How to Boost Your Credit Score to Improve Chances of Getting a VA Home Loan

Updated: April 26, 2022

Table of Contents

    Unfortunately, meeting the military service requirements for VA home loan eligibility doesn’t mean you’ll actually qualify for a loan. For that, you need a solid credit score and good overall financial health. As such, we’ll use this article to explain how to boost your credit score to improve your chances of getting a VA home loan.

    How to Boost Your Credit Score to Improve Your Chances of Getting a VA Home Loan Specifically, we’ll discuss the following:

    • VA Loan Overview
    • How Your Credit Score Affects Loan Qualification
    • Steps to Boost Your Credit Score to Qualify for a VA Loan
    • Final Thoughts

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    VA Loan Overview

    The VA loan program provides an outstanding home buying option for eligible borrowers. Administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs, these loans offer the following terms:

    • No down payment required
    • No private mortgage insurance (PMI) required
    • Low interest rates
    • Streamlined refinancing option via the Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan (IRRRL)

    But, it’s important to note that the VA doesn’t actually lend money. Instead, it guarantees a portion of every loan issued by VA-approved lenders (e.g. banks, credit unions, and mortgage companies). If a borrower defaults on a loan, the Department of Veterans Affairs will repay the lender a portion of the outstanding loan balance.

    With this system, the VA provides overall lending guidance. But, many loan decisions – including those related to credit scores – are made by the individual lenders. And, understanding how credit scores affect VA loan applications helps borrowers put themselves in the best possible position to qualify for a loan. We’ll discuss these considerations in the remainder of the article.

    How Your Credit Score Affects Loan Qualification

    Credit Score Overview

    People often throw around the term credit score without actually defining it. Prior to outlining how to boost your credit score to improve your chance of getting a VA loan, we’ll briefly define the term.

    Your credit score is a number between 350 and 850 that defines your creditworthiness, that is, how likely you are to repay debt. Higher scores indicate higher creditworthiness, whereas a lower score means that you are a more unreliable borrower. Technically, this three-digit score is known as a FICO (Fair Isaac Corporation) score, and three major credit agencies (Experian, Equifax, and Transunion) generate these scores based on several factors, including:

    • Your payment history (e.g. credit card and loan payments)
    • The total amount of money you owe
    • Length of credit history (i.e. when you opened your first credit account)
    • Types of credit you have
    • Frequency of new credit inquiries and accounts

    Of the above factors, payment history plays the largest role in determining your credit score. That is, do you make your payments on time, or have you had some late payments? According to a CNBC study, payment history makes up 35% of your total credit score calculation.

    Most lenders and credit agencies divide borrowers into the following tiers:

    • Exceptional: 800 – 850
    • Very good: 740 – 799
    • Good: 670 – 739
    • Fair: 580 – 669
    • Poor: 300 – 579

    Generally speaking, better credit scores allow you to qualify for more loans at better rates.

    How Credit Scores Affect VA Loan Qualification

    The Department of Veterans Affairs does not impose a minimum credit score for VA loans. But, the VA only administers the program, while individual lenders originate and service the mortgages. And, many of these lenders require a credit score of at least 620 to qualify for a VA loan.

    Furthermore, the higher your score, the better the interest rate you can receive. This can save you tens of thousands of dollars over the life of a loan. For example, say you take out a $250,000 VA loan to purchase a home. With a score of 780 (“very good”) you’ll likely qualify for the best rate, let’s say 2.5%. But, if your credit score drops 100 points to 680 (“good”), that rate could jump to 3.0%. This 0.5% increase translates to over $24,000 in extra interest payments over the life of a 30-year mortgage!

    Steps to Boost Your Credit Score to Qualify for a VA Loan

    Having outlined the reasons why credit scores matter so much for VA loans, the question remains: how can I boost my credit score to improve my chances of getting a VA home loan? While you can pay a credit repair agency to assist you in improving your score, most borrowers can make major improvements with a few simple steps:

    Step 1: Regularly Review Your Credit Reports

    If you don’t understand the factors affecting your own credit score, it’s hard to improve those factors. Federal law allows Americans to request a free copy of their credit reports (scores and all associated factors) once a year from each major credit reporting agency. That means that borrowers can review detailed reports – for free – at least three times a year. By doing this, you’ll arm yourself with the information necessary to improve your credit scores.

    Step 2: Make All Payments on Time

    As stated above, payment history plays the absolute largest role in determining your credit score. By making your loan and credit card payments on time, you will gradually improve your credit score. Conversely, one late payment can significantly lower your score. To avoid accidental late payments, you may want to consider setting up automatic payment plans.

    Step 3: Maintain Low Credit Card Balances

    Credit utilization serves as another major factor in your credit score. That is, of your available credit, how much do you actually use? Say, for instance, you have a $20,000 credit card limit. An average balance of $2,000 translates to 10% credit utilization ($2,000 / $20,000). Credit reporting agencies generally want to see credit utilization rates below 30%. But, the individuals with the best credit scores typically have utilization rates in the single digits.

    Step 4: Understand What the Credit Reporting Agencies See (and Don’t See)

    Not all monthly payments are reported to credit reporting agencies. For instance, rent payments do not affect FICO scores (though they may be reported to credit agencies). This means that paying your rent on time won’t improve your credit score. Understanding this, individuals should open at least one credit account (e.g. credit card, auto loan, etc.) that will be reported, and then use that credit responsibly. By establishing an open credit account, you begin the process of building an associated credit score.

    Final Thoughts

    Boosting your credit score has two major advantages related to VA home loans. First, a higher score increases your likelihood of actually getting a loan. Second, higher scores also typically come with lower interest rates, which can save you tens of thousands of dollars over the life of a mortgage.

    But, veterans and active troops should understand that credit score isn’t the only factor that goes into a VA loan application. Lenders will also review your debt-to-income ratios, sources of income, and other factors relating to your personal finances. As such, you should take a holistic approach to improving your chances of getting a VA loan. The more you improve your overall financial situation, the more likely you’ll qualify for a loan.

    About The AuthorMaurice “Chipp” Naylon spent nine years as an infantry officer in the Marine Corps. He is currently a licensed CPA specializing in real estate development and accounting.

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    Written by MilitaryBenefits

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