A variety of factors can keep you from qualifying for a mortgage. The big ones include a low credit score, insufficient income for the size of the loan you want, insufficient down payment and excessive debt. All of these factors are within your control, however. Let's take a look at your options for overcoming any liabilities you may have as a borrower.
Tutorial: Buying Your First Home
1. Repair Your Credit and Increase Your Score
To lenders, your credit score represents the likelihood that you will make your mortgage payments in full and on time every month. Therefore, with most loans, the lower your credit score, the higher your interest rate will be to compensate for the increased risk of lending you money. If your credit score is below 620, you will be considered subprime and will have difficulty getting a loan at all, let alone one with favorable terms. On the other hand, if you have a credit score above 800, you'll easily be able to get the best interest rate available (also known as the par rate). (Find out how your borrowing activities affect your credit rating in The Importance Of Your Credit Rating.)
Measures you can take to improve your credit score relatively quickly include paying down revolving consumer debts, such as credit cards or auto loans, using your debit card instead of your credit cards for future purchases, paying your bills on time every month and correcting any errors on your credit report. However, some flaws, like seriously late payments, collections, charge-offs, bankruptcy, and foreclosure, will only be healed with time. (Read How To Dispute Errors On Your Credit Report to find out how to address reporting mistakes.)
In addition to managing your existing credit responsibly, don't open any new credit accounts. Applying for new credit temporarily lowers your credit score, and having too much available credit is also considered a warning sign. Lenders may be afraid that if you have a lot of available credit, you'll take advantage of it one day and adversely affect your ability to make your mortgage payments. (For more tips and techniques to help you rebuild your ruined credit rating, read Five Keys To Unlocking A Better Credit Score.)
2. Get a Higher-Paying Job
If lenders say your income isn't high enough, ask them how much more you need to earn to qualify for the loan amount you want. Then try to find a new job in your existing line of work where you'll be able to earn that much money.
Because lenders like to see a steady employment history, you'll have to stay in the same line of work for this strategy to be successful. This can be disappointing news for borrowers, as switching professions entirely might offer the best chances for a salary increase. However, switching companies can also be a good way to get a significant boost in income. Significant raises from existing employers aren't that common, but a new employer knows he'll have to offer something special to get you to make the switch. (Read Negotiating For Employment Perks for tips on reaching an agreement with your boss.)
If switching companies right now won't be enough to get the raise you need, think about things you can do relatively quickly to make yourself more valuable to employers. Is there a continuing education program that you could complete? If you're a legal secretary, could you become a paralegal? If you're a receptionist, could you become a secretary? A career counselor or headhunter might be able to give you some guidance specific to your situation about how to improve your marketability and how to reach your income goals. (Read Six Steps To Successfully Switching Financial Careers to learn how to make adjustments without starting over.)
Unfortunately, getting a part-time job on top of your full-time job may not provide what lenders consider qualifying income. The part-time job may be viewed as temporary, and since it will probably take you at least 15 years to pay off your mortgage, lenders are looking for you to have long-term income stability. (Increase Your Disposable Income gives you ideas on how to make more money now, which can make a big difference down the line.)
3. Save Like Crazy
The larger your down payment, the smaller the loan you'll need. Also, the lower your loan-to-value ratio (LTV ratio), the less risky lenders will consider you. Both of these factors will make you more likely to qualify for a loan. Be aware that you may have to reach a certain down-payment threshold, like 10% or 20% (with 20% being the most conventional) before a larger down payment will help you qualify for a loan. (Learn more in Mortgages: How Much Can You Afford?)
4. Don't Pay More Than the Bank's Appraised Value
The bank will not want to lend more than the house is worth because they could be on the losing end of the deal, should you foreclose and owe more than the bank could get for it. A 20% down payment also becomes much less valuable if the house is worth 20% less than the purchase price. Collateral value is important to lenders, so it should be kept in mind when making an offer to purchase a property. (Read 10 Tips For Getting A Fair Price On A Home and learn how to make sure your house is worth the price you pay.)
5. Reduce Your Debt
To a lender, what constitutes excessive debt is not a set number - it's a total monthly debt payment that is too high for you to be able to afford the monthly mortgage payment you're asking for. When deciding how much loan you qualify for, lenders will look at what's called the front-end ratio, or the percentage of your gross monthly income that will be taken up by your house payment (principal, interest, property tax and homeowners insurance), and the back-end ratio, or the percentage of your gross monthly income that will be taken up by the house payment plus your other monthly obligations, such as student loans, credit cards and car payments.
The more debt you're required to pay off each month, whether it's "good debt" like a student loan or "bad debt" like a high-interest credit card, the lower the monthly housing payment lenders will decide you can afford, and the lower the purchase price you'll be able to afford. Decreasing your debt is one of the fastest and most effective ways to increase the size of loan you're eligible for. (Learn what to watch for before you find yourself drowning in debt in Five Signs That You're Living Beyond Your Means.)
The Bottom Line
Qualifying for a mortgage isn't always easy. Lenders require all applicants to meet certain financial tests and guidelines and allow a limited amount of flexibility within those rules. If you want to score a mortgage, you'll have to learn how to play the game, and you're likely to win if you take the steps outlined here