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With mortgage rates rising faster than they have in a decade, you might be wondering whether it’s still possible to refinance, even if you have bad credit. Good reasons for refinancing include switching from an adjustable rate to a fixed-rate mortgage, tapping into home equity or lowering your existing mortgage rate. For many borrowers, the answer is yes, you can refi. Here’s how.
Can you refinance your mortgage with bad credit?
The first thing you need to do when considering refinancing is to know your credit score and to understand what mortgage lenders are looking for in a borrower’s refinance application.
In general, a credit score of between 670 and 739 is considered good; scores between 580 and 669 are considered fair and anything below 580 is considered poor. When it comes to the credit score needed to refinance, 620 tends to be the minimum for a conventional loan. FHA refinances are possible if your credit score is as low as the mid-500s.
Homeowners with lower credit scores do have options when looking to refinance, especially since the pandemic-induced real estate boom has resulted in home values (and home equity) appreciating in many parts of the country which has a positive impact on your mortgage’s loan amount to equity ratio. It is important to note that there are lenders who work with borrowers with lower credit scores as outlined below.
8 mortgage refinance options for borrowers with bad credit
1. Try your own mortgage lender first
Mortgage lenders focus on forming relationships with borrowers. If you’re trying to refinance but have bad credit, you should start with your current lender or loan servicer since you are already their customer.
If your mortgage is with a financial institution, contact the person you dealt with originally, if they are still there. If not, “get a referral to a specific person,” advises Leslie Tayne, a financial debt resolution attorney and author of “Life & Debt.” “Having the name of someone and something in common like the referral source is an excellent way to start building the relationship. Explain your needs and find out the options the bank can offer to you.”
What you really want is the benefit of the doubt. If a lender looks at your debt-to-income ratio (DTI) and your loan-to-value ratio (LTV), as well as other factors, and your application is in a gray zone, it can go either way. You want a “yes” — and if you have a relationship with the lender, perhaps even having checking or savings accounts with them, then maybe that will be in your favor.
“Communicate often and be prepared with the [financials] the bank will be requesting to back up your request for funding,” says Tayne. “Being organized and responsive is vital. The banker will appreciate you helping him/her do their job better, which is to put the loan together for underwriting.”
2. Check out an FHA streamline refinance
If you want to refinance and you have an FHA loan, the FHA streamline refinance program can be a great option. The average credit score for a borrower who refinanced an FHA loan between October and December of 2020 was 666, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, with the minimum credit score to refinance of 580. However, borrowers with credit scores as low as 500 but with home equity of 10 percent or more may be approved for refinancing.
With the FHA streamline refinance program:
- You don’t need a lot of new paperwork, since streamline refinancing requires limited borrower credit documentation and underwriting. What the lender must have is evidence that your most recent six consecutive mortgage payments were paid on time and in full.
- If you refinance within three years of when your current FHA loan closed, you might be able to get some of your upfront mortgage insurance premium refunded. This can help offset the cost of refinancing.
- The refinance must produce a “net tangible benefit,” such as a 5 percent reduction in your monthly mortgage payment or a change from adjustable-rate financing to a fixed-rate loan.
- Cash in excess of $500 may not be taken out on mortgages refinanced under this program. The main benefit of this option is to permanently lower your monthly payments.
3. Explore an FHA rate-and-term refinance
While an FHA streamline refinance is reserved for current FHA borrowers, any borrower with a high interest rate could benefit from an FHA rate-and-term refinance. There is more paperwork involved in this process – a new appraisal and a credit check most likely will be required and the mortgage being refinanced must be current for the month due.
Like the streamline program, an FHA rate-and-term refinance is not a cash-out program — the purpose is to help you reduce your monthly housing costs. All proceeds must be used to pay your existing mortgage and costs associated with the transaction. However this method allows 2nd and 3rd mortgages to be included in the refinanced amount.
4. Apply for a VA streamline refinance or a VA-backed cash-out refinance loan
If you have an existing VA backed home loan, you can refinance even with bad credit with a no-hassle Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan (IRRRL), also known as a VA streamline refinance. IRRRLs typically require that you provide financial information such as two years of W-2s and federal income tax returns as well as recent paystubs. Lenders who offer this option will also require a home appraisal.
“The VA has updated IRRRL guidelines in recent years, with a focus on ensuring the refinance makes financial sense for qualifying veterans,” says Chris Birk, director of education at Veterans United Home Loans. “Homeowners will need a minimum amount of ‘seasoning’ on their current loan in order to be eligible for an IRRRL. That typically means you must have made at least six monthly mortgage payments, although some lenders have even more stringent seasoning guidelines.”
Like an FHA streamline refinance, an IRRRL must result in a “net tangible benefit” for the borrower.
“VA homeowners must be able to recoup the costs of the new loan within 36 months of closing,” says Birk, author of “The Book on VA Loans: An Essential Guide to Maximizing Your Home Loan Benefits.” “Those costs do not include the VA funding fee or escrows.”
If you are a veteran with a current mortgage that is not a VA loan, a VA-backed cash out refinance loan lets you replace your current loan with a new one while allowing you to take cash out of your home equity. Even if you do not want to take cash out, eligible veterans with a current mortgage from a lender other than the VA should investigate this option to refinance through this program.
