5 signs you're not ready for a mortgage

Posted at 3:55 PM, Mar 30, 2016

Buying a home is still cheaper than renting in nearly every major U.S. market. That’s one of a few key trends that have mortgage lenders expecting big things in 2016. Nearly two-thirds of industry professionals think purchase loan volume will rise this year, according to a recent survey from trade group Lenders One.

Bullish outlook aside, there are still plenty of challenges for many would-be buyers, from shaky credit to sputtering incomes and more. To be sure, the right time to pursue a home purchase is when you’re financially and emotionally ready.

Here’s a look at a few signs you’re not quite there.

1. Bruised & Beaten Credit

You don’t need top-tier credit to land a home loan. You don’t even necessarily need what’s often considered“good” credit. But consumers with scores below a 620 can have a tougher time securing financing.

That’s a common credit score benchmark for government-backed loans (Federal Housing Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Department of Agriculture), while conventional lenders might want more like a 640 or 660 score.

If your score is subpar, it’s important to take charge of your credit profile before you look to buy a home. You can pull your credit reports for free each year from, then hunt for and dispute errors and discrepancies.

Different lenders can have different credit score cutoffs. Even if you clear a lender’s baseline, working hard to improve your score may also help you nab a better interest rate. You can monitor your progress by getting your free credit report summary each month on

2. Insufficient Savings

You don’t need a mountain of money to buy a home. You don’t even necessarily need a down payment – just ask VA and USDA buyers and the thousands of folks who tap into down payment assistance programs in their community. But you’re going to need at least some cash in the bank, in part to possibly cover expenses like a down payment, earnest money deposit, appraisal, inspection, closing costs and more.

Conventional loans typically require a 5% down payment, although some lenders may offer them at just 3% down. FHA loans require a minimum 3.5% down payment. On a typical $250,000 loan, that’s anywhere from $7,500 to $12,500. An appraisal and inspection might set you back another $600 or more.

If a new home means higher housing costs, having a solid nest egg can also help you avoid any “payment shock” when it’s time to make that first mortgage payment.

3. Income Instability

Mortgage lenders want to feel like you’re a safe bet. A rocky employment situation can raise red flags. Ideally, you’ve been working the same job for at least the last two years. But that’s certainly not a reality for millions of American workers.

Employment scenarios are always a case-by-case evaluation. Generally, though, you might have a tougher time securing a home loan if:

You’ve been on the job less than a year.
You’ve been self-employed for less than two years.
You’re a commission-based employee without a two-year track record.
You’ve recently changed career fields or had a lengthy job gap.
Again, every borrower’s situation is different, and guidelines and policies can vary by lender.

4. You’re Still ‘Seasoning’

There is homebuying life after a bankruptcy or foreclosure, but you’ll typically need to wait at least a couple years following one of these events. Waiting periods can vary depending on the type of bankruptcy or foreclosure, the loan type, the lender and more.

In addition to any “seasoning” period, as they’re known, credit scores often take a beating after a bankruptcy or foreclosure. Would-be buyers will often need to spend those years working hard to rebuild their scores.

5. You’re Unprepared for New Expenses

Owning a home can be freeing, but it also comes with new expenses you don’t typically face while renting or living in your parents’ basement. Property taxes, homeowners insurance, homeowners’ association dues, maintenance costs and more can all eat into your monthly budget.

Rules of thumb vary, but many homeowners budget at least 1 percent of their home’s value each year for maintenance and upkeep. Plus, there’s no landlord to call when the water heater fails or the heat goes out. You’re on the hook for troubleshooting and repair or replacement costs.

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