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How to Buy a Starter Home: Pros, Cons, and Tips

Buying your first house is a major move, even if the home itself is tiny. Becoming a homeowner can be a great way to start putting down some roots and building equity. And just because it’s called a “starter home” doesn’t necessarily mean you’re twenty-something when you go shopping for one. For many people, the purchase of a first, maybe-not-forever house can come years or decades later.

But what exactly makes a good starter home? How do you know when to jump into the housing market? There are many variables to factor in, such as price, location, type of home, the sort of mortgage you’ll get, your personal finances, and more.

Read on to learn answers to such questions as:

•   Why should you buy a starter home?

•   Should you buy a starter home or wait?

•   How do you buy a starter home?

What Is a Starter Home?

The first step in deciding “Should I buy a starter home?” is understanding what exactly that “starter home” term means. A starter home is loosely defined as a smaller property that a first-time buyer expects to live in for just a few years.

The home could be a condo, townhouse, or single-family home. But generally, when you purchase a starter home, you anticipate outgrowing it — maybe when you get married or have a couple of kids, or because you want more space, a bigger yard, or additional amenities.

A starter house could be brand-new, a fixer-upper, or somewhere in between, but it’s usually priced right for a buyer with a relatively modest budget.

That modest budget, though, may need to be loftier than in years past. The 2022 price of a starter home was $325,000, according to, up 48% from $220,000 in 2019.

That might sound a little intimidating, but remember, that’s the median price. Depending on where you live, there may be entry-level homes selling at significantly lower price points.

Recommended: What Is Housing Discrimination?

How Long Should You Stay in a Starter Home?

Unless you’re a big fan of packing and moving — not to mention the often-stressful process of selling one home and then buying another, or buying and selling a house at the same time — you may want to stay in your starter home for at least two to five years.

There can be significant financial reasons to stick around for a while:

•   Home sellers are typically responsible for paying real estate agents’ commissions and many other costs. If you haven’t had some time to build equity in the home, you might only break even or even lose money on the sale.

•   You could owe capital gains taxes if you’ve owned the home for less than two years and you sell it for more than you paid.

Of course, if there’s a major change in your personal or professional life — you’re asked to relocate for work, you grow your family, or you win the lottery (woo-hoo!) — you may need or want to sell sooner.

What Is a Forever Home?

A forever home is one that you expect to tick all the boxes for many years — maybe even the rest of your life. It’s a place where you plan to put down roots.

A forever home can come in any size or style and at any cost you can manage. It might be new, with all the bells and whistles, or it could be a 100-year-old wreck that you plan to renovate to fit your home decorating style and vision.

Your forever home might be in your preferred school district. It might be close to friends and family — or the golf club you want to join. It’s all about getting the items on your home-buying wish list that you’ve daydreamed about and worked hard for.

At What Age Should You Buy Your Forever Home?

There’s no predetermined age for finding and moving into a forever home. Some buyers plan to settle in for life when they’re 25 or 30, and some never really put down roots.

But according to data from the 2022 Home Buyers and Sellers Generational Trends Report from the National Association of Realtors® Research Group, buyers in the 57 to 66 age range said they expected to live in their newly purchased home longer than buyers from other age groups, with an expectation of 20 years of residence.

Younger buyers (ages 23 to 31) and older buyers (75 to 90) said they expected to stay put for 10 years.

The median expectation for buyers of all ages was 12 years.

Recommended: First-Time Homebuyer’s Guide

Benefits of Buying a Starter Home

Are you contemplating “Should I buy a starter home?” Here are some of the main advantages of buying a starter home:

•   Becoming a homeowner can bring stability to life. A starter home comes with a feeling of “good enough for now” that, for some buyers, is just the right amount of commitment without feeling stuck in the long term.

•   Buying a starter home is also a great way to try on aspects of homeownership that renters take for granted, like making your own repairs and mowing your own yard. The larger the house, the more work it usually brings. With a starter home, you can start small.

•   Buying a starter home is also an investment that could see good returns down the road. While you live in the home, you’ll be putting monthly payments toward your own investment instead of your landlord’s. Depending on market conditions, you could make some money when you decide to trade up, either through the equity you’ve gained when you sell or recurring income if you choose to turn it into a rental property.

