The horse has already bolted out the barn door, which the mortgage industry is now nailing firmly shut. Due to the banks’ foolhardy loans during the “bubble years”, home prices and loan values are now at an all-time low, but few are able to benefit. The reason? Those who want a home loan today need pristine credit. That means a FICO score of 750 to 775. Since the nation’s median score is 711, that means fully half the population would not qualify for a new home loan even if the 20% down payments were no problem.
Because of the new, much tighter loan qualifying guidelines, the terrific bargains out there will have to remain a tantalizing, but forbidden treat for potential buyers. In the past before the current crisis, a FICO score of 700-725 was considered “solid”, a good risk for the bank. FICO scores range from 300 to 850. Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, two government agencies, are now covering about 75% of the mortgage market and, according to data just released pursuant to the Dodd-Frank financial-services legislation, have approved borrowers with 750 to 775 for 75% of their mortgages when in 2005 that high a FICO accounted for just 5% of approvals.
Paying close attention to credit reports is now, more than ever, of prime importance for would-be home owners. Having a score below 750 does not make getting a mortgage approval impossible, just more expensive. Besides the 20% down payment required for conventional mortgages, a 730, for instance, would cost an extra .125 percentage points per year. Between 700 to 725, previously an un alloyed approval, the borrower will pay an extra quarter percentage point. Below 680, it gets harder to find an approval and, of course, costs more.
Those who already own their homes and are looking to tap into today’s great loan rates will face similar obstacles. The banks will look for the higher credit scores, adequate income and what is now increasingly difficult to come by–at least 20% equity in the property. The rules for refi really are little different from those for first-time buyers. Cash-out refis also are subject to stringent approval guidelines as home values are still dropping or wildly gyrating in many areas. And, unlike the past, no one seems to have much faith in the future any more.