Financial Literacy - Credit savvy
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High credit scores get top loans

The upside for potential cardholders with flatter credit scores: Card issuers often have multiple pricing tiers. For example, even though you may not qualify for an 8.9 percent card, you may qualify for a 12.9 percent or 15.9 percent card, depending on how the card issuer structures its credit-scoring tiers.

Kolk says a 650 credit score may get you a card with a regional issuer, but don't expect to get approved by any of the larger national banks.

"The smaller regional issuers may not be changing their policies as quickly as the big guys, but you'll have to hunt for those a little more," he says.

Credit unions and smaller community banks may be worth a look because they tend to offer lower interest rates and aren't known for nickel-and-diming like some of the bigger card issuers, according to Cardratings' Arnold.

"They are not known for some of the more egregious practices, and I haven't heard many complaints from consumers," he says.

Home equity loans

As home prices continue to decline in most regions, financial institutions are reluctant to offer home equity loans to all but the most qualified borrowers.

Lenders have good reason to be skittish about offering home equity loans. Delinquencies increased from a seasonally adjusted 2.34 percent to 2.56 percent during the second quarter of 2008, according to the American Bankers Association.

Even though many of the larger mortgage lenders still tout home equity products on their Web sites, borrowers need more than exceptional credit to qualify for them. They need substantial amounts of equity in their homes.

Interest rates also reflect lenders' risk aversion. The national average for a $30,000 home equity loan is well above 8 percent, according to recent Bankrate data.

You may be able to find better deals than that on home equity loans in your area by using our home equity loan search feature.

Borrowers in such states as California, Nevada and Florida, where the housing bubbles loomed largest before they burst, likely will find it the toughest to get a home equity loan.

"I would say it's very restrictive," says Satnick, of the California Mortgage Bankers Association. "The sources here that offer them that I know about are basically still requiring a minimum of 25 percent equity in the property."

In the Northeast and Midwest, the story is much the same. Copious amounts of equity generally are required to get your loan rubber-stamped.

"You have to have at least 20 percent equity in your property, and it's largely accommodations to people who are already our customers," says Ronald Hermance Jr., president and CEO of Hudson City Bancorp in Paramus, N.J.

In the Chicago area, home equity loans are available to borrowers with credit scores of 700 or better, but the loan-to-value ratio requirements are a little less stringent, according to Gomez, of the Illinois Association of Mortgage Brokers.

"It's capping out usually at around 89.9 percent maximum LTV. But yes, there are still home equity loans available," Gomez says.

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Balance Transfer Cards 15.80% --0.00 15.80%
Cash Back Cards 16.42% --0.00 16.42%
Low Interest Cards 11.09% --0.00 11.09%
 
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