•   Homeowners who itemize deductions on their taxes may take the mortgage interest deduction. Most people take the standard deduction, which for tax year 2022 (filing by Tax Day 2023) is:

◦   $25,900 for married couples filing jointly

◦   $12,950 for single taxpayers and married individuals filing separately

◦   $19,400 for heads of households

•   Some homeowners who itemize may be able to do better than the standard deduction. For instance, in some states, a homestead exemption gives homeowners a fixed discount on property taxes. In Florida, for example, the exemption lowers the assessed value of a property by $50,000 for tax purposes.

First-time homebuyers can
prequalify for a SoFi mortgage loan,
with as little as 3% down.

Downsides of Starter Homes

Next, consider the potential disadvantages of snagging a starter home:

•   While the idea of buying a home just big enough for one or two is a romantic one, the reality of finding a starter home that’s affordable has gotten tougher.

   The outlook has been so bleak, especially in some larger cities, that some Millennials are opting out of the starter-home market altogether, choosing instead to rent longer or live with their parents and save money.

   Who can blame Millennials for taking a different approach to homeownership than their parents? The older members of this generation came of age during the financial crisis of 2008-09, which included a bursting housing bubble that put many of their parents — and even some of them — underwater on a mortgage they may not have been able to afford in the first place.

•   When thinking about whether you should buy a starter home, know that it may require a lot of sweat equity and cash. If you buy a bargain-priced first home, you may be on the hook for spending much of your free time and cash to restore it.

•   Another con of buying a starter home is the prospect of having to go through the entire home-buying process again, possibly while trying to sell your starter home, too. Keeping your house show-ready, paying closing costs, going through the underwriting process, packing, moving, and trying to time it all so you avoid living in temporary lodging is a big endeavor that, when compared with the relative ease of moving between apartments, can be seen as not worth the effort.

•   In some circumstances, you may have to pay capital gains taxes on the sale of your starter home when you move up.

If you aren’t ready to jump into a starter home, an alternative could be a rent-to-own home.

How to Find Starter Homes for Sale

Are you ready to start the hunt? Here are some tips for finding a starter home:

•   Work with an experienced real estate agent who knows your market and spends their days finding homes in your price range.

•   Rethink your house criteria. If you are buying a starter home and figured you’d shop for a three-bedroom, you may find more options and less heated competition if you go for a two-bedroom house.

•   Take a big-picture view. If you’re a young couple with no kids yet, maybe you don’t need to purchase in the tip-top school district. After all, you are at least several years away from sending a little one to their first day of school Or, if prices are super-high for single-family houses, could buying a condo or a townhome work well for a number of years?

   You might also look into purchasing a duplex or other type of property.

Average U.S. Cost of a Starter Home

As noted above, the typical cost of a starter home in the U.S. was $325,000. Keep in mind, however, that there is a huge variation in costs. A rural home may be much less expensive than shopping for a starter home that’s within short commuting distance of a major city, like New York or San Francisco.

Is Buying a Starter Home Worth It?

Deciding whether a starter home is worth it is a very personal decision. One person might be eager to stop living with their parents and be ready to plunk down their savings for a home. Another person might have a comfortable rental in a great town and be reluctant to take on a home mortgage loan as they continue to pay down their student loan debt.

When you consider the pros and cons of starter homes listed above, you can likely decide whether buying a starter home is worth it at this moment of your life.

Tips on Buying a Starter Home

If you’re tired of renting or living with your parents but don’t have the cash flow necessary for anything more than a humble abode, a starter home could be a great way to get into real estate without breaking the bank. Some pointers on how to buy a starter home:

•   Before you buy any home — starter or otherwise — it’s important to sit down and crunch the numbers to see how much home you can realistically afford. Lenders look at your debt when considering your debt-to-income ratio (DTI), but they aren’t privy to other regular monthly expenses, such as child care or kids’ activity fees. Be sure to factor those in.

•   You also may want to look at how much you can afford for a down payment. While a 20% down payment isn’t required to purchase a home, most non-government home loan programs do require some down payment.

   It’s possible to buy a home with a small down payment: The average first-time homebuyer puts down about 6% of a home’s price as a down payment, according to the latest data from the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

   In addition, putting down less than 20% means you may have to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI).

•   You’ll want to explore different mortgage loan products as well, possibly with a mortgage broker. You’ll have to decide between adjustable and fixed rate offerings, 20-year vs. 30-year mortgages, and different rates. You may also be in a position to buy down your rate with points. Getting a few offers can help you see how much house you can afford, as can using an online mortgage calculator.

•   The decision to purchase a starter home is about more than just money, though. You may also want to consider your future plans and how quickly you might grow out of the house, whether you’re willing to live where the affordable houses are, and if you’ll be happy living without the amenities you’ll find in a larger house.

