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What Credit Score Do Mortgage Lenders Use? Understanding Your Credit Score for a Home Loan

Your credit score is one of the most important factors that mortgage lenders look at when determining your eligibility for a home loan. But with multiple scoring models out there, what credit score do mortgage lenders actually use to evaluate borrowers?

Mortgage lenders predominantly use FICO scores when evaluating applicants for home loans. Specifically, they often refer to FICO Score 2 based on Experian data, FICO Score 4 using TransUnion data, and FICO Score 5 derived from Equifax. If multiple FICO scores are available, lenders typically base their decision on the middle or lower score.

What Is a Credit Score?

credit score is a three-digit number that gives lenders a snapshot of your creditworthiness. It’s calculated based on the information in your credit report, which details your history of paying bills and managing debt. 

Credit scores range from 300 to 850. The higher the score, the lower the risk you pose to lenders. A score above 700 is generally considered good, while 800 or higher is excellent.

There are a few different companies that calculate credit scores using their own formulas and scoring models. The most common are FICO® scores and VantageScore.

How Does a Credit Score Affect Your Mortgage?

Your credit score is crucial for getting approved for a mortgage and securing favorable loan terms. Lenders use credit scores to gauge the likelihood that you’ll repay the loan as agreed. 

Borrowers with higher scores are seen as lower risk and are more likely to be approved. They may also qualify for lower interest rates and reduced costs.

On the other hand, a low credit score can lead to a mortgage denial or higher rates and fees. Therefore, knowing and maintaining a healthy score is key for homebuyers.

What Credit Score Do Most Mortgage Lenders Use?

The majority of lenders rely on FICO® scores when evaluating mortgage applicants. However, some may use VantageScore or another model in certain cases.

1. FICO Scores

FICO scores are produced by the Fair Isaac Corporation and come in different versions or models. Most lenders will look at your FICO Score 2, 4 or 5 when considering a mortgage application.

  • FICO Score 2 is calculated based on data from Experian
  • FICO Score 4 uses TransUnion data
  • FICO Score 5 is derived from Equifax

Lenders may pull one, two or all three of these scores. If you have multiple FICO scores, most lenders will base their decision on the middle or lower score.

2. VantageScore

VantageScore is a newer type of credit score created by the three major credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Some lenders may use it along with or instead of FICO. 

VantageScore uses the same 300 to 850 range but a different formula than FICO models. The scores tend to be more predictive for those with limited credit history.

3. Other Types of Credit Scores

While FICO and VantageScore are most common, lenders may sometimes consider alternatives like the Experian PLUS Score or TransUnion New Account Score for specific situations. 

These niche scores look at your recent credit history or projected future creditworthiness. However, FICO remains the go-to standard for most mortgage lending decisions.

Why Do Different Lenders Use Different Credit Scores?

There are a few reasons why lenders use different credit score models:

  • FICO has been around longer, so many lenders are used to relying on those traditional scores. 
  • Each model uses a proprietary formula and weights factors like payment history differently. This can result in varying scores for the same person.
  • Lenders may fine-tune their underwriting policies by incorporating scores tailored for certain borrower profiles, such as someone with a short credit history.
  • Smaller lenders may lack access to all FICO models and opt to use VantageScore or another alternative.
  • Competition encourages innovation as credit scoring companies try to improve predictive accuracy. Newer scores may help lenders identify low-risk borrowers.

Regardless of which score a lender uses, the most important thing is to maintain a high credit score across all models. 

How Can You Improve Your Credit Score for a Mortgage?

Here are some tips to boost your credit before applying for a mortgage:

  • Pay all bills on time to build a strong payment history – the biggest factor in your score.
  • Keep credit card balances low. High amounts owed hurt your score.
  • Limit new credit applications that can decrease your average account age.
  • Check reports for errors and dispute inaccurate information.
  • Pay down existing debt, especially on revolving credit lines.
  • Become an authorized user on someone else’s old account if your history is thin. 
  • Sign up for credit monitoring to see changes that may impact your scores.

