Student loan debt is preventing thousands of potential home owners from achieving their home ownership dream. According to a recent article in Forbes magazine, more than 44 million borrowers collectively owe $1.5 trillion in student loan debt, which inevitably gets in the way of qualifying for a mortgage. But according to Forbes, for many of those borrowers, there are ways to maximize their credit.
Do these eight things to improve your chances for getting a mortgage:
1. Take a good look at your FICO score.
According to Forbes, "FICO credit scores are among the most frequently used credit scores, and range from 350-800 (the higher, the better). A consumer with a credit score of 750 or higher is considered to have excellent credit, while a consumer with a credit score below 600 is considered to have poor credit. To qualify for a mortgage and get a low mortgage rate, your credit score matters.
Each credit bureau collects information on your credit history and develops a credit score that lenders use to assess your riskiness as a borrower. If you find an error, you should report it to the credit bureau immediately so that it can be corrected."
2. Lower your debt to income ratio.
Your debt to income ration is a comparison between how much you earn and how much you owe. Lenders, wanting assurances that you have the disposable income to make your payments each month use it to evaluate your risk. So there are two ways to reduce debt to income: increase your income or pay down your debt. Or both. (Nobody said this would be easy.)
3. Mind your payments.
Payment history is another tool lenders use to evaluate risk. Make sure you pay off the overdue balance of any delinquent accounts. Set up direct debits with any creditors you can to avoid missing a payment whenever possible. And don't skip a payment. Ever.
4. Get pre-approved by a lender before your hire a REALTOR®
Too many buyers make the mistake of finding a house they love before getting a mortgage. A lender can look at your financial situation, including income, assets, credit profile and employment, among other documents. They will then tell you how much home you can afford before you go house shopping.
5. Keep your hands off your credit card
Limit your credit utilization, i.e. how much you put on your card every month. Lenders evaluate your credit card utilization as a percentage of your credit limit. So for example, if you have a credit limit of $10,000 and you charge $3000 on your card, your utilization is $30%. Keep it under 30%, or under 10% if possible. Every little bit helps. There are several ways you can manage your credit use:
- Set up automatic balance alerts to monitor credit utilization.
- Ask your lender to raise your credit limit (this may involve a hard credit pull so check with your lender first).
- Pay off your balance multiple times a month to reduce your credit utilization.
6. Get down payment assistance.
Federal and state organizations offer down payment assistance to qualifying borrowers. Here are a few:
- FHA loans - federal loan through the Federal Housing Authority
- USDA loans - zero down mortgages for rural and suburban homeowners
- VA loans - if military service
- Keep your eye out for federal, state and local assistance programs as well so do what millions do. Google it.
7. Consolidate your credit card payments
If you can, pay off your existing credit card balances before applying for a mortgage. If you don't have the cash, takeout a personal loan at a lower interest rate than most cards charge. Forbes explains the advantages:
"A personal loan therefore can save you interest expense over the repayment term, which is typically 3-7 years depending on your lender.
A personal loan also can improve your credit score because a personal loan is an installment loan, carries a fixed repayment term. Credit cards, however, are revolving loans and have no fixed repayment term. Therefore, when you swap credit card debt for a personal loan, you can lower your credit utilization and also diversify your debt types."
8. Consolidate your student loans.
Forbes again. "When lenders look at your debt-to-income ratio, they are also looking at your monthly student loan payments.The most effective way to lower your monthly payments is through student loan refinancing. With a lower interest rate, you can signal to lenders that you are on track to pay off student loans faster. There are student loan refinance lenders who offer interest rates as low as 2.50% - 3.00%, which is substantially lower than federal student loans and in-school private loan interest rates."
Do these eight things and you will definitely be further down the road to home ownership, one of the smartest, and most rewarding investments you can make.