•   Other factors to consider are your current state of financial health and your mental readiness for a DIY lifestyle (which includes your willingness to fix your own leaky toilet or pay a plumber.)

•   If you’re ready to make the leap, there are plenty of home ownership resources available to help you get started on the path to buying your starter home. Your first step might be to check out a few open houses and to research mortgage loans online.

The Takeaway

Buying a starter home can be a good way to get your foot in the door of homeownership, but it’s important to consider your financial situation and your plans for the next two to five years or more before buying a starter house.

Are you house hunting and mortgage shopping? SoFi offers fixed-rate mortgage loans with as little as 3% down for first-time homebuyers, plus competitive rates and variable terms.

SoFi Mortgage Loans: The smart, simple source for financing.


How much money should you have saved to buy a starter home?

The average down payment is about 6% of the home purchase price. That number can help you see how much you want to have in the bank, though mortgage loans may be available with as little as 3% down or even zero down if you are shopping for a government-backed mortgage. Worth noting: If your down payment is under 20%, you may have to pay private mortgage insurance.

What is considered a good starter home?

A good starter home will likely check off some of the items on your wish list (square footage, location, amenities, etc.) and will not stretch your budget too much. You want to be able to keep current with other forms of debt you may have as well as pay your monthly bills (which will likely include mortgage, property tax, home maintenance, and more). That financial equation may help you decide whether to buy a starter home or wait.

How much do people spend on a starter home?

As of 2022, the average price for a starter home in the U.S. was $325,000. However, prices will vary greatly depending on location, size, style, and condition.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

SoFi Mortgages
Terms, conditions, and state restrictions apply. Not all products are available in all states. See for more information.

*SoFi requires Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) for conforming home loans with a loan-to-value (LTV) ratio greater than 80%. As little as 3% down payments are for qualifying first-time homebuyers only. 5% minimum applies to other borrowers. Other loan types may require different fees or insurance (e.g., VA funding fee, FHA Mortgage Insurance Premiums, etc.). Loan requirements may vary depending on your down payment amount, and minimum down payment varies by loan type.

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see Equal Housing Lender.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.


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Tips for Buying a Foreclosed Home in 2024

Who doesn’t dream of nabbing a really good deal when shopping for a home? Maybe you’re even considering a fixer-upper, a property that would allow for some sweat equity and would, over time and with work, help you grow your wealth.

If you have been studying the real estate listings, you have probably seen some potentially excellent deals on repossessed or bank-owned properties.

While the prices may look enticingly low, when it comes to how to buy a foreclosed house, you may be in for a lot of research, a long timeline, and financing issues.

This guide can help you learn the ropes of buying this type of property, including:

•   What is a foreclosed home?

•   What does “foreclosure” mean?

•   How can you find foreclosed homes for sale?

•   How can you buy a foreclosed house from a bank or other source?

•   What are the pros and cons of buying a foreclosed home?

What Is a Foreclosed House?

A foreclosed house is a home that a mortgage lender owns. Homebuyers agree to a voluntary mortgage lien when they borrow funds. If they don’t keep current with their payments and end up defaulting, the lender can take control of the property.

When the lender does so, the house is called a “foreclosed home” and can be offered for sale. Read on to learn more about the foreclosure process.

What Does ‘Foreclosure’ Mean?

A foreclosure is a home a lender or lienholder has taken from a borrower who has not made payments for a period of time. The lender or lienholder hopes to sell the property for close to what is owed on the mortgage.

Who can place a lien on a home? A mortgage lender or the IRS can. So too can the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (aka HUD) for nonpayment of an FHA loan, resulting in HUD homes for sale.

A county (for nonpayment of property taxes), an HOA, or a contractor also can place a lien on a home.

Recommended: Foreclosure Rates for All 50 States

Types of Home Foreclosures

There are three main types of home foreclosures:

•   Judicial foreclosures: This type of foreclosure occurs when the lender files suit (that is, in court, hence the word “judicial”) to begin the foreclosure process. This usually happens when the borrower fails to pay three consecutive payments. If the loan isn’t brought up to date within 30 days of that point, the home can be auctioned off by a sheriff’s office or the court.

•   Power of sale (nonjudicial) foreclosures: Sometimes known as statutory foreclosure, this process may take place in 29 out of the 50 states. The contract in this situation allows for an auction of a foreclosed property to occur without the judicial system becoming involved, as long as certain notifications and waiting periods are appropriately observed.

