Mortgage Refinance Options for People with Bad Credit

With today’s low-interest rates, more and more people are able to refinance and get a better deal on their mortgages, but homeowners with bad credit scores may be left wondering whether they have a shot at refinancing their mortgages. The good news is that even homeowners with poor credit scores can refinance their mortgages in a lot of cases. Before you start the process to refinance a mortgage with bad credit, though, it’s important to know what refinancing your mortgage means, the best strategies to get started and how to improve your credit score if you’re asked to by a lender.

What is mortgage refinancing?

Refinancing a mortgage means replacing your current mortgage with a new one, usually with a lower interest rate and sometimes a different loan term. The new mortgage may differ by the mortgage rate, the length of the loan, the amount of the monthly mortgage payment and the insurance premiums.

After buying a home, your circumstances and needs may change over time, which may lead you to consider changing the terms on your mortgage. There are several reasons why homeowners refinance, including:

  • To get a lower interest rate
  • To borrow against the equity you’ve built to fund home improvements
  • To pay off the home faster with a shorter loan term
  • To use the home equity for other expenses

When refinancing, you can choose to refinance with your current mortgage lender or opt for a new one. Most people are interested in refinancing to get a better interest rate on their mortgage and save money on their monthly payments, though the reasons vary from person to person.

How to refinance a mortgage with bad credit

It’s important to understand where your financial health stands before looking into refinancing options. You’ll need to evaluate whether you make your payments on time and take into account what your current credit score is. If you’re struggling financially — which is part of what your credit score shows a lender — it will be more difficult to find a lender to refinance your mortgage.

That said, there are a few strategies you can use if you have bad credit when trying to refinance, including:

1. Get a cosigner

If you’ve got a close friend or family member with a high credit score, consider asking them to be a cosigner on your loan, which means that they promise to pay any debts if you can’t pay. Some lenders will take the average of you and the cosigner’s scores, whereas others may take the lowest score on the application, which may not be very helpful. It could also be difficult to get a cosigner because it’s risky for them to potentially take on your debt if you’re in a difficult financial situation.

2. Consider government-backed options

There are quite a few government-backed refinance options that may work for homeowners with bad credit scores. The most common one is a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan through an FHA program. These loans have less stringent requirements compared to other mortgage finance programs, which makes it easier for those with bad credit scores to be considered.

This type of loan is also a good fit for people with bad credit because:

  • The eligibility requirements are straightforward
  • You may not need an appraisal
  • The loan is insured by the government, allowing lenders to consider borrowers with low credit scores

The main requirement is that you’ve made your mortgage payments on time and in full for the last 12 months.

Another government refinance option is a loan backed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The mortgage interest rates on USDA loans can be much lower — with subsidies, interest rates can be as low as 1% — and if you have a USDA loan, you may be able to refinance for a lower interest rate through one of three USDA refinance programs. People with low or even no credit scores are allowed to apply, though each lender will have its minimum score requirement for this type of loan.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers the option to refinance a loan to service members, veterans and spouses to help them become homeowners. The government guarantees a portion of each VA loan, meaning you can often get a mortgage or a refinance with much better terms if you qualify.

3. Approach a credit union

Many times credit unions are more willing to help homeowners who have low credit scores, though it will vary from lender to lender. This helps them build good relationships with their members which in turn helps the union as a whole. If you’re not a member of a credit union and are looking to refinance, do some investigating and find out whether a credit union could help you.

4. Build up your savings

Lenders like borrowers with plenty of savings because it indicates that they’ll be able to repay their loans — even if they run into trouble. When building a case to refinance your mortgage, consider having a healthy emergency fund to show your bank. This is a good strategy for borrowers with short lending histories or bad credit scores. Any proof that you’ll be able to make more payments toward the mortgage will lower the lending risk and make it easier for a lender to qualify you for a refinance.

Should I refinance a mortgage with bad credit?

Refinancing with bad credit can put you at a disadvantage, as it’s likely you won’t get great interest rate options on your new loan. Lenders aren’t generally willing to offer the best rates to people with bad credit because lending to people with potential money issues is a risky bargain for a mortgage lender, so the fees are higher and rates are often higher in return.

Still, refinancing your mortgage with bad credit could make sense if you’re doing it to take out equity or pay off your loan faster rather than getting a better interest rate. You’ll have to have enough equity in your home for a lender to refinance your home, though, and you’ll have to have enough savings to pay the closing costs and additional fees.

How to improve your credit before refinancing your mortgage

If you have bad credit, it may be worth boosting your credit score before applying to refinance your mortgage. There are a few strategies you can use to try and increase your credit score, including:

  • Cut back on some credit card spending to lower credit utilization
  • Pay off any overdue accounts
  • Pay off some debt
  • Fix any errors on your credit report
  • Make all your payments on time, and pay at least the minimum due
  • Use no more than 30% of your total available credit every month
  • Don’t close old credit cards

By implementing some of these strategies, you may be able to improve your credit score over a short period, which in turn will give you a better chance at a low-interest rate.

The bottom line

Whether you should refinance your mortgage with a bad credit score will depend on your end goal. If you’re looking to save some money on interest with a better rate, you may be better off waiting and boosting your credit score before you start the process. On the other hand, if you’re looking to take out some equity or pay off your house, it may be worth refinancing, even with a low credit score.

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Araminta Robertson
Araminta Robertson
Contributing Writer

Araminta is a speaker, podcaster and fintech journalist who specializes in thought leadership, blog content and in-depth reports. Her work has been featured at BBC News, Finovate, BigPay, Rooster Money, Minted and elsewhere.

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