How Much Credit History is Needed to Buy a House

Updated: Jul 14, 2020

When becoming a home buyer a mortgage loan is usually needed to be able to purchase a home. One thing that will be looked at is your credit score. The first step is to know your credit score. This can be found for free through most credit cards. You can also pull your free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus at This can be done for free once per year per credit bureau. The three credit bureaus in the United States are Experian, Transunion and Equifax. It is important to check your credit report to ensure everything is accurate and there are no errors.

Types of Mortgage Loans

Now that you know your credit score, you can figure out what type of loan you can quality for. It is important to remember that an optimal credit score for the best interest rates is a 760.

Conventional Loan

Conventional loans are the most common way people people get their mortgage. The minimum credit score for this mortgage loan is 620 and the minimum down payment is 3%. Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) will also be paid as a monthly fee if less than 20% is put down. In addition to a down payment, to get a home loan you will ideally need your monthly payment to have a debt to income ratio  at or below 36%. These loans can be done in fixed and adjustable rates.  The benefit of a fixed loan is knowing exactly what your payment will  be for the next 15 to 30 years. If interest rates go down you can always refinance to that lower rate in the future. The structure for these loans is set by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These are not a government agency but are a company created by the U.S. Congress. These institutions buy and guarantee mortgages in the secondary mortgage market. This establishes a standard if lenders wish to buy and sell the mortgage note.

Fixed Rate conventional loans keep the same interest rate throughout their entire lifetime. Throughout paying off the loan, you will have the same dollar amount every month with a slightly decreased interest payment and slightly increased principle payment that will total the same amount.

Adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) will generally one of three types. These are a 5/1 ARM, 7/1 ARM, and 10/1 ARM. These loans are stating that they will have a set interest rate for the first few years (such as 5 years for a 5/1 ARM) and will then adjust on a yearly basis after. This means that with a 5/1 ARM after 5 years the lender will notify you what the new rate will be. These have a set margin such as 2.25% that will be added to whatever index-able rate the lender gets at that point in time. There are also generally a lifetime cap rate, where even if there are higher interest rates, the lender cannot increase your loan past that rate. These types of loans are great for individuals who know they won't be at the home for longer than their rate lock or if the mortgagee thinks that there will be lower interest rates in the future.

Jumbo Loan

Jumbo loans are designed for luxury properties and carry a high loan amount usually $765,601 or greater. These loans are not eligible to be purchased by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac meaning that there unique underwriting requirements and tax implications.  They  will also be looked at more stringently and will generally require a credit score of 700 or higher and a good debt to income ratio. These loans are also generally going to have a higher interest rate than the standard conventional loan. If you are a high income earner with a household income of $200,000-$500,000 than this type of loan could be for you.

FHA Loan

FHA Loans are insured by the federal housing administration and is designed for low to middle class first time buyers. To qualify as a first time home buyer you cannot have owned a property within the past two years. With a credit score of 580 you can get a loan with only 3.5% down payment. You can also qualify with a 500 credit score but will need to put a 10% down payment. FHA Loans require an upfront mortgage insurance premium (UFMIP) and an additional monthly private mortgage insurance (PMI). The upfront mortgage insurance premium is equal to 1.75% of your loan value. For example, on a $300,000 loan * 1.75% = $5,250. This will be paid upfront or sometimes can be rolled into your overall loan. The PMI which is paid monthly is usually equal to 0.45%-1.05%. For example a $300,000 loan * 1.0% = annual $3,000 or $250 additional per month. This payment will continue for 11 years of the life of the loan depending on the terms. One way to avoid this long cycle of additional payments, is if your home has gone up in value. If your home does go up in value, you can refinance your home as you have gained equity and therefore your loan to value will be  will be less than the new higher appraised value. This can then qualify you for a conventional loan through a multitude of lenders.

FHA Loans also have additional requirements. The loan to income ratio is your monthly loan payment including principle, interest, insurance, HOA fees and property taxes, divided by your monthly income. This ratio shows lenders how affordable this loan is for you to still have some leftover money to handle your other expenses. Ideally your loan value should be 31% or lower however you could be approved up to 40%. The back end loan to income ratio includes all of your other consumer debts such as car loans or credit card debt. Your back end loan to income ratio should be below 43% however some individuals can qualify if they are below 50%.

FHA Loans also have loan limits. This is established per county and is 115% of the median home value. To verify your county you can visit the HUD website. The chart below gives you a quick idea on what could qualify for your area.

2020 FHA Loan Limits

Veterans affairs (VA) Loan

VA loan is a great option for those who have a military background. This mortgage is backed by the veterans affairs and can get a 0% down loan with no private mortgage insurance (PMI). While there is no required credit score required from the VA, many creditors want a FICO score of 660 or higher. If you fall below that, call around to multiple mortgage lenders and find one that will work with you. To qualify you must have been in active service in wartime for 90 consecutive days, active during peacetime for 181 days, 6 years of service in the national guard or be the spouse of a service member who has died in the line of duty. The loan does require an inspection of the property to ensure that it meets the high standards of habitability so don't expect to use this for a flip. The VA website provides some great up to date information about rates and more.