•   Strict foreclosures: This kind of foreclosure only occurs in Connecticut and Vermont, and usually these only happen when the value of the loan debt is more than that of the house itself. If the defaulting borrower doesn’t become current with their loan in a certain amount of time, the lender gets possession of the property directly but is not obliged to sell.

How Does the Foreclosure Process Work?

Foreclosure processes differ by state. The main difference is whether the state generally uses a judicial or nonjudicial foreclosure process. A judicial foreclosure may require an order from a judge.

•   Once a borrower has missed three to six months of payments, depending on state law, the lender will post a public notice, sometimes known as a notice of default or “lis pendens,” which means pending suit.

•   A borrower then typically has 30 to 120 days to attempt to avoid foreclosure. During pre-foreclosure, a homeowner may apply for a loan modification, ask for a deed in lieu of foreclosure, pay the amount owed, or attempt a short sale.

   A short sale is when the borrower sells the property and the net proceeds are short of the amount owed on the mortgage. A short sale needs to be approved by the lender.

•   If none of the options work, the lender might sell the foreclosed property at auction — a trustee or sheriff’s sale. Notice of the auction must be given at the county recorder and in the newspaper.

•   If no one buys the home at auction, it becomes a bank or real estate-owned (REO) property. These properties are sold in the traditional real estate market or in bulk to investors at liquidation auctions.

•   In some states under the judicial foreclosure process, borrowers may have the right to redeem their property after the sale by paying the foreclosure sale price or the full amount owed to the lender, plus other allowable charges.

Recommended: Home Affordability Calculator

First-time homebuyers can
prequalify for a SoFi mortgage loan,
with as little as 3% down.

How to Find Foreclosed Homes for Sale

In addition to checking with local real estate companies for foreclosed homes, there are paid and free sites to search when you are shopping for a repossessed or foreclosed home.

Among the free:


• (Fannie Mae’s site)

• (Freddie Mac’s site)




• for IRS auctions

• (USDA resales)

• (the official government website for foreclosed homes)


Paid sites include and, among others.

How to Buy a Foreclosed Home

Here are the usual steps for buying a foreclosed house. Whether you qualify as a first-time homebuyer or someone who has purchased before, it can be wise to acquaint yourself with the process before searching for a home.

Step 1: Know the Options

Buying foreclosed houses at an auction or through a lender are the main ways to purchase these homes. Keep in mind that a foreclosure is usually an “as-is” deal.

Buying at Auction: In almost all cases, bidders in a live foreclosure auction must register and show that they have sufficient funds to pay for the property in full.

Online auctions have gained popularity. You can sign up with a site to find foreclosure auctions in an area where you want to buy. Or you might research foreclosure sales data by county online, at the county courthouse, or from the trustee (the third-party foreclosure sales agent).

It’s important to look into how much the borrower owes and whether there are any liens against the property. The winning bidder may have to pay off liens. It’s smart to hire a title company or real estate attorney to provide title reports on properties you’re interested in bidding on.

Buying From the Lender: You can find listings on websites that aggregate REO properties or on a multiple listing service. When checking out the homes you like, take note of the real estate agent’s name. Banks usually outsource the job of selling foreclosed homes to REO agents, who work with standard real estate agents to find a buyer.

REO listings are often priced at or below market value. Also good to know: The lender usually clears the title and evicts the occupants before anyone buys a foreclosed home.

Looking at Opportunities Before Foreclosure: If the lender allows a short sale, potential buyers work with the borrower’s real estate agent and the lender to find a suitable price.

With pre-foreclosures, when borrowers have missed three or more mortgage payments but still own the home, the lender might work with them to avoid foreclosure. Another scenario: The homeowner might entertain purchase offers, whether the home is listed or not.

Step 2: Hire a Real Estate Agent

It’s a good idea not to go with just any agent, even if you like them and have used their services for a standard home purchase, but to find an agent who specializes in foreclosure sales.

That agent can help you search for a home, understand the buying process, negotiate a price, and order an inspection. Your offers might be countered as well, and an agent can help you figure out the best next step.
An agent can also help you understand the market in general and ways to smooth your path to homeownership, such as programs for first-time homebuyers.

Step 3: Find Foreclosures for Sale

As mentioned above, there are paid and free sites where one can scan for homes. Some divisions of the government offer foreclosed homes, as do some lenders.

Also, there are real-estate companies that specialize in these properties and can help you with your search.