5. Use the USDA Streamlined Assist program
If you’re eligible, the USDA’s Streamlined Assist program can be the ideal option for a refinance with bad credit because there’s no credit review required. Instead, anyone with a loan through the USDA or backed by the USDA who has made the last 12 months’ worth of mortgage payments on time can qualify.
In addition to no credit check, this program also doesn’t require a new appraisal or home inspection and doesn’t consider your debt-to-income ratio when determining your eligibility. Like other streamline programs, there must be a certain minimum outcome – in this case at least a $50 net reduction in the monthly mortgage payment.
6. Consider a portfolio refinance loan
Another refinance option if you have bad credit is a portfolio loan. You can obtain a portfolio loan — so called because it’s held (and oftentimes serviced) by the original lender rather than being sold to other entities — through banks and mortgage brokers, who set their own standards for the loan, which can be more flexible than typical refinance requirements. You’re more likely to get a portfolio loan if you’ve been a long-time bank or mortgage customer or the lender wants your business.
That doesn’t mean lenders will finance any borrower regardless of qualifications, however. They still want portfolio loans to perform, and that means they will take a careful look at your finances and credit history. If you’ve had an application issue that has not passed muster with most lenders, a portfolio lender could be more open.
According to Tayne, some portfolio lenders “cater to smaller borrowers because it’s their specialty or primary customer base, and they’re looking to build their portfolios of small lending. Smaller borrowers typically have the potential for growth, and the more money a business is making, the more money the lender is making.”
To find out if a portfolio loan is available to you, work with a mortgage broker or a full-service mortgage lender who can shop your application to portfolio lenders.
7. Find a co-signer
A co-signer with strong credit and deeper pockets gives the lender more security, but even among family or friends, co-signing a mortgage is a business deal. Co-signers worked to get their money and credit, so you’ll have to convince them that you have the financial capacity to repay the loan, and that you’ll put repayment of the loan first before other obligations.
Delinquencies (late payments) go against both borrowers’ credit reports and If the loan were to go unpaid, the co-signer is then responsible, and the lender will look to them for any shortfall.
Some difficult questions will also have to be answered. Is the co-signer also a co-owner of the property? What happens in the event of divorce, death or a simple falling-out? Both parties should have wills, living wills and any other paperwork needed to protect estates. Get help from an attorney to get the entire arrangement in writing, to protect both yourself and your co-signer.
8. Work to improve your finances and credit
As you consider your options to refinance with bad credit, it’s important to think about how to improve your credit moving forward. If none of the above refinance options work for you, it might be a good idea to take a step back, evaluate your overall financial situation and make some changes to strengthen your financial well-being:
- Start a budget: Track the money you take in and the money that goes out. When you start a budget and stick to it, you might not only find ways to reduce expenses, but also begin recognizing the little costs that are adding up.
- Check your credit report: All three major credit reporting bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — are allowing everyone to check their credit reports for free every week through December 2022. You can get these free reports at AnnualCreditReport.com. When you pull your reports, look for factual errors, unauthorized charges and fraud — issues like these could be lowering your score.
- Pay down bills: While you’re making a budget, create a list of all of your debts and arrange them by size. Then, target the smallest debt and work to pay it off. By doing this, you’ll have one less bill to pay, and you don’t have to worry about late fees, since it’s paid off. The money saved each month can then be used to pay down the next bill you tackle. Another good strategy is to pay off higher interest rate credit cards and/or consider a balance transfer to eliminate incurring interest fees for a stated period. This strategy helps to free up funds you can apply toward higher interest rate credit card debt – saving you money while improving your credit score.
- Save money: Help yourself, no matter how small. If you put aside $8 a week — maybe from the change you get each day —you’ll have $416 at the end of a year. Once you get into the habit of saving, you’ll likely find it gets easier with each dollar you stash away. Building up a bigger savings account can make a meaningful difference in refinancing, too, because lenders look at your cash flow and reserves. With more in savings, you’ll be a stronger candidate for a refinance.
Most employers allow you to direct deposit to more than one account so be sure to pay yourself first by putting some money in your savings account each pay day.
Should you refinance with bad credit?
If you have bad credit, you might be wondering if you should hold off on refinancing. If you can refinance now, it’s worth consideration. Why? It might just be a critical step in helping turn that bad credit to good:
You can shrink your payments. If refinancing can lower your monthly mortgage payment, you’ll free up more of your budget to pay off other debts or add more to your savings.
You could eliminate mortgage insurance. If refinancing involves a new appraisal of your home, you could learn that your home’s value has increased. If the value has risen to the point where you now have 20 percent equity, you might be able to stop paying mortgage insurance expenses.
You could save money in the long run. There is no exact answer as to when to refinance as many factors come into play, but deciding to refinance can save you quite a bit of money over the course of the entire loan. You can use Bankrate’s mortgage refinance calculator to estimate your savings.
While refinancing can save you money, remember that it costs money, too. Be sure to account for all the costs of refinancing, even with bad credit, to make sure it’s worthwhile.