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3 Ways To Refinance A Mortgage With Bad Credit

April 23, 2024 5-minute read

Author: Kevin Graham


Do you have a bad credit score? If so, you might assume a refinance is completely out of your reach. However, it might not be. In certain situations, it’s possible to refinance with bad credit.

Let’s take a look at a few ways you can refinance your mortgage even with a lower credit score. We’ll also give you a quick refresher on the purpose of a refinance and offer a few simple tips you can use to raise your score before you pursue a refinance.

How To Refinance Your Mortgage With Bad Credit

A mortgage refinance is a loan that replaces your current home loan with a new term, a new interest rate, a different loan balance or all of the above. Refinancing means you first pay off your old loan with your new loan, then make payments on your new loan.

Your credit score plays a major role in whether you’ll meet the requirements to refinance. Certain lenders may not be able to give you a loan if your score is below 620. Rocket Mortgage® requires a median FICO® Score of at least 580 to refinance to a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) or a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) mortgage.

If you have a bankruptcy in your history in addition to your low credit, refinancing may take even longer. Up next are three options for refinancing with a credit history that’s less than ideal.

1. Apply With A Non-Occupying Co-Client

One option is to apply for a refinance with a non-occupying co-client. This is someone who doesn’t live in your home but is willing to take financial responsibility for your loan if you default.

In this situation, your lender considers the credit score, income and assets of both parties when they underwrite your loan. Depending on the type of loan you get, your co-signer may need to also be on the title of your home.

The credit score that counts is often the lowest median credit score between the two of you, so although having a co-client can help you lower your debt-to-income ratio (DTI), you’ll still need to qualify from a minimum credit score perspective. The exception is a conventional loan backed by Fannie Mae, where the lender takes the average of the applicants’ median scores as the qualifying score.

Applying for a refinance with a co-client can give you a boost, but remember the strings attached. Your refinance provider can pursue your co-client for the money if you fail to pay back your loan. Make sure you can handle your payments every month before you apply for a refinance – and make sure to maintain a great relationship with your co-client.

2. FHA Streamline Refinance

This option allows you to refinance an FHA loan without the usual credit check and income verification. In some cases, you can also get an FHA Streamline Refinance without an appraisal.

Your mortgage must already be an FHA loan to qualify for an FHA Streamline Refinance. In addition:

  • You must undergo the usual credit check requirement if you want to refinance a conventional loan into an FHA loan, or vice versa.
  • You must see a tangible net benefit after your refinance. A tangible benefit might be a lower monthly payment or a lower interest rate.
  • Your monthly payment can’t increase by more than $50 if it’s a term reduction of 3 or more years. If it does, you’ll need to conform to the full refinance standards.
  • You can only have one 30-day late payment in the last year and none in the last 6 months.

3. Cash-Out Refinance

One important item to remember about refinancing without a credit check: You can only refinance your rate or term. You’ll need a minimum credit score of at least 620 if you want to take a cash-out refinance, in most scenarios. Rocket Mortgage will do a VA cash-out refinance with a median FICO® Score as low as 580 if you keep 10% equity in the home after the refinance.

This might be a “moderate credit” option for refinancing, but you can use the money to pay down additional debt, which could further improve your credit score.

A cash-out refinance and paying down what you owe can help you get back on track financially, particularly if you have a large amount of debt. You can consolidate your debt with one payment to your mortgage lender instead of worrying about missing payments across multiple cards. This can help you improve your score over time.

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When To Consider Refinancing Your Mortgage

Below are some of the reasons you might want to refinance your mortgage loan:

To Change Your Loan Terms

Are you having trouble making your monthly mortgage payments? You can refinance your loan to a longer term, which will give you more time to pay back what you owe while lowering your monthly payments. You can also refinance to a shorter term if you want to pay off your loan faster. You may also be able to refinance to a lower interest rate to save money over your loan term.

To Remove Mortgage Insurance

Do you have an FHA loan? If so, you may already be aware that you must pay a mortgage insurance premium (MIP) for as long as you have your FHA loan, if you put less than 10% down on the home. Many homeowners hold their FHA loans only until they reach 20% equity, then refinance to a conventional loan. This allows them to forgo the mortgage insurance requirement and save money.

To Take Cash Out Of Your Property

A cash-out refinance allows you to accept a loan with a higher principal balance than you owe and take the rest out in cash. The cash you get from a cash-out refinance can help you pay off debt, cover home repair costs and more.

