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Are Lenders Loosening Up on Those Buying a House?

Written by Steve Cook on May 11, 2012 in Real Estate  |   6 comments

If you’re thinking about buying a house and you haven’t applied for a mortgage since 2006, you’re in for an unpleasant surprise. The lax standards of the real estate boom era—like “no doc” loans, approved without supporting documentation, and “stated income” mortgages, where no proof…

If you’re thinking about buying a house and you haven’t applied for a mortgage since 2006, you’re in for an unpleasant surprise. The lax standards of the real estate boom era—like “no doc” loans, approved without supporting documentation, and “stated income” mortgages, where no proof of income was required—are history. If you want a mortgage today, get your credit score up, pay off debt, put some cash in the bank, and get your paperwork in order because you’re going to be asked to prove your income, assets, debts, and other financial commitments.

Today’s tighter standards have resulted in a greater percentage of loan denials and higher FICO scores. In 2010, for example, the nation’s 10 largest mortgage lenders denied 26.8 percent of loan applications, an increase from 23.5 percent in 2009, according to an analysis by The Wall Street Journal.

The leading reason a lender will deny your loan is because it has concerns that you can repay the loan. You’ll need to prove your ability to pay the loan before you receive any money from the bank by doing the following:

  • Prove you have steady employment or a reliable income stream. A new job or self-employment raises red flags.
  • Pay down your debt and don’t accrue new debt. A high debt–to-income ratio is a warning sign to lenders.
  • Show you have enough cash saved up for the down payment, closing costs, and cash reserves in case of an emergency.
  • Allow your lender to verify the source of the funds for your down payment.
  • Make sure your credit reports show no recent late payments or “charge-offs” to creditors who have not been paid according to the terms of their financing agreements.
  • Check your credit score; having a higher credit score is crucial.

Average FICO credit scores for loans approved by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae today run in the 760s compared to 620 to 640 during the housing boom. Ellie Mae, a company whose software processes 20 percent of all U.S. mortgages, reports the average FICO score among denied applications has risen to 750 from 741 since August 2011. Even the FHA is requiring a minimum FICO score of 580 to qualify for a loan with a 3.5 percent down payment.

Some, notably the National Association of Realtors and the National Association of Home Builders, claim that these tough new hurdles are impeding the housing recovery by making it extremely difficult for qualified borrowers to get mortgages. A white paper issued by the Federal Reserve in January agreed, noting that mortgage lending has significantly declined among potential first-time homebuyers—an important source of incremental housing demand.

In February, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke called for increased lending to creditworthy homebuyers and more loan modifications and mortgage refinancing to help revitalize the housing industry and economy. The NAR reported Bernanke said in a speech to home builders that tightened borrowing was necessary to protect banks, investors and borrowers during the housing crisis, but now the pendulum may have swung too far.

Is this pressure sending a signal to lenders that their tight lending policies may be doing more harm than good? As the spring home-buying season gets underway in earnest, can homebuyers look forward to more moderate lending practices and underwriting policies? Unfortunately, the answer so far seems to be no.

Steve Cook is editor of Real Estate Economy Watch and covers real estate and mortgage finance for leading news sites.  He is a member of the board of the National Association of Real Estate Editors and was twice named one of the 100 most influential people in real estate. Cook was vice president for public affairs for the National Association of Realtors.

The information contained in this blog post is designed to generally educate and inform visitors to the Equifax Finance Blog. The blog posts do not give, and should not be assumed to provide, personalized tax, investment, real estate, legal, retirement, credit, personal financial, or other professional advice. Before making any financial decision, you should always consult with the appropriate professionals who can explain your options, rights, and legal responsibilities, and advise you on any tax, legal, credit, or business implications that may result from those decisions. The views and opinions expressed by the authors of blog posts are their own views and may not be the views or opinions of Equifax, Inc. and/or its affiliates.


  1. John Barker, Primary Residential Mortgage, 708-597-6777 says:

    Articles like this discourage people from even applying for a mortgage. When people see that the average credit score that is denied is 750 they figure, “Why bother?” We are helping a lot of people with credit acores a lot lower than 750.

    These statistics paint a bleak picture for most borrowers but do not tell the entire story – not even close.

    If you are looking to buy or refinance, please contact me or another lender – even if you think you cannot qualify. There may be opportunites for you. Or, a professional mortgage professional may be able to help you put yourself into a position where you can get a mortgage in the near future.

  2. Ilyce Glink, Managing Editor, The Equifax Finance Blog says:


    There’s no question that folks with lower credit scores are getting mortgages – but there are a lot more obstacles for borrowers with lower stores than higher scores. And, folks with lower scores don’t get the same interest rates as those with higher scores.

    I’m sure you’ll agree that mortgage lenders are pickier these days and every little item is questions to the nth degree.

    You’re right that there are lending opportunities, but you have to search to find one that works for you.

    Thanks for your comment.

  3. Anonymous says:

    John you are completely wrong. I am an investor who was hit very hard in the Atlanta market crash and have just obtained a Fannie Mae loan to finance one of their foreclosures with a 565 tri-merged score and only 10% down. And with a much lower income than before.

  4. Rosmery says:

    I was denied with a 640 credit score & very little debt, for a government foreclosed property less than $16,000. The underwriting did not approved because of my self employed income was too low ($18,000 p/yr); but if I was working for someone else other than for myself at minimun wage but “secured job”-Mcdonals, I would hav been approved. It was not easy to find a lender to pre approve this amount for mortgage loan.
    So I would have to go with Mr. Cook. On the other hand they would lend you on an automobile for $600 a month (dealership) with no problem at all.

  5. Ben says:

    I am going through the mortgage income process, and may be denied according to my agent. Credit score is 760, my W-2 income is 38k a year for a 219,990 with 30% down. The problem is my investment income of 2,880/month was disqualified because my S Corp pays out distributions from cash, not monthly dividends. Bottom line, I make over 5,200 a month and am having a problem qualifying for mortgage + taxes of 1,700 a month. The pendulum has swung too far and something is majorly wrong with the banks. I really think they don’t want to lend anything…

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