Joint Loans for Couples: How Does the Qualification Process Work?

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First off, let me say that your site has been very informative and helpful. I stumbled across your blog looking for information on ARM vs. 30 year fixed loans and ended up reading every article.

One issue I have never really seen addressed is joint loans. When a couple, married in this case, gets a loan, which FICO score do they use?

Right now, my wife is a nursing student, when she graduates in August we want to buy a new home that is significantly more expensive than our current home. Our combined salaries at that point should be somewhere around 120K. I have been told by a mortgage professional in our first phone conversation that being a student counts for "years in line of work", but we would have to wait until she receives her first paycheck from her new job before we could count her income. We just accepted an offer on our current home last week, and will have enough cash to put down 10% in the price range we are looking at (200-300 K). If we want to buy before she is employed, but has an offer so we know her salary, what are our options? It seems to me that we would be in a situation where we are doing a Stated Income type loan.

The answer to this is that whoever make more money is the primary borrower. This works with a couple as well as other arrangements. It's a very simple answer, but you'd be amazed how often I have to repeat it for trainee loan officers. Of course we all want to use whichever score is better, but it's the person who makes more money whom the lender will consider to be the primary borrower. It's their income that's providing the main source of income with which to pay back the loan.

Now as far as A paper goes, it's kind of academic. If you want to use both incomes for the loan, you both have to qualify. This can be an issue when one spouse forgets to pay bills and the other is as a-retentive as I am about it. Over time, spouses credit reports tend to track one another more and more closely, as they switch from single credit accounts to joint accounts. If it's a joint account, doesn't matter who forgot to pay the bill - you both take the hit. On the other hand, even long-married spouses don't tend to have exactly the same score, and in many cases they have intentionally segregated the credit accounts for precisely this reason, that one spouse is better about paying bills. So one spouse has a 760, and the other spouse has a 560. Ouch.

It is to be noted that the superior solution is to have the responsible spouse pay all of the bills, which results in two high credit scores. Why is this important? If one of you has a 760, they may qualify A paper. If the other has a 560, you have a choice: go sub-prime (if you can find it), or have the high scoring spouse be the only person on the loan. In other words, when you're talking about A paper, you both have to meet the credit score minimums, or you don't qualify as a couple.

This has implications. Suppose you have a 760 score spouse who makes $3000 per month, and a 560 score spouse who makes $5000 per month, you have a choice: Qualify based upon $3000 per month, go stated income (assuming it ever comes back), or drop to sub-prime (if you can find it).

$3000 per month doesn't qualify for a lot of house most places. So if you're thinking 3 bedroom house, you can be stuck with small one bedroom condo - if you want the best rates. Most people don't want to accept that.

The second alternative is going stated income. As of this update, stated income is essentially extinct. It's not quite illegal, but nobody actually does it because they can't sell the loan and the agencies that rate financial assets consider it a junk asset. This only works if the necessary income for the loan is believable for someone in that occupation. Even if it comes back someday, somebody who makes $3000 per month is not likely to be in a profession where $8000 per month is a believable income, and most people tend to overbuy a house rather than under-buy, regardless of the fact that under-buying is a lot more intelligent in most cases. Furthermore, you are committing fraud if the lender finds out and wants to prosecute.

The third solution is to go sub-prime, where you'll qualify, but get a higher rate and almost certainly a prepayment penalty. At this update, sub-prime lenders who will lend to someone with a lower credit score are difficult to find, and the down payment requirements are stiff. Furthermore, a single borrower with a 760 credit score gets a better loan, with proportionally less of a down payment, than the couple in this case - the primary borrower has a 560 score, remember - but they just won't qualify for as large of a loan because they can't afford the payments. Most people want to buy the more expensive property with a crummy loan rather than buy the property one spouse can afford, but it's just not on the list of options for most folks right now. The down payment, particularly for low credit scores, tends to be a major issue. Except for VA loans, 100% financing or anything close to it is very difficult to get.

Once upon a time, you might also have gone NINA, which is a "here I am - gotta love me!" approach where income is not verified, nor employment history. The loan you get is based totally upon your credit score and equity picture (how much of a down payment you make, in the case of a purchase). The rate was higher than stated income and the restrictions on equity were greater, but sometimes it was the best loan people could actually get. Unfortunately for those people, NINA went away even before stated income.

Now, as to what you were told, student does not, in general, count as time in line of work. Sometimes, exceptions are made for advanced professional degrees - medical doctor and lawyer and nurse - and have actually gotten easier than since I first wrote this. Even so, the lender is going to be careful because many folks get their degree and their license, then end up finding they can't stand the work. That's one of the main reasons for the two years line of work requirement. As a question to make why this more clear: How are you going to compute her average monthly income over the last two years? That is the way full documentation loans are justified. Some sub-prime lenders will accept it (not the better ones), or the person who told you this could just be planning to substitute a stated income loan based upon your income. The fact is, that unless you're talking ugly sub-prime, they're not going to accept your wife's income until there's some time actually working it. Many people graduate school and never work in the field. They don't pass licensing, or they decide soon after they start that it's not for them. When this happens, they generally end up not being able to afford the loan - and that's not something the lender wants.

As I keep telling folks, there are a lot of shysters out there in the mortgage profession. The easiest way to get people to sign up is to promise the moon, and until you get the final loan paperwork you have no way of knowing whether they intend to deliver what they said.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on June 9, 2014 7:00 AM.

Loan Qualification Standards - "Loanbusters" was the previous entry in this blog.

When Should A Buyer's Agent Ask You To Sign a Contract? is the next entry in this blog.

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