Here are some questions I have seen recently about how long it takes to improve your credit score to get a mortgage:
- I was foolish with credit cards for years but now I am determined to buy a house – how long will this take?
- My credit score is dreadful. My new partner has a good credit record and we want to get a mortgage.
- I have a poor credit rating but I have now inherited a deposit. How do I improve my credit score so I can buy a house?
- My credit score isn’t good as I have never borrowed anything – how can I get a mortgage offer?
Each mortgage lender has its own policy on what is acceptable. And some of these are changing because of the whole market changing after Covid-19, But this article has general guidelines to help you work out what will improve your situation.
Does your credit rating really matter for a mortgage?
Some people say a credit score doesn’t matter for a mortgage. It’s true you can have a perfect credit score and be refused a mortgage. And it’s sometimes possible to get a mortgage at an OK interest rate with a much less than perfect credit score.
But credit records do matter.
The three fundamentals issues for being offered a mortgage are:
- Do you have a large enough deposit?
- Is the mortgage affordable for you? The lender will do a stricter calculation than you might think;
- How well have you handled credit in the past?
Your credit score is one of the ways lenders to assess the third question – how you have managed credit. So if you have a poor credit score, look at this in detail and think about how soon it will improve.
There is a big exception here. If you already have a mortgage and you want to get another fixed rate, your current lender will very often not bother to check your credit record at all, so the rest of this article may not matter – see After a fixed rate mortgage ends, fix again?
Get the facts
Start by getting all the facts about your debts, from each of the three credit reference agencies. If you only look at one, you may miss something bad on another one.
When will your credit record be “clean”?
Check your three credit reports to find out:
- the dates of any defaulted debts. These disappear from your credit record after 6 years after the first default date on that debt. Don’t worry that defaults are still being added each month, these don’t matter;
- if any debts are marked as in arrears or in an arrangement to pay. These debts will drop off your credit record 6 years after the debt is settled;
- the dates of any CCJs. They will drop off after 6 years;
- the start dates of any insolvency – bankruptcy, IVAs or DROs. These disappear 6 years after the date (or when your IVA is completed if that is longer than 6 years);
- the dates of any payday loans. In mid 2020 most high street lender will not consider you for a mortgage if you have had a payday loan in the last two years.
Knowing these dates gives you a timescale to a completely “clean” credit record.
Don’t panic if it seems ages away – your credit record doesn’t have to be completely clean, as the next section discusses. But this gives you the facts and shows what areas you have to tackle.
Can you speed this up by paying the debts?
Paying problem debts (defaulted debts, debts in debt management or with an arrangement to pay) doesn’t improve your credit score. But it is essential that you repay problem debts before applying for a mortgage.
Many lenders have a policy that they will offer a mortgage if your problems happened a while ago, they have all been resolved and you haven’t had any more problems.
A rough rule of thumb is that you should be able to get a mortgage at an OK interest rate from a high street lender:
- if all your defaults were more than three years ago
- and you have repaid all the defaults and any arrangement to pay debts more than a year ago.
This may mean you need to change your plan. If you were going to repay your debts over the next three years and also save up the deposit during that time, it may be better to use all the money in the first year to pay off the debts the save the deposit in the next two years. See How to juggle repaying debts and saving a deposit for details.
If a creditor makes you a settlement offer, you may be worried that this will later harm your chance of getting a mortgage. In theory it can… but many lenders don’t care and for most people the key thing is to settle all their defaults as soon as possible. See Will partial settlement make it hard to get a mortgage? for more details.
Debts that have fallen off your credit records
I said you have to repay them all – this even applies when debts have dropped off your credit record.
(One exception – if you haven’t paid anything to a debt for 6 years and it has dropped off your credit record you may be able to ignore it if it is statute barred, but that can be complicated to be sure about, see FAQs on Statute barred debt.)
Your credit record isn’t the only way a lender can see what debts you have – debts you are repaying also show up on your bank statements. And you can’t stop paying a debt when it disappears from your credit record or you will get a CCJ which wrecks your chance of a mortgage for another 6 years.
