Buy a House with Bad Credit

When you want to buy a home, it helps to have good credit. You will have more loan options, will qualify for lower interest rates, and end up with a less expensive mortgage. However, if your credit score is less than stellar there are still options. It will just require a little creativity, patience, alternative outlets for loans, and usually a little extra money. However, also keep in mind that consulting with an expert such as a real estate agent and/or an attorney may save you a lot of money and time in the long run.


Looking Into Government Programs

  1. Apply for a Federal Housing Admission (FHA) loan. FHA loans are insured by the Federal Housing Admission. They are a popular option for people will poor credit scores as the qualifications tend to be more relaxed.[1]
    • Your credit score must be 580 or higher to qualify for a down of 3.5%. If your score is between 500 and 579, your down payment will be 10%.[2]
    • If your credit score is below 500, you are probably ineligible. However, if you have non-traditional credit history or insufficient credit you may still qualify for a loan.[2]
  2. Look into the Department of Veteran's Affairs loan program. If you are a US veteran, you might qualify for a loan through the Department of Veteran's Affairs.
    • VA loans are generally provided by private lenders, but a portion of the loan is provided by the VA. This means the lender will offer you more favorable terms.[3]
    • To qualify, you need to provide evidence that you served in the military, such as a DD-214 reflecting nothing less than an honorable discharge. The amount of your loan, and your eligibility, depends on the length of your service and your service commitment.[3]
    • Note that you may be eligible also if you serve(d) a minimum of six years in the Reserves and/or National Guards.
    • VA loans do not have precise minimum credit score standards.[4]
  3. Look into the US Department of agriculture lending program. This program provides incentive for people to settle in less developed parts of the country, so if you live in a rural area it might be a good option for you.[4]
    • The house you are purchasing must be in an eligible rival or suburban area (generally under 20,000 residents), as defined by the USDA. A listing of eligible areas if found on the USDA website.[5]
    • While there is no precise credit score minimum, there are certain income requirements depending on the number of people in your household and where your home is located.[5]
    • If you're not in a rural area and want a similar loan program, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development has a state-by-state list of programs on the website, and you can scan this list to find specific assistance programs in your area.[6]
  4. Be aware of the cons. Government programs can help you find a home despite a lower credit score, but there are certain drawbacks you should be aware of before enlisting.
    • Loans can carry additional fees. Read all the paperwork carefully and, if you don't understand anything, consult a legal professional. FHA, for example, require an upfront mortgage insurance premium of 1.74% of the loan value, and also a higher annual premium based on a variety of factors. USDA loans have 2% premium and a variety of added fees.[4]
    • Such loans are also better applied for if your bad credit is due to a one-time issue, such as job loss or medical bills. If you have perpetual problems with money and payment, it's easy to get in over your head. You might want to reconsider home ownership for a few years.[4]

Improving Your Credit Score

  1. Know your credit score. Many people are unaware of what their credit score is. Knowing yours is the first step to improving a bad score. In the year leading up to making a home purchase, you should work on increasing your credit score as much as you can.
    • Credit scores are scored on a scale of 300-800. Anything over 720 is considered good credit. Scores between 700 and 620 are considered mediocre. Anything below 620 would make you a lending risk.[7]
    • You may check your credit score for free and get notifications about changes on your credit by consulting free websites, such as Credit Karma.[8]
    • You may also order a copy of your credit report from EquiFax, TransUnion, and Experian. This will give you a variety of documents to look over and help you catch any errors that need reporting.[9]
    • Seeing your credit score will allow you to manage any debts, and make a budget to get all your payments up to date.[9]
  2. Check your financial history for any credit score red flags. It's not just the raw numbers that affect what kind of home you're eligible to purchase. It's the reason behind those numbers. If any of the following credit red flags are part of your financial history, you may have to wait to apply for a loan. You should also be prepared to explain the factors that caused these situations to a lender.
    • Late payments on student loans reflects poorly on your application for conventional loans, as well as FHA loans. If you've been late on a loan payment within the past 12 months, be prepared to explain the situation.[7]
    • A history of delinquent payments is easier to get around than many bad credit hurdles, but it can affect the amount of your down payment and debt-to-income percentage.[7]
    • Any foreclosures can seriously affect your credit score. You must wait 36 months from the date of the foreclosure to be eligible for an FHA loan, and the down payment will be 3.5%. Conventional loans, however, require 7 years to have passed.[7]
    • Bankruptcy means you must wait 24 months to apply for a FHA loan with a 3.5% down payment. For conventional loans, you must wait 48 months.[7]
  3. Eliminate debt. When lenders examine your credit score, they pay close attention to your debt-to-income ratio. Ideally, this should be under 43%, and this includes potential mortgage payments. Eliminating existing debt is important to improving your credit score, and your chance at purchasing your own home.
    • Look at all of your credit card debts, and student loans. Try to make a dent in these payments, even if it means sacrificing in other areas of your budget. The more debt you can eliminate before applying for a loan, the better.[10]
    • Getting rid of credit card debts is a way of substantially improving your credit score rapidly.
    • Many tools are available online, such as the ReadyForZero tool, that can help you manage your debt and bring overall debt levels down.[10]
  4. Explain your financial history. Lenders understand extenuating circumstances can affect your financial situation or that sometimes bad credit is a result of a one time issue that you've moved past. When applying for a loan, be prepared to explain any bad marks on your credit score.
    • Get as much supporting documentation as you need, such as medical reports, pay stubs, letters from bosses, and bank statements. This can explain delinquent payments or accruing a heavy amount of debt.[7]
    • When speaking to a lender, give them the full story. Ask upfront about any concerns they may have regarding your history, and be prepared to give specifics as to what lead to your current credit score.[7]

