Have you ever wondered how to get a mortgage without a credit score? If you’re in decent financial shape, the short answer is to use manual underwriting.
Not many people are familiar with the process of qualifying for a mortgage using manual underwriting, so I’m happy to share Jessica’s story below.
(She got a manually underwritten mortgage when she bought her home earlier this year, and she’ll be telling you all about how that worked shortly.)
But first, let’s get an important term out of the way.
Manual underwriting means someone individually figures out the level of risk involved with giving you a mortgage.
Instead of software automatically checking your credit and using an algorithm to decide whether or not you’re a good risk, a person does so. (Using information you provide to show you’re likely to repay the loan.)
Manual underwriting can be good for people who:
- have what’s known as a “thin” credit file
- don’t have a score because they don’t have debt (woohoo!)
- have a somewhat recent bankruptcy or foreclosure
Now on to Jessica’s article, which is all about her experience with convincing her mortgage broker to go the manually underwritten loan route.
Getting a Mortgage Without a Credit Score: My Experience
You have all heard it before: That you can’t get through life without a credit score. Some people will agree that you can pay cash for a car or save up and pay for college along the way. But what about a house?
It’s a pretty large purchase to save up cash and pay for outright, especially if you live in crazy-expensive housing markets. What if you decide to buy a house but definitely want to go with a mortgage – does this mean you have to have a credit score?
Nope. Not at all. Not even close.
But that’s what the financial services industry wants you to believe. They want you to believe that you have to have a credit score to qualify for a mortgage. And that’s just not the case.
The reason the personal finance industry tells you this is because it causes you – and the mortgage company – additional work to become approved for a mortgage without a credit score. But it is possible – and I am living proof that you can get a home mortgage without one.
So, what do I know about getting a home mortgage without a credit score?
It all started when I became completely debt free in March 2015. I made my last payment to Sallie Mae. It was a glorious day shed with tears of happiness that I had completed paying off $56,000 of various debt. Part of my debt freedom commitment was to never use credit cards again.
Over the next three years, I would religiously check my score to see how being totally debt free would affect it. It took about a year for my score to be “un-calculatable” for at least one agency. The other two credit bureau agencies were holding on to my score for dear life.
In fact, when I used a service to check all three scores and then directly ordered my TransUnion score from TransUnion, I was given two entirely different scores from TransUnion – one in the low 700s and one in the 500s.
Taking the plunge
I finally decided to purchase a home in May 2018. I had worked with a particular mortgage broker the previous year to be approved for a different home I had been interested in purchasing, but that purchase didn’t work out.
At that time, one of the agencies was still reporting a score. However, for the 2018 purchase, my broker called me to officially tell me that I had no credit score at all. Yes! It was the answer I had been waiting to hear for many years.
The broker also told me that because I had a foreclosure from 2011, I would only be able to qualify for an FHA home loan. This limited the types of homes that I would be able to purchase as most condos will not accept FHA loans as conforming.
Even though I had spent five years cleaning up my debt, the foreclosure I went through was still going to present a stumbling block. However, I was happy to learn that it didn’t prevent me from getting a manually underwritten loan. I did put down 5% on the home.
Sticking to my guns on using manual underwriting
I would love to say that my broker was all ready to get to work on my loan package but that was not the case. Manually underwritten loans create more time and work for the mortgage company. (With the automated system a credit score and some confirmations of certain financial information are all that’s necessary to approve the home loan.)
In fact, my broker suggested things like taking out a credit card, making a few purchases and pay off the balance to bump up my score. Or to contact his lawyer colleague who could work with me to wipe the foreclosure off of my credit report – at a cost. [Jackie’s note: in theory a foreclosure should automatically be wiped off 7 years after the original delinquency date anyway.]
But I was determined to get a home loan right where I was standing with the strong financial position I had worked so hard to achieve. If nothing else, to prove that financial responsibility triumphs over some silly calculated score.
And so the manual underwriting saga began.
Here’s a tip: If you’re going to tackle the world of manual underwriting, organize your financial documents. (Or at least know where you can get to those documents quickly.)
At minimum, the manual underwriter is going to want to see:
- several years’ worth of tax returns,
- the last twelve months of all bank statements,
- non-retirement investment accounts statements,
- and pay stubs to show proof of continuing income
In addition, you will need to show that you are credit-worthy using different means. For me, that meant providing payment history from three different sources. I gave the underwriters my payment history for my rent, my electric bill and my cell phone.
They initially wanted letter of credit from the companies stating that my account was in good standing and that I did not have any late payments over the past year. The only company that was able to provide that information was my utility company. The underwriters were OK with that.
Be ready to have your information scrutinized for any unusual activity and to write letters explaining the activity.
After combing through my bank accounts, the underwriter questioned a rather large deposit that had hit my bank account. The deposit was for a GoFundMe campaign we ran for my uncle who was in a car accident. I wrote a letter to explain what happened and included a list of the expenses we paid from that deposit.
I also had to explain a few address changes. (My grandparents’ home where I had not paid rent, and one where I originally got the address change incorrect.)
How long does manual underwriting take?
For me, the whole manual underwriting process took several weeks.
Your responsiveness to the mortgage broker’s requests is the biggest factor in determining how long the process will take. When my loan processor requested additional items, I responded to the requests within 24 hours.
I made my mortgage process a priority over other items on my to-do list. By doing so, the loan was approved in a much shorter time than I anticipated.
Was going through the manual underwriting process worth it?
To be honest, the manual underwriting process wasn’t difficult – you just have to be organized.
The biggest hurdle in the whole manual underwriting process was standing up to the mortgage broker who wanted me to go the credit score route instead.
But I stood firm. I had financial principles that I was not willing to compromise. I was able to get the manually underwritten mortgage through American Financial Network, Inc.
When you decide that you are going to be completely debt free, you have to be willing to deal with the other “hurdles” or inconveniences that come your way. In the end, you are the one that has to live with your personal finances.
Would I recommend a manually underwritten mortgage?
The key is to make sure your financial house is in good order. Organize your financial records, and make sure they’re easy to get to.
Then interview several mortgage brokers and find out who will to work with you on a manually underwritten loan. I found my mortgage broker through my realtor. I think if I’d bought a home in another state, I would have done my own search for a broker. However, with lots of fraud and scamming here in Florida I wanted to use someone I could trust.
Finally, be sure you fully understand all the documents you sign and any information they request.
Jessica Garbarino is the founder of Every Single Dollar, a company focused on helping single women navigate the world of personal finance. After paying off $56,000 of debt, she decided she wanted to help other single women learn how to manage their money and instill financial confidence. She is a coach, speaker, and teacher on various financial topics with single women in mind. Jessica lives the debt free life in sunny South Florida.