Applying for a type of mortgage refinance is similar to applying for your original home loan. You’ll choose a lender you want to work with, make sure you fit their qualifications and apply.

The lender will ask you for some financial documentation, order an appraisal and underwrite your loan. You’ll then get a Closing Disclosure that includes your new loan terms and the costs you need to cover. Finally, attend a closing meeting with a settlement agent, sign on your new loan and start making payments.

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Tips For Improving Your Credit Score Before Refinancing

Take some time to raise your score (and check your credit report for inaccuracies) before you refinance. Boosting your credit score unlocks more refinancing options and can help you secure the lowest interest rate possible. Use these quick tips to improve your credit score:

Get Acquainted With Your Credit

First, take a look at your credit report. It’s possible you’ll find mistakes, and you could even be the victim of identity theft. Checking your credit not only lets you see what you need to improve, but it allows you to uncover issues you don’t even recognize.

Our friends at Rocket HomesSM allow you to check your credit each week without affecting your score. You’ll receive your free TransUnion® VantageScore® 3.0 credit score and report. You also get personalized insights on where your credit can improve.

Consider A Secured Credit Card

If you don’t qualify for a loan or traditional credit card, a secured card can allow you to build credit when needed. You leave a deposit with your lender when you get a secured card, and that deposit then becomes your line of credit.

For example, a lender might require a $500 deposit to open a card with a $500 limit. The lender would hold onto your deposit until you decide to close the card.

Otherwise, a secured credit card works just like a normal credit card. You make purchases using your card and pay them off, plus interest, each month. Then, your lender reports your payments to the credit-reporting bureaus, which helps you build your score. Your lender keeps your initial deposit if you don’t pay your bills.

Secured cards offer a fantastic way to build credit when you might have none, but remember, you must still make your payments on time. Just like an unsecured credit card, missed or late payments will hurt your score.

Keep Your Credit Utilization Low

Credit utilization refers to the percentage of your available credit that you use every month.

Let’s say you have a credit card with a $10,000 limit and you put $5,000 worth of monthly expenses on it. In that case, you have a utilization ratio of 50%. If you use 100% of your credit, you might hear someone say you’ve “maxed out” your credit.

Lenders don’t like to work with borrowers with extremely high credit utilization ratios. Using too much of your available credit tells a lender you might not have anything in savings. It can also mean that you’re more likely to fall behind on your bills or miss a payment.

Keep your utilization ratio low month after month to raise your credit score. Your utilization ratio makes up about 30% of your FICO® Score.

Your score will generally increase if you keep your utilization ratio at or below 30%. For the biggest bump in your credit score, keep your utilization ratio below 10%. Carrying more cash with you, paying down your charges immediately and budgeting your money are all easy ways to lower your utilization.

Pay All Your Bills On Time

About 35% of your FICO® Score comes from your payment history, making it the single most important factor in building a great credit score. The fastest and most reliable way to improve yours is to build a solid history of on-time payments for each of your accounts.

Review your bank, loan and credit card statements and figure out exactly how much you owe each month on all of your accounts. Include each account’s minimum payment and due date in a spreadsheet. Remind yourself to pay each account on time every month by placing your spreadsheet somewhere that you’ll see often, like on a desk calendar.

You may also want to enable automatic bill pay if your accounts offer it. Automatic bill pay allows you to schedule a date for your minimum payments in advance. From there, your account holders automatically deduct the amount you owe. This can help you avoid accidentally lowering your score by forgetting a payment.

The Bottom Line: You Have Refinance Options, Even With Bad Credit

Most mortgages require a credit check before you refinance your property. However, it's still possible in some cases to refinance with bad credit.

Adding a non-occupying co-client to your loan allows your lender to consider both of your scores when they review your application. You can also choose an FHA Streamline Refinance, which allows you to refinance your rate or term without a credit check if you currently have an FHA loan.

In some cases, it’s better to work on building up your credit score by making on-time payments and keeping your credit usage low before you refinance.

Ready to tackle your refinance application? Start your application online today and speak with one of our Home Loan Experts about your situation and options at (833) 326-6018.

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Kevin Graham

Kevin Graham is a Senior Blog Writer for Rocket Companies. He specializes in economics, mortgage qualification and personal finance topics. As someone with cerebral palsy spastic quadriplegia that requires the use of a wheelchair, he also takes on articles around modifying your home for physical challenges and smart home tech. Kevin has a BA in Journalism from Oakland University. Prior to joining Rocket Mortgage, he freelanced for various newspapers in the Metro Detroit area.