How to shop for a mortgage without hurting your credit score
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Comparing mortgage offers helps you find the lowest possible rate, which can ultimately save you thousands in interest. If you’re not careful about how you comparison-shop, though, you could unnecessarily hurt your credit score, which can make it harder to qualify for the best rate.
With a bit of planning, this doesn’t have to be the case. Here’s how to shop for a mortgage without hurting your credit.
How shopping for a mortgage impacts your credit score
When exploring mortgage options, your credit score typically only takes a hit when you obtain a loan preapproval from a mortgage lender. That’s because getting preapproved involves a “hard” credit inquiry, when the lender looks at your credit history and score.
If you obtain a prequalification, however — a step down from a preapproval — you might not see any change to your credit score, because prequalifications involve a “soft” credit pull (more on prequalifications versus preapprovals below). Learn more about the difference between hard and soft credit inquiries.That said, some lenders use the terms “prequalification” and “preapproval” interchangeably, so be sure to confirm the prequalification doesn’t require a hard credit check before moving forward.
Can you get preapproved for a mortgage without a credit check?
Credit checks are a standard part of the mortgage preapproval process, so it’s highly unlikely you’ll get preapproved without agreeing to one.
How to shop for a mortgage without hurting your credit score
Here’s how to avoid dinging your credit score when shopping for a mortgage:
Shop for your mortgage within a short timeframe
When you’re ready to get preapproved for a mortgage and want to compare offers from multiple lenders, aim to do it within a 45-day time frame. That’s because in this window, all of the credit inquiries different lenders make appear as one inquiry on your credit report. While your score might be affected by the single inquiry, it won’t be impacted as much as multiple inquiries on your report.That said, it can be a good idea to get prequalified well before this time frame so that you have more time to compare rates and fees.
Get prequalified for a mortgage
Getting prequalified for a mortgage — some lenders call this a rate check — can be a smart strategy if you’re concerned about damaging your credit score as you comparison-shop.
To prequalify you for a loan, lenders check your credit report, but conduct a “soft” inquiry, or soft pull, in which they prescreen your report without it affecting your score. A “hard” credit inquiry, in contrast — which happens when you get preapproved or formally apply for a loan — can adversely impact your score. Prequalification allows you to shop around and compare rates without this risk.
Keep in mind: While getting prequalified can help minimize damage to your score, it is no substitute for getting preapproved when the time comes. In today’s seriously competitive seller’s market, a preapproval is necessary to prove to sellers you’ll be able to get financing if your offer is accepted.
Hold off on applying for new credit
If you’re also considering opening a new credit card or taking out a personal loan while you shop for a mortgage, be aware: Multiple inquiries for different types of credit can negatively impact your credit score, hindering your efforts to obtain a competitive mortgage rate.
If possible, wait until you officially close on your mortgage before applying for additional forms of credit.
Check your credit report
Whenever you apply for a loan, knowing where you stand credit-wise is important. If you check your credit report well in advance of comparison-shopping for a mortgage, you can take proactive steps to improve it if needed — or fix any errors — putting you in the best position to get the lowest rate without accumulating unnecessary inquiries on your report.
You can get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies each year at AnnualCreditReport.com. Don’t worry — checking your credit report won’t affect your score.
Pay down debt
If your credit score could use improvement, one of the best ways to raise it is to pay down your debt, like credit card balances. If doable, pay off a credit card balance in full — bonus points for keeping the balance as low as possible moving forward.
Keep in mind, though: It might make more sense from a mortgage qualification standpoint to pay down or pay off another loan instead of putting all of your excess funds toward eliminating credit card debt, even if the credit card debt has a higher interest rate. That’s because mortgage lenders review your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio through the lens of monthly payments. If your student loan payment, for example, is higher than your minimum credit card payment, it might be better to focus your debt payoff strategy on the loan, which would lower your DTI.In cases like this, it’s helpful to have an experienced loan officer in your corner to advise you on the best ways to qualify for the lowest rates.
Improving your credit score before getting a mortgage
The most attractive interest rates are reserved for borrowers with solid credit scores. With a credit score of 740 or higher, you can get a lower interest rate, reducing your monthly payment.To improve your score, check for any errors on your credit report that could be dragging it down, such as incorrect contact information or an unreported satisfied loan. If you need to dispute anything, contact the credit bureau right away.
In the meantime, be sure to make timely payments each month and bring any past-due accounts current. Also, pay down your credit card balances, if possible, to improve your utilization ratio, and avoid applying for new credit. It might also help to become an authorized user on a relative’s credit card if they have an exceptional payment history and manage the card responsibly.
Protecting your credit score is important, even if you’re not shopping for a mortgage. Once you’re approved for a home loan and moving through the closing process, continue to maintain your score by refraining from applying for other types of credit, and continuing to pay down balances when possible.