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10 Best Mortgage Lenders of 2021 for Low or Bad Credit Score Borrowers

A home loan with bad credit is possible, even if you’re a first-time home buyer. These low credit score mortgage lenders specialize in serving borrowers with credit challenges.

NerdWalletMar 29, 2021

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Your credit score tells lenders how likely you are to pay back the money you borrow. A high score sends all the right signals, while a low credit score, sometimes referred to as “bad credit,” can keep you from getting approved. A bad credit score generally falls below 630.

The credit score needed to buy a house depends on the type of loan. Government-backed loan programs — FHA, VA and USDA — generally have lower credit score requirements than conventional mortgages. But it’s the lender that ultimately decides what the minimum credit score will be for each loan product.

If your credit score is at or near a lender's minimum, they could demand a bigger down payment, charge a higher interest rate or require you to pay more fees. In short, you could end up paying more for your home loan. The best way to avoid these penalties is to elevate your credit score before you apply.

The coronavirus pandemic introduced some new challenges to getting a mortgage. Many lenders facing high loan demand and staffing issues increased their fees, adjusted minimum required credit scores or temporarily suspended certain loan products. While some products and business practices have returned to pre-pandemic levels, you might still find delays and limited options. If you can’t pay your current home loan, refer to our mortgage assistance resource. For information on how to cope with financial stress during this pandemic, see NerdWallet’s financial guide to COVID-19.

Summary of Best Mortgage Lenders of 2021 for Low or Bad Credit Score Borrowers

Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans
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at Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans

Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans: NMLS#3030

4.5

NerdWallet rating 
Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans

Min. Credit Score

580

Min. Down Payment

3.5%
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at Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans


Why we like it

Good for: borrowers who appreciate smartphone and online convenience for a fully digital home loan experience powered by Quicken Loans.

Pros

  • The site caters to self-service users who want to apply for a home loan online and talk to a human only as necessary.

  • Informs you of the loan amount you’ll qualify for within minutes.

  • Offers document and asset retrieval capabilities.

Cons

  • If you’re a “look me in the eye” type of customer, you’re out of luck.

  • Getting a customized interest rate requires a credit check, which can lower your credit score by a few points.

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Quicken Loans
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at Quicken Loans

Quicken Loans: NMLS#3030

4.5

NerdWallet rating 
Quicken Loans

Min. Credit Score

580

Min. Down Payment

3.5%
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at Quicken Loans


Why we like it

Good for: borrowers looking for just about all of the services your neighborhood lender offers — with online convenience.

Pros

  • Quicken Loans couples a fully online application with available mortgage advisors for those who want a human touch.

  • Instantly verifies employment and income for many working Americans.

  • Offers custom fixed-rate loan terms that are between eight and 30 years.

  • Provides a wide variety of loan types, including renovation loans and all government-backed mortgage products.

Cons

  • Quicken Loans doesn't offer home equity loans or HELOCs.

  • Quicken's lender fees can be stout and it doesn't offset those fees with particularly low mortgage rates.

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New American Funding
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at New American Funding

New American Funding: NMLS#6606

4.5

NerdWallet rating 
New American Funding

Min. Credit Score

640

Min. Down Payment

3.5%
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at New American Funding


Why we like it

Good for: borrowers who need to be evaluated on the basis of nontraditional credit and those interested in various down payment assistance programs.

Pros

  • Uses manual underwriting to evaluate creditworthiness.

  • Offers full online mortgage application, rate quotes, document upload and loan tracking.

Cons

  • Mortgage rates offered to borrowers are higher than the government-reported median of all lenders.

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BNC National Bank
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at BNC National Bank

BNC National Bank: NMLS#418467

4.0

NerdWallet rating 
BNC National Bank

Min. Credit Score

640

Min. Down Payment

3.5%
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at BNC National Bank


Why we like it

BNC National Bank offers a robust variety of loans, but you have to reach out to a loan officer to get interest rates.

Pros

  • Wide variety of loan types and products.

  • Improved online capabilities, and robust iOS and Android apps.

  • Considers alternative credit data, like cell phone payments.

Cons

  • Limited number of physical mortgage offices.

  • No rate information is available without beginning an application.

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Carrington: NMLS#2600

3.0

NerdWallet rating 
Carrington

Min. Credit Score

500

Min. Down Payment

3.5%

Why we like it

Good for: first-time home buyers or credit-challenged borrowers interested in government loan products.

Pros

  • Offers multiple low-down-payment loan programs.

  • May consider alternative credit data, like bank statements and rent payments.

Cons

  • To get sample rates, you'll have to speak with a loan officer.

  • Doesn't offer home equity loans or HELOC.

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Network Capital
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at Network Capital

Network Capital: NMLS#11712

4.5

NerdWallet rating 
Network Capital

Min. Credit Score

640

Min. Down Payment

3.5%
Learn more

at Network Capital


Why we like it

Good for: borrowers looking for a lender with online convenience and mortgage banker assistance.

Pros

  • A web application supports the loan process.

  • A good selection of loan products, including all government-backed mortgages.

  • Offers jumbo loans up to $5 million.

Cons

  • Doesn't lend in all states.

  • Website doesn’t provide customized mortgage rates.

