Preparing to buy a home is a long and stressful process for many. You’ve spent months, or even years, saving for a down payment, planning your future, and building your credit to ensure you get the best possible interest rate on your loan.
Then you find out, when getting preapproved for a mortgage, that your credit score dropped by a few points. So, what gives?
There’s a lot to understand about how credit scores affect mortgages and vice versa. In today’s post, I’m going to attempt to cover everything you need to know about how applying for a mortgage can affect your credit score so you’ll be prepared when it comes time to buy a home.
Prequalification, preapproval, and credit checks
There are a lot of misconceptions about what it means to be preapproved or prequalified for a loan. Some of it is due to the jargon that is used in real estate transactions, and some of it is just a marketing technique on the part of lenders.
So, what does it mean to be prequalified and preapproved?
The short version is that getting prequalified is a quick and easy process to determine whether you’re eligible to lend to and how much you’re likely to receive. It involves a quick review of your finances, and often includes either a self-reported or soft credit inquiry.
A “soft inquiry” is the type of credit check that employers typically use for a background check. It doesn’t affect your credit score, as you are not applying to open a new line of credit. In fact, many lenders’ process for prequalification is a simple online form that doesn’t even require a credit check. We’ll talk more about the difference between soft inquiries and hard inquiries later.
The simplicity of prequalification makes it a simple and easy way to get started. But, it isn’t always accurate in how well it predicts the type of mortgage and loan amount you can receive. That’s where preapproval comes in.
When you get preapproved for a loan you fill out an official application (you often have to pay for these). This will request documentation for your finances and assets, and will ask your approval to run a detailed credit report.
These credit reports are considered “hard inquiries” and are a vital step in getting approved or preapproved for a mortgage. However, they also, at least temporarily, lower your credit score.
Why hard inquiries lower your credit score
When any creditor, be it a bank or credit card company, is determining whether to lend to you, they want to know that you are a safe investment. To determine this, they want to know how frequently you pay your bills on time, how much you owe to other creditors, and how financially stable you are right now.
When you make multiple inquiries in a short period of time, it’s a red flag to lenders that you might be in trouble financially. Thus, hard inquiries will lower your credit score for 1 to 2 months.
Applying to multiple lenders: the silver lining
When borrowers apply for a mortgage, they often shop around and apply to multiple lenders. While it may seem that all of these hard inquiries will add up and drastically lower their credit score, this isn’t the case.
Credit bureaus take into account the source of the inquiries. If they realize that you are applying for mortgages, they will typically recognize this as rate shopping and group these applications together on your credit report, counting them only as a single inquiry. This means your score shouldn’t drop multiple times for multiple mortgage preapprovals that were made within a small time frame.
Now that you know more about how mortgage applications affect your credit score, you can confidently shop around for the best mortgage for you and your family.