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Do I Need a US Credit Score to Buy a Home in America?

If you’re a permanent resident, eminent scholar, or a foreign professional who lives full-time in the States, you may be wondering if you can purchase a home without having a US credit score. The short answer is yes, but you’ll need to jump through a few additional hoops to get approved for a mortgage from a stateside bank without one. 

It is possible to enjoy your own piece of the American dream and become a homeowner without a US credit score, even if you’re not a citizen — here’s some more information on what steps to take and how you can make it happen.

Perception vs reality

Most people believe that if you were born in another country, you can only buy property here if you’re very wealthy and pay in cash. While that might have been true in the past, thanks to modern technology and new attitudes in banking, many non-citizens can now qualify for a mortgage

Permanent residents with a green card, a Social Security number, and two years of verifiable income history in this country may even be able to qualify for a government-backed mortgage from the Federal Housing Administration. These kinds of loans are great for first-time homebuyers, as they require a very low down payment. The FHA also accepts employment verification from abroad if you don’t yet have local tax returns, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

If you’re not a permanent resident at this time, many banks will consider lending to those holding valid work visas as well, as long as you plan on applying for residency. You don’t need sponsorship or to already have a position to apply for a US work visa, but it does help, especially if you’re interested in earning residency, taking the path to citizenship, and owning property. You’ll also need to get an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number if you are not yet eligible for a Social Security card.

Other countries use a credit scoring system similar to the United States, and we should be able to access these records during the application process to see if you’re a qualified borrower. These countries include

  • Canada
  • Spain
  • China
  • Germany
  • Australia
  • United Kingdom

If you’re from one of these beautiful locations, then you might have a much easier time than other international residents when it comes to getting approved for a mortgage loan — if you have a favorable credit history.

Banking and building

Another good way to build clout for a mortgage without a US credit score is to have an account in good standing at an international bank or financial institution that operates in your country as well as in the United States. You may be familiar with one or two of these corporations:

  • Citibank
  • HSBC
  • Bank of America
  • Capital One
  • Chase
  • Charles Schwab
  • Barclays

Many digital nomads, international students, and ex-pats have accounts at these institutions because they’re easy to access online, they have a lot of available ATMs when you need to get cash, they offer customer service in a variety of languages, and they have branches in many different countries. If you’re already an account holder at one of these organizations, your good banking history there will weigh in your favor during the mortgage application process.

You can also start building your US credit score right now. It takes about six months to get it going, and in a competitive housing market, you might be searching for the perfect home for longer than that. 

The first step to getting a good credit score is applying for a credit card. It might sound impossible that there are companies willing to give a credit card to someone with no payment history, but there are actually several. Capital One specifically offers a variety of cards designed to help foreign-born residents and students get off on the right financial foot. You can also get a secured credit card, where you put down a deposit in advance. 

Neobanks and mobile-first fintech companies are continuously emerging to better serve members of our growing and prosperous immigrant population who might be finding it difficult to deal with traditional banks. These agile and cloud-native financial institutions like Cheese, Daylight, and Fair offer exciting new services specifically tailored to more niche markets that can help you build your credit and get on the road to homeownership much faster.

Get the answers you need

The Fannie Mae Eligibility Guide is a highly useful resource for non-citizens when it comes to questions about your possible mortgage assistance options. The National Fair Housing Alliance and the Fair Housing Justice Center offer help if you have been a victim of discrimination based on race, which is illegal in the United States.

If you have more questions, I’m ready to help. Buying a home for yourself and your family in this country can be a wonderful experience, but it can also be complicated and confusing. There are a lot of steps involved, and you deserve a team of professionals that are completely on your side. We can assist you with every aspect of buying a house, from getting your paperwork ready to apply for a mortgage to finding just the right place to call home. Reach out today!

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