It’s not just ability to pay that helps knock less-well-off buyers out of the housing market as prices and mortgage interest rates climb through the roof. A new report from researchers at listings portal site Zillow found that, nationally, buyers with “fair” credit could be paying up to $288 more on their monthly mortgage payment than those with “excellent” credit.
The researchers estimated that the median American home now costs 62 percent more per month than it did a year ago, adding further to the burdens of anyone with less-than-stellar credit, a disproportionate share of whom are people of color.
A borrower with a score between 760 and 850 can qualify for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage with a 5.099 percent interest rate, Zillow found. For the same loan, a similar borrower with a “fair” credit score – between 620 and 639 – qualifies for a 6.688 percent rate. This equates to a $288 difference in monthly mortgage payments and nearly $103,626 in interest over the life of a 30-year fixed loan, based on Zillow’s estimate of the current price of the median U.S. home – $354,165.
“When you are thinking about buying a home, the best first step you can take is to fully understand your financial picture, what you can afford and your outstanding debts or obligations,” Zillow Home Loans Vice President Libby Cooper said in a statement accompanying the report’s release. “If you find you have low credit, take realistic steps to improve your credit score by doing things like disputing possible report errors and paying down as much debt as possible. This could increase the amount of home loan you qualify for.”
Zillow researchers said there is a direct correlation between having a strong credit history and access to credit offerings and higher homeownership rates. The homeownership rate is lower in counties that are more “credit insecure,” which the researchers defined as being home to high numbers of residents with poor or no credit history.
The effect, the report says, is to cut off millions from homeownership, with a particularly strong impact on Black and Latinx homebuyers. Black applicants are denied a mortgage at a rate 84 percent higher than white applicants, frequently thanks to credit history. The limited number of banks and other traditional financial institutions in many Black neighborhoods makes the problem even worse, the report said, by reducing residents’ opportunities to build credit.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac recently adopted policies that include timely rent payments in their automated underwriting systems. Lenders and brokers can submit bank account data, with borrower permission, to identify 12 months of prompt rent payments to help potential borrowers qualify for a mortgage.
“While inclusion of timely rent payments doesn’t change a borrower’s credit score, it can have a positive impact on how lenders view a borrower’s credit worthiness. This move shows how effective policy changes can help consumers build a strong financial foundation that unlocks homeownership,” said Cooper.