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In order to get a mortgage these days, home buyers are typically required to have three credit scores — one scoring model calculated three times based on each of your credit reports at the three major credit bureaus. However, one problem that I see periodically when working with homebuyers is that they do not have three credit scores.

While many lenders still operate under this requirement, it is not indicative of all 2014 mortgage lending. You actually can still get a mortgage if you don’t have all three credit scores. Here’s how, and what to be prepared for.

Rating From Each Bureau

Lenders look to a homebuyer’s credit for the likelihood of a delinquency. The higher the credit score, the less likelihood of default, which means a lower interest rate.  Meanwhile, a lower credit score means a greater risk of default, and therefore carries a higher interest rate. Pretty self-explanatory, right?

The lending industry standard is to use a credit score model developed by FICO (though there are many different credit-scoring models out there). Your credit scores are informed by the information found on your credit reports. Your creditors — such as your credit card company, auto lender, mortgage company, etc. — report your payment behavior and other information to the major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), which is the basis for your credit report. Many creditors report to all three major credit reporting agencies. However, there are some creditors who may report to only one or two. This is where homebuyers can run into a problem.

When lenders ask you, “What’s your credit score?” what they’re really asking is, “Do you know your middle credit score?” (If you don’t know it, don’t worry. The lender will obtain it with your initial qualification.)

Each credit reporting agency provides the mortgage lender a credit score. Among them, there will be a high score, middle score and a low score. The middle credit score is what mortgage lenders use to qualify a potential borrower.

So if you don’t have three credit scores, what do you do?

If You Don’t Have All Three Credit Scores

In short, if you don’t have all three credit scores, be ready to explain the how, what, when, where and why.

Your lender is going to want to understand why you don’t have three credit scores, but the fact remains if you don’t have three scores, that alone will not necessarily deny your ability to get a mortgage.

Lenders have standard lending guidelines set forth by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and individual company guidelines, which are their interpretation of those basic guidelines. Depending on the nature of the mortgage company you’re working with for your loan, they might be required to have three credit scores because of their investor overlays — meaning if they have a certain credit threshold, they must abide above and beyond the normal guidelines. In such a circumstance, three credit scores could be required by that particular mortgage company. However, another mortgage company might not have these investor overlays, which would allow a consumer to secure a mortgage with only one, or even two credit scores. (With two scores, the lower of the two is king for qualifying.)

If your lender denies your loan because you don’t have three credit scores, you can find a lender who will sign off on less than three scores.

Making Your Case

If you find yourself in this situation, here are some ways to help make your case for getting a mortgage:

  • The lender will fully examine your credit including length of open credit, explanations on collections and derogatory items if any, as well as any of the big red flags like bankruptcy, short sale or foreclosure.
  • More emphasis will be placed on your income, liabilities, assets and debt-to-income ratio.
  • Alternative payment history could be requested to satisfy good character, such as a utility bill or a verification of rent.

In my experience, you will need at least a 620 credit score to get a mortgage. Gone are the days where utility statements and other sources of nontraditional credit are used in lieu of a credit score. This goes for conventional loans and FHA loans. If you don’t have a credit score, you may want to consider putting the brakes on the mortgage qualifying process until you can establish credit history, which, with good payment behavior, can subsequently generate a healthy score over time.

And as you build your credit, it’s a good idea to track your progress. You can use a free tool like Credit.com’s Credit Report Card to monitor your credit scores over time. And pulling your credit reports regularly, which you can do for free once a year, can also help you pinpoint whether a creditor isn’t reporting to all three bureaus – so you can address the problem with the creditor.

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