. These mortgages lock-in an interest rate for a set period of time and ensure your mortgage payments will stay the same throughout the duration of your mortgage.
Meanwhile, adjustable-rate mortgages may prove to be great choices for many homebuyers as well. These mortgages may feature a lower initial interest rate that rises after several years. However, with an adjustable-rate mortgage, you'll know when your mortgage's interest rate will increase and can plan accordingly.
2. Do I need to get pre-approved for a mortgage?
Pre-approval for a mortgage usually is an excellent idea, and for good reason.
If you get pre-approved for a mortgage, you may be able to enter the homebuying market with a budget in mind. That way, you can pursue houses that fall within a set price range and avoid the risk of overspending on a home.
On the other hand, you don't need to be pre-approved for a mortgage to submit an offer on a home. But with a mortgage in hand, you may be able to gain an advantage over the competition, one that might even lead a home seller to select your offer over others.
3. How long will a mortgage last?
Many mortgages last 15- or 30-years – it all depends on the type of mortgage that you select.
A lender can explain the length associated with various mortgage options and highlight the pros and cons associated with these mortgages.
Moreover, you should ask a lender if there are any prepayment penalties if you pay off your mortgage early. This may help you determine whether a particular mortgage is right for you.
When it comes to finding a lender, don't forget to meet with several banks and credit unions. This will allow you to discover a lender that offers a mortgage with a low interest rate. Plus, it enables you to find a lender that makes you feel comfortable.
If you need assistance in your search for the right lender, be sure to reach out to a real estate agent. This housing market professional can provide details about local lenders and ensure you can accelerate your push to acquire your dream residence.