So your credit record may now look great if you are in an old debt management plan, but you are very unlikely to get a mortgage until the DMP has finished.
Lenders are more concerned about CCJs and hate insolvencies
Most high street lenders will not give you a mortgage if you have a CCJ still on your credit record, even if it has been paid.
If you have just discovered a CCJ you knew nothing about on your credit record – perhaps a parking ticket? – act fast and talk to National Debtline to see if you can get the CCJ set aside.
No lender will give you a mortgage if you have insolvency still showing on your credit record.
I’m not talking here about a “bad credit” mortgage – those are very expensive and should be avoided. A bad credit broker may say you can just remortgage to a cheaper one in a couple of years… but you may not be able to do this.
Some ways to improve your credit score faster
For problem debts
Do any of your default dates look too late? If you can get them changed to be earlier, the debt will disappear sooner. Also think if any of the debts with Arrangement to Pay markers should really have had a default added, so they will drop off sooner. See What should the default date for a debt be? for more about this.
It isn’t usually possible to get a default removed, but see When can you get a default deleted? for some examples. NB you do not want to do this if it means the debt will have an arrangement to pay marker instead, as that means the problem will show on your records for longer.
For non-problem debts
Many mortgage lenders will also care about some other things which may surprise you. These are all good guidelines that will make it easier to pass the lender’s affordability checks as well as credit history checks:
- don’t use a lot of your credit limit on credit cards and catalogues. You need to aim to pay down these debts so that you are using less than 30% of the credit limit. Clearing the balance in full every month is best!
- it’s best to be paying more than the minimum amounts to credit cards and catalogues;
- no payday loans in the year before you apply for a mortgage. Even if you repay them on time they are seen as showing you aren’t good with money;
- don’t go over your overdraft limit. Reducing the amount you use your overdraft is good – and it will also save you a lot of money.
A “thin” credit file
It is incredibly frustrating to be turned down for a mortgage because you have never borrowed money in the past. If you have a great deposit and will very easily pass the affordability checks, talk to a good broker to see if any lenders will accept you. But if you don’t, what can you do?
The following suggestions may help a credit record with very little on it. They will not improve a credit record if there are a lot of problems.
- Get a “bad credit card”, use it each month for something small and repay it in full every month. This looks good to a lender and means you don’t pay the high-interest rate. This makes your credit rating worse for a few months but from 6-12 months you will see your credit score improving. Be careful – these cards can make your situation worse very fast if you don’t repay the balance in full every month.
- You may have seen advertising for adding your rental payments to your credit record. At the moment there is no evidence that mortgage lenders take any notice of this, see Should paying your rent help you get a mortgage? Try it if you want, but don’t rely on this working!
- Another new idea is more promising – see how LOQBOX helps your credit score whilst you save. That too will take at least 6 months before your score starts improving.
Stop any new problems happening
If it’s going to take a while to sort out your old debts and/or save a deposit, don’t let any new problems land on your credit record.
Here are some tips:
- try to pay as much by direct debit as possible so you can’t miss a payment if you are busy/sick/on holiday;
- be careful when you cancel any direct debit or change address. Double check that all your old bills are paid so you don’t get a default. Water bills after a move and mobile bills when you have switched are a common cause of problems!
- make sure DVLA always has your correct address. CCJs from a parking ticket you didn’t know about are a disaster.
Go through a mortgage broker
It is always good to go through a broker. Look for one that covers the whole market, not the one an estate agent happens to recommend.
Not only can a good broker find you deals you didn’t know about, but they will also know which lenders to avoid if you have had different sorts of problems. See MSE’s recommendations for a good broker.
Other articles about mortgages
Some of these other articles may have good pointers for you:
- Getting a mortgage with debts This looks at the wider problem, eg the affordability calculations.
- 95% mortgages These used to be great for first-time house buyers, but in 2020 the mortgage lenders have withdrawn all these offers because of worries that COVID-19 will result in a fall in house prices. It is not really hard to get a mortgage with a 10% deposit unless your credit record is squeaky clean.
- very long mortgages. Things to think about before choosing a 35 or 40-year mortgage.