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Homebridge: NMLS#6521

3.5

NerdWallet rating 
Homebridge

Min. Credit Score

550

Min. Down Payment

3.5%

Why we like it

Good for borrowers who want a loan officer's help, in person or on the phone, when deciding among the wide range of available mortgage options — including loans to buy and renovate.

Pros

  • Offers a full array of mortgage products, including government and renovation loans.

  • Has loans for most purposes, including purchase, refinance and jumbo mortgages.

  • Online portal keeps borrowers up-to-date on the loan application's progress.

Cons

  • Doesn't post interest rates on its site.

  • Doesn’t offer home equity loans or lines of credit.

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Mr. Cooper: NMLS#2119

3.0

NerdWallet rating 
Mr. Cooper

Min. Credit Score

620

Min. Down Payment

3%

Why we like it

Good for: borrowers looking for lower credit score requirements and those who don’t mind fully remote customer service.

Pros

  • Once your loan is in process, offers a robust digital experience.

  • Will consider alternative credit data for FHA borrowers.

Cons

  • Doesn’t offer an online application.

  • Requires a call or email for personalized rates.

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Citibank: NMLS#412915

5.0

NerdWallet rating 
Citibank

National / Regional

National

Min. Down Payment

3.5%

Why we like it

Good for: borrowers wanting to compare mortgage rates online for a variety of loan options.

Pros

  • Offers a wide variety of loan options, including low-down-payment mortgages and jumbo mortgages.

  • Provides customizable mortgage rates on its website.

  • Offers low rates and fees compared with other lenders.

Cons

  • Charges a mortgage application fee.

  • Requires help from a mortgage loan officer to complete the loan application online.

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Navy Federal: NMLS#399807

4.5

NerdWallet rating 
Navy Federal

National / Regional

National

Min. Down Payment

0%

Why we like it

Good for: military members and their families looking for low-down-payment mortgages.

Pros

  • Offers a wide range of affordable mortgage products designed for military members.

  • Has an online application for preapproval.

  • Offers low rates compared with most lenders.

Cons

  • Website does not provide customized mortgage rates based on credit score or other factors before you apply.

  • Credit union membership is limited to veterans and current military members, their families, and certain federal employees, retirees and contractors.

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How to get a mortgage with a low or bad credit score

Lenders consider four primary factors when reviewing a mortgage application:

  1. Your credit score.

  2. The amount of debt you carry compared to the income you receive, also called your debt-to-income ratio or DTI.

  3. Your employment history.

  4. The size of your down payment.

Two or three positive factors might outweigh a negative one. Here's what you can do to improve each of them and bolster your chances of getting approved for a mortgage.

1. Credit score

Your credit score can determine what types of home loans you're eligible for, how high of an interest rate you'll be offered and how large of a down payment you have to make.

Though you may be able to qualify for a mortgage with a credit score that's as low as 500, you would need to be able to make a 10% down payment — and you probably wouldn't get a great interest rate.

Improving your credit takes time, but a higher score can help you start off your home loan on better terms, saving you money in the long run.

2. Debt-to-income ratio

To calculate your debt-to-income ratio, or DTI, a lender will divide the total of your monthly debt obligations (things like car payments or student loans) by your monthly pretax income.

Most lenders will look for a DTI that's 36% or lower. A lender that qualifies you with a higher DTI is probably charging you a higher interest rate.

You can lower your DTI by paying down existing debts. While you're getting ready to buy a house, and during the homebuying process, you should avoid taking on any additional debts or making any major purchases.

3. Employment history

You can't change your employment history, but you can make sure your employment status is steady before you begin applying for mortgages. If you change jobs during the underwriting period, it can impact how much a lender is willing to loan you.

4. Down payment

The amount of down payment you'll need depends on what type of home loan you're getting. If you are affiliated with the military, you may be able to qualify for a mortgage backed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. VA loans allow zero down payment. USDA loans, which are insured by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and meant to help lower-income borrowers living outside of urban areas, also have no down payment requirement.

Loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration can be beneficial to borrowers with lower credit scores because FHA loans tend to allow lower minimum credit scores. If your credit score is at least 580, you may be able to make a down payment that is as low as 3.5%. FHA loans also allow borrowers to use gift money to go toward the down payment.

If you are able to make a higher down payment, that may help offset a lower credit score in the eyes of your lender. State-sponsored first-time home buyer programs offer down payment assistance and grants that can enhance your borrowing power.

The bottom line? Shop around. You may qualify for a home loan with some lenders but not others, and you'll want to compare the different offers. Look closely at the rates, fees and other requirements to see which mortgage lender is offering you the best deal.

More from NerdWallet:

Last updated on March 29, 2021

Methodology

NerdWallet's star ratings for mortgage lenders are awarded based on our evaluation of the products and services each lender offers to consumers who are actively shopping for the best mortgage. The five key areas we evaluated include the variety of loan types and products offered, online conveniences, online mortgage rate information, and the rate spread and origination fee lenders reported in the latest available Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data. To ensure consistency, our ratings are reviewed by multiple people on the NerdWallet Mortgages team.

To recap our selections...

NerdWallet's Best Mortgage Lenders of 2021 for Low or Bad Credit Score Borrowers

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