Step 4: Get Pre-approved for a Mortgage

If you want to act fast on buying a foreclosed home, you’ll want to get pre-approved for a mortgage. Pre-approval tells you how much money you are eligible to borrow and lays out the terms of final approval on a mortgage in a pre-approval letter.

Pre-approval may help you compete with the all-cash buyers who are purchasing foreclosures. Bonus: As you move through this step, you are also likely to learn important home buying and financing concepts, like loan-to-value (LTV) ratio.

(If you are looking into repossessed properties, owner financing, or a purchase-money mortgage, will not be an option.)

Step 5: Get an Appraisal and Inspection

Buyers of REO properties would be smart to order a home inspection. A thorough check-up can document flaws and help you tally home repair costs.

An REO property appraisal usually consists of an as-repaired valuation — the market value if the property is repaired, compared with comps — and an as-is valuation. Some lenders also ask for a quick-sale value and a fair market value.

You can challenge the results of an appraisal if you think the figures are off, and you can hire another appraiser for an independent assessment.

Step 6: Purchase Your New Home

If you decide to move forward, contact your mortgage lender to finalize your loan. Submit your offer with the help of your real estate agent. If your offer is accepted, you will sign a contract and transfer ownership. You may be required to pay an earnest money deposit.

The certificate of title may take days to complete. During that time, the original borrower may, in some states, be able to file an objection to the sale and pay the amount owed to retain their rights to the property. This is called redeeming or repurchasing a home, but it rarely happens. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to not dig in and start any work on the property until you receive the certificate of title.

Recommended: What’s the Difference Between Pre-approved vs Pre-qualified?

Benefits of Buying a Foreclosed Home

Buying a foreclosed home can be a great deal for a buyer who sees the potential, is either handy or budgets realistically for repairs, and knows the fixed-up value. Some points to consider:

•   Not all foreclosed properties are in poor shape, as you might expect. If a homeowner dies or has a reverse mortgage that ends, a home that was well maintained may be returned to the lender.

•   REO properties rarely have title discrepancies. The repossessing lender has extinguished any liens against the property and ensured that taxes were paid.

•   It can be possible to negotiate when buying REO properties. You could ask the lender to pay for a termite inspection, the appraisal, or even the upgrades needed to bring the property up to code.

Risks of Buying a Foreclosed Home

Buying a foreclosed home can be complicated. The process is governed by state and federal laws. Take note of these possible downsides:

•   Some foreclosed homes have indeed been sitting empty and may have maintenance/repair issues, necessitating that you have cash available to get the work done.

•   Because many REO properties have sat vacant and most are sold as-is, financing can be a challenge. See below for more details.

•   Many people, especially first-time home buyers, think foreclosures are offered at a deep discount, but even low-priced homes might get multiple offers above the asking price from buyers eager to snap up a fixer-upper. You might find yourself tempted to pay more than you had expected just to close the deal.

What Are Financing Options for Foreclosed Homes

When it comes to financing the purchase of a foreclosed property, here’s what you need to know:

•   Some sales may be cash-only. If you don’t have access to the amount needed, it’s smart to sidestep looking at these kinds of auctions.

•   If the home is in livable condition, you may be able to get a conventional or government-back mortgage loan.
If you are planning to finance the purchase of a repossessed home, consider this:

•   Fannie Mae dictates that for a conventional conforming loan, the home must be “safe, sound, and structurally secure.”

•   For an FHA, VA, or USDA loan, the home must be owner occupied (that is, not a multi-family home where you will rent out all units) and in livable condition, with a functional roof, foundation, and plumbing, electrical, and HVAC systems, and no peeling paint.

•   A standard FHA 203(k) loan includes the purchase of a primary house and substantial repairs costing up to the county loan limit. But relatively few lenders offer these loans. Also, the application process is more labor-intensive, and contractors must submit bids and complete paperwork. Mortgage rates are somewhat higher than for standard FHA loans.

Who Should Buy a Foreclosed Home

Buying a foreclosed home is usually best for people who are prepared for a lengthy and potentially expensive process to buy a home at a good price.

•   You will need to do considerable research to find available homes and know how to make an offer.

•   You will likely face a significant amount of paperwork and time delays.

•   Having cash reserves to pay for repairs and deferred maintenance issues is important, as well as dealing with unpaid taxes and liens on the property.

Who Should Not Buy a Foreclosed Home

A foreclosed home may not be the right move for someone who is under time pressure to move into a new home.
It can also be a problematic process for those who don’t have a good amount of cash set aside to pay for rehabilitating a property that has been sitting empty or to take care of overdue tax bills and liens.

