by Dana George | Updated Aug. 18, 2021 - First published on Aug. 2, 2021
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It is possible to refinance your mortgage, even with a low credit score.
If you would like to refinance your current home loan but lack the credit score to snag a low rate, this article is for you. Here, we'll suggest ways you can improve your current interest rate, even if your credit is less than perfect.
Secure access to The Ascent's free guide that reveals how to get the lowest mortgage rate for your new home purchase or when refinancing. Rates are still at multi-decade lows so take action today to avoid missing out.
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The short answer is maybe. It's certainly not out of the question. If you're looking for a conventional refinance, you'll likely need a credit score of 620 or higher. Don't let that discourage you if you're not quite there, though. A mortgage lender will also consider factors like how much you earn and your cash reserves (to determine whether you can cover financial emergencies). Even if your credit score is low, a lender may be willing to take the risk as long as other aspects of your application are strong.
But first, you need to know where to start.
Let your current lender know that you'd like to refinance and find out if it offers options that will work for you. The best thing about working with your current lender is that it knows your mortgage file and can quickly determine whether you'd qualify for any of their refinance programs, even with bad credit.
Your current lender may help by changing your loan terms. For example, it may be willing to refinance your loan to a longer term. You'd end up paying more in total interest over the life of the loan if you extend it, but it will lower your payments and, hopefully, give your budget a little breathing room.
Also, if you're still carrying private mortgage insurance (PMI) on your loan because you put less than 20% down when you purchased the property, find out how close you are to hitting the 20% equity mark. Once you have 20% equity in the property, your mortgage lender will drop PMI. Here's how that works:
Government-backed loans -- like FHA, VA, and USDA mortgages -- are designed for everyday people who may not have much cash to get into a home. Though regular mortgage lenders distribute them, these loans are backed by the U.S. government. Lenders know that if you default on the loan, the government will make them whole. Simply put, if you want to refinance but your credit score is nothing to write home about, a government-backed loan may be your best option. While these loans do have minimum credit qualifications, they are typically lower than a traditional mortgage.
If you currently have an FHA mortgage, the FHA streamline option allows you to refinance without a credit check or income verification. The catch is that your mortgage must be current. If you're hoping to switch from a conventional loan to FHA, you'll need to undergo the typical credit check.
Loans backed by the Veterans Administration are for active and former military members and their families. Although you will likely need a credit score of at least 620 to qualify (depending on the lender), a VA Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan (VA IRRRL) allows you to refinance an existing VA loan as long as you've made at least the last 12 payments on time. (This requirement varies by lender.) Lenders may also have guidelines regarding how long you've held your current mortgage. Unfortunately, there is no cash-out option available with a VA IRRRL.
Home buyers with an income of up to 115% of the median income for the area where they hope to buy (or refinance) a property may be eligible for a USDA loan. The home in question must be located in an area designated as USDA eligible.
If you have a current USDA loan, their streamlined assist program lets you refinance without a credit check. You qualify as long as you've made the last 12 months' worth of payments.
Related: How to refinance a USDA home loan
Though we're putting this option out there for your consideration, convincing a cosigner to refinance a mortgage is not as simple as it sounds. Not only do you have to talk someone into taking responsibility for your mortgage if you miss payments, but some lenders want the cosigner to be on the title of the home. In addition, if your credit score is very low, a cosigner may not help. That's because mortgage lenders use the lowest median credit score between you. No matter how high your cosigner's credit scores are from the big three credit reporting agencies, the lender will be more interested in your median score. Let's say your three scores are 600, 590, and 580. It's that middle score (590) they'll use to make a credit decision.
That said, if your median score is right on the cusp of the lender's minimum required score, having a cosigner with excellent credit may be enough to inspire the lender to refinance your mortgage. For example, if the minimum required score is 660, and your median score is 650, you may have a shot.
There's no credit score so low that it can't be rehabilitated. So as you work through your refinancing options, take steps to raise your credit score. You might not be able to do it overnight, but you can do it.
In the meantime, if you're not sure where to get started, look at the best mortgage lenders for bad credit. They can point you in the right direction.
Chances are, interest rates won't stay put at multi-decade lows for much longer. That's why taking action today is crucial, whether you're wanting to refinance and cut your mortgage payment or you're ready to pull the trigger on a new home purchase.
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