With diligence and smart credit habits, you can raise your scores significantly in 6 months or less.

What Are the Minimum Credit Scores Required by Different Types of Mortgages?

While every lender has their own underwriting standards, most adhere to general credit score guidelines for loan programs:

Loan TypeMinimum Credit Score
Conventional Loans620 for 3% down payment 
660-680 for less than 20% down 
740 for best rates/terms
FHA Loans500 minimum to qualify 
580 for 3.5% down payment
VA Loans620 or higher for approval 
660 or better for best rate
USDA Loans640 minimum score 
680+ for guaranteed financing
Jumbo Loans700 minimum 
740+ for prime rates 
760+ for most competitive terms

Can You Get a Mortgage with Bad Credit?

Borrowers with credit scores below 620 may still qualify for a mortgage, but will face challenges. Some options include:

  • FHA loans – Easier to obtain than conventional loans with poor credit. 
  • Subprime lenders – Higher rates and costs but may accept borrowers with scores as low as 500.
  • Fannie Mae HomeReady/Freddie Mac Home Possible – Low down payment conventional loans with flexible credit requirements. 
  • Federal mortgage assistance programs – Like down payment help for first-time buyers with low incomes.
  • Credit repair to remove inaccuracies or improve score until it meets lender guidelines.
  • Adding a co-signer with better credit to strengthen the application.
  • Waiting and demonstrating you can responsibly manage credit and debt over time.

While hard, a mortgage with bad credit takes patience and perseverance. Don’t give up hope!

How to Check Your Credit Score Before Applying for a Mortgage

It’s wise to check your credit reports and scores from all three bureaus several months before applying for a mortgage. This gives you time to address any issues.

You can get your official FICO scores and full reports directly from or the credit bureau websites for a fee. 

Alternatively, many credit cards and personal finance sites like Credit Karma provide free credit scores and monitoring, usually based on VantageScore. While not mortgage scores, they can provide insight into your general status. also lets you obtain your Equifax, Experian and TransUnion reports at no cost once a year. Review carefully for errors that could be tanking your score.

What Factors Do Lenders Consider Besides Your Credit Score When Approving a Mortgage?

While your credit score carries a lot of weight, lenders also look at:

  • Your debt-to-income ratio – Monthly debt payments versus gross monthly income.
  • Down payment amount – More down means less risk for the lender.
  • Employment and income history – Steady earnings improve your eligibility.
  • Assets and savings – Money reserves show you can cover payments if income is disrupted. 
  • Loan type and property – Conforming mortgages perceived as less risky.
  • Relationship with lender – Existing accounts may provide greater flexibility.

Maintaining excellent credit while meeting other key financial criteria gives you the best shot at mortgage approval on great terms.


Your credit score is the gatekeeper to homeownership. While most lenders rely on FICO scores, don’t ignore your VantageScore and other credit reports. 

Aim for a minimum of 620, but scores of 740 or higher unlock the most affordable financing. Responsible credit management now pays dividends when you need it later for a new home.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

Which FICO score do mortgage lenders use?

Mortgage lenders generally use the FICO® Score 8 model when evaluating a borrower’s creditworthiness. This version of the FICO® Score is the most commonly used model, and takes into account both positive and negative credit information from the three major credit bureaus. The FICO® Score 8 ranges from 300 to 850, with higher scores indicating a lower risk of default for lenders.

What credit score do lenders really use?

Lenders typically use a FICO Score when evaluating a potential borrower’s creditworthiness. FICO Scores are based on the information in an individual’s credit report and range from 300-850, with higher scores indicating a lower risk of default. Lenders typically look at scores of 680 and higher as being favorable for loan approval.

What is a good FICO score to buy a house?

A good FICO score to buy a house is generally considered to be above 700. Scores between 620 and 700 are generally considered to be in the fair to good range, and those above 700 are typically deemed to be excellent. A higher FICO score can help to secure a better interest rate on a mortgage loan, and may even open up more loan options.