Trying Alternative Options

  1. Consider renting to own. If you have a poor credit score that makes lenders wary of dealing with you, rent to own can be a good Plan B. This option however takes a good deal more patience, as it can take awhile to connect with the right professionals.
    • Find a real estate agent and discuss rent-to-own options with them. The process can be sticky in rent-to-own agreements are private contracts between you and the homeowner, and having a third party can help things go smoother.
    • An ideal agent should know the local market well, and be able to navigate any potential pitfalls. Pick an agent with a lot of experience in a specific area and a good reputation.
    • Before signing anything, practice due diligence. That is, do a comprehensive appraisal of the home and your contract with the owner. Have the home examined for any potential problems to assure the homeowner isn't trying to shrug off a problem property on you, and have any contract you sign checked by a third party.
    • The main downside to renting to own is that, in the long run, the process is more expensive. Another con is that, oftentimes, contract specifics are fuzzy and added interest rates, fees, and payments mean many would-be owners get fed up and give up on owning the home. Work with owners and realtors your trust if you go this route.[11]
  2. Consider owner financing. Owner financing is the financing of a property purchase directly through the person or entity selling it. It is a possible alternative if you cannot obtain funding through a conventional mortgage lender and the house owner is open to financing it for you (likely if if he or she is having difficulty selling the property).[12]
    • In order to protect his or her own interests, the seller may require a higher down payment than a mortgage lender would (20% higher is not uncommon).[12]
  3. Look into subprime loan. Subprime loans got a bad reputation during the housing crisis, but with responsible financial planning they can potentially be a good alternative if your credit means you don't qualify for a conventional loan. However, you should be very careful with this option. Unless you are currently financially secure, you might want to try other alternative routes before looking into the subprime option.
    • Subprime loans have higher interest and fees than conventional loans, so plan accordingly. You are often not allowed to pay off the loan early, and interests rates sometime spike towards the end of a mortgage. People often end up in a situation where they suddenly cannot pay off their loan due to increased interest and fees, leading to foreclosures.[13]
    • Subprime homes, however, do allow people to buy homes who would otherwise not qualify for home ownership. If your bad credit is a result of extenuating circumstances - such an unexpected layoff or a medial emergency - and you are now in a financial situation that is sustainable long term and you know you will have the assets to pay the loan in the future, this route might work for you. However, never sign any paperwork you do not understand. You should always have a third party look over contracts, but this is extra important when signing off on a subprime loan.[13]
  4. Buy a fixer-upper. Credit scores affect how much we can take out in loans, so aiming for something at a low price with the intent of fixing it up over time. However, much like a subprime loan, this is only a good alternative option under certain conditions.
    • Be honest with yourself. How much home repair are you able to do on your own? If you're particularly handy, and can undertake many repairs yourself, a fixer upper can be a bargain. But if you have to factor in costs of labor, which can get expensive fast, this might end up far more expensive up front than buying a pricier home.[14]
    • Know everything you can about the house. A home appraisal and a home inspection should be conducted before you put in an offer. Once you know what needs to be fixed, figure how much these repairs will cost and whether you can afford them.
    • Aim to buy a house that's priced low because it needs certain cosmetic upgrades rather than a major overhaul.
    • Look for fixer uppers in good neighborhoods, as you can get them up to market value with time and work. A house in a bad neighborhood will always be priced lower unless the neighborhood improves.[14]


  • Consider waiting a year to buy a house if your credit is not great. This will give you time to rebuild your credit and widen your options for home purchase.
  • Be honest with yourself about why you ended up with poor credit. If there were mistakes on your part, try to be better about finances in the future and while you're paying your mortgage.
  • If considering rent-to-buy or subprime options, consult legal representation for every step of the process as such areas are ripe with fraud.

Related Articles

Sources and Citations