The Takeaway

Buying a foreclosed home requires vision, risk tolerance, and realistic number crunching. If you need financing, it’s a good idea to get pre-approved for a mortgage so that all your ducks are in a row when you spot a potential deal.

If you’re shopping for a mortgage, consider what SoFi offers. Our home mortgage loans have competitive, flexible options, and down payments as low as 3% for first-time borrowers or as low as 5% for all other borrowers.

SoFi Mortgages: We make it simple.


What are the disadvantages of buying a foreclosed home?

Disadvantages of buying a foreclosed home can include the amount of research involved, the considerable amount of paperwork and potential delays, and the cash often required to make repairs, pay back taxes, and remedy liens.

How are repossessed houses sold?

Foreclosed homes are often sold at auction, by a lender, or by a real estate company (often ones that specialize in such repossessed properties).

How long does it take for a repossessed house to be sold?

Depending on the state and the specific property, the sale of a foreclosed house may take anywhere from a few months to a few years.

SoFi Mortgages
Terms, conditions, and state restrictions apply. Not all products are available in all states. See for more information.

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see Equal Housing Lender.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.


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What Do You Need to Buy a House?

There are a lot of myths about buying a house: that you need at least a 20% down payment, perfect credit (or close to it), and a specific income level.

But the truth is, you don’t need a particular down payment amount, salary, or a credit score over 700 to become a homeowner. What you do need is insight into the process, preparation, and a game plan.

To help you move ahead with your home-owning dreams, read this guide. You’ll learn answers to these and other questions:

•   What are the requirements to buy a house?

•   How much of a down payment do you need to buy a house?

•   What credit score do you need to buy a house?

•   What documents are needed to buy a home?

8 Requirements to Buy a House

Here’s the scoop on the items you need to line up in order to buy a home. Consider this your checklist to achieving that dream; it can be an especially valuable first-time homebuyer guide:

1. Credit

Your credit score is one of the primary factors lenders will consider when reviewing your mortgage application. It helps a lender evaluate how well you have managed debt and made timely payments in the past.

Being aware of your current score might help you understand what loan programs you may be eligible for.

So what credit score is needed to buy a house, given the possible range of scores from 300 to 850?

•   If you’re aiming for a conventional (nongovernment) loan, you’ll likely need a credit score of at least 620. However, most homebuyers have a score that’s higher than that, and if you have a brag-worthy credit score (say, 740 or above), you may qualify for better loan terms.

•   But what if your score is not so lofty? For a government-backed loan (these include FHA, VA, and USDA loans), you may be able to qualify with a credit score in the 500s. For an FHA loan, 580 is the minimum score to qualify for the 3.5% down payment advantage. Applicants with a score as low as 500 must put down 10%. Lenders may require a minimum score of 580 for a VA loan; and for a USDA loan, 640.

The government offers periodic free credit reports so consumers can review their credit history, but the reports do not give a credit score. However, seeing your credit report can allow you to recognize and remedy any errors or delinquent accounts.

You can monitor your credit score with a paid service as well. You may find these third-party services are available for free from some banks and credit card issuers, and use one at no cost with this money tracker.

2. Debt-to-Income (DTI) Ratio

Your debt-to-income ratio, or DTI, matters when determining the mortgage amount and the type of loan program you qualify for.

The DTI ratio equates to your monthly minimum debt payments divided by your gross monthly income. To find it, you would add up your monthly payments towards an existing mortgage (or rent) and related expenses (say, property taxes and insurance), plus any credit card debt and student, car, or other loans. Then you would divide that by your monthly salary, before taxes and other deductions are taken out.

Mortgage lenders usually like to see a DTI ratio of 36% or less for conventional loans. However, some will accept up to 45% and possibly even 50%. There is some flexibility out there, but it may require a bit of shopping around if you have a relatively high DTI.

3. Proof of Income

Even if you have a stellar credit score, for the majority of loan programs, you still have to prove your income to the lender to gain loan approval. This helps the lender verify that you have the means to pay the mortgage back.

For mortgage pre-approval, you’ll typically need to submit W-2s, your two most recent pay stubs, and your two most recent federal tax returns for the lender to verify your income. (Self-employed applicants will need to submit a year-to-date profit and loss statement and two years of records.)

If you are currently unemployed or have changed jobs recently, it’s wise to know that this may create a hurdle when seeking a mortgage. You might want to delay your home-buying plans until you have a more consistent employment record, or search for a lender that is less rigid in terms of this qualification.

4. Savings for a Down Payment and