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Don’t Get a New Credit Card When You’re Applying for a Mortgage

Sept. 6, 2016
Credit Score, Personal Finance
mortgage rates
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Dorothy told us “there’s no place like home,” but getting there requires a long and difficult mortgage application process. The rigmarole includes an extensive credit review, and one small misstep — like applying for a new credit card — could derail your homeownership plans.

To avoid a serious mortgage application mistake, take a look at the details below.

What mortgage lenders look for

First-time homebuyers are often surprised that qualifying for a mortgage is much more difficult than qualifying for other types of loans. Home loans are typically large, so they represent a big risk for the lender. To play it as safe as possible, banks do a lot of digging into borrowers’ finances. This usually includes:

  • Verifying your employment and income (you’ll likely need to provide supporting documentation for both).
  • A review of your assets.
  • A detailed review of your credit reports.
  • A check of your credit scores.
  • A calculation of your debt-to-income ratio.

To get approved for a mortgage at a good rate, you’ll need to present the best possible picture of your financial standing. You’ll also need to keep your financial standing steady between your initial application and finalizing of all the documents, which could take a month or more.

A new credit card application could interfere with the process

“It’s a delicate set of equations that determines the amount you can afford to borrow,” says Karrina Brown, an associate broker at Northern Virginia real estate services firm RE/MAX Executives. A big part of that calculation is your credit score, which can be negatively affected by new credit applications.

Brown confirmed that prospective homebuyers should avoid new credit card applications. “Credit score would be one reason that you wouldn’t want to take the risk,” she says.

This should be of particular concern to credit card “churners.” Churners frequently open and close new cards to take advantage of discounts or limited-time promotions. Although most have good credit and may not be in danger of getting denied for a mortgage altogether, their hobby could translate to paying higher rates.

“Churning cards could affect your scores by 100 points or more,” Dan Green, publisher of online mortgage information source, says. He estimates that could bump up the rate you get by as much as a percentage point.

That might not sound like much, but it can add up to big costs over the course of a 30-year loan. “Opening a store credit card may save you 10% today,” Green says, “but, long term, it could cost you thousands.”

Applied for a card before your closing? Don’t panic

If you’re trying to get a mortgage and just applied for a new credit card, you haven’t necessarily ruined your chances of getting a home loan.

“Every loan, borrower and situation is different, and creditworthiness isn’t determined based on a single factor,” says Craig Coffey, head of marketing and eBusiness for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. “Rather, we look at a person’s entire credit profile to determine their willingness and ability to repay a loan.”

What’s more, you may be able to work with your lender to explain a recent change to your credit profile. “For all borrowers … we expect they will be able to explain credit issues to the underwriter as well as provide additional support documenting ability to repay,” Coffey says. This means your new credit card application probably isn’t a dealbreaker if the rest of your financial picture is sound.

A final word of caution, though: Don’t add any charges to the card when it arrives. This could drive up your debt-to-income ratio, which is another important metric that affects your ability to qualify for a home loan (see above). Again, the fewer changes you make to your personal finances until your mortgage is secured, the better.

This story was updated Sept. 6, 2016. 

Lindsay Konsko is a staff writer covering credit cards and consumer credit for NerdWallet. Follow her on Twitter @lkonsko and on Google+.