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What mortgage rate will you really get?

Sure, interest rates are at record lows. But your credit score and the amount you bring to the table affect how much you'll pay for the loan.

By MSN Money Partner May 17, 2012 5:31PM

This post comes from Rob Berger at partner blog The Dough Roller.


The Dough Roller on MSN MoneyHere are three facts about mortgage applications that at first glance are difficult to reconcile:

  • Mortgage rates are at historic lows.
  • Real-estate prices have fallen substantially over the past few years.
  • The number of mortgage applications over the past two months is down.

Image: Miniature home on sheet of percent signs © Comstock/Getty ImagesSo what's going on here? Well, according to The Wall Street Journal, part of the problem is persistent unemployment. Rates and prices can be low, but if you are looking for work, you won't be buying a a home or refinancing a mortgage.


But there is a second problem that has persisted for several years: low credit scores. According to Fair Isaac, the creator of the FICO credit score, more than 25% of consumers who have active credit files (about 43 million people) have FICO scores of 599 or below. A chart on the FICO Banking Analytics Blog shows the shift over time.


A score of 599 won't qualify you for most mortgages.


Now, we've already covered what credit score you need to get a mortgage. But there are still two unanswered questions:

  • First, what credit score do you need to qualify under Fannie Mae's guidelines (which most mortgages must meet)?
  • Second, even if you qualify, how does your credit score affect what you'll pay for the loan?

Let's take a look at both of these questions. (Post continues below.)

What credit score do you need?

Fannie Mae publishes a series of matrices setting out fairly complicated rules on pricing loans. These rules include not only credit score requirements, but also loan-to-value rules. LTV is important because, in combination with your credit score, it can result in higher or lower interest rates and in some cases determine whether you will qualify for a mortgage at all.


Perhaps the most common mortgage is for the purchase of a single-family home. Subject to some exceptions, your credit score must be at least 620 if your LTV is equal to or less than 75%, and 660 if your LTV is greater than 75%. The same guidelines apply for what is called a limited cash-out refinance.


How does your score affect the cost of the loan?

This is where things really get interesting. Fannie Mae breaks credit scores into eight categories. For each category, it then provides various LTVs. For each credit score/LTV combination, Fannie Mae provides what it calls a loan-level price adjustment, which ranges from -0.25% to 3%. This means that depending on your credit score, down payment and other factors, you could be paying up to 3% more for your loan.


Fannie Mae has published several charts showing the various credit score/LTV combinations. Here's an example of one:


Fannie Mae chart

The "good" news is that you can choose how you pay these additional costs. You can choose to pay at closing in the form of points. Or the costs can be baked into your loan, increasing the interest rate you pay. If you choose a higher interest rate over points, each 1% in LLPA will increase your interest rate by 0.25%. Either way, if you trigger an LLPA, you'll pay the price.


So, what's the takeaway here? First, as we've said many times before, your credit score is really important. A good score of at least 720 (and preferably higher) will save you thousands of dollars in mortgage interest.


Second, there is no reason to worry about a "perfect" credit score. The chart above tops out at 740. (Estimate your credit score for free.)

Third, don't be fooled by advertised mortgage rates. The ads always show the lowest possible rates. Depending on the terms of the loan and your credit score, your rate could be higher.


And finally, the Fannie Mae guidelines are extremely complicated. We've only scratched the surface here. So if you are in the market to buy a home or refinance, check with a mortgage broker who can walk you through all the rules and let you know the best mortgage rates available for your specific circumstances.


More from The Dough Roller and MSN Money:

May 18, 2012 9:41AM
Do not think for one minute that you will have no problem qualifying for a mortgage.  After the recent crises and financial reform, not many have a perfect credit rating.  Mortgage companies will simply not take a risk and will be extremely hesitant with even one credit infraction.  Besides, it would not be worth the risk for the buyer should the economy start spiraling again.
May 20, 2012 9:06PM
What do all these idiotic abbreviations mean?  Do I have to google ten times just to have a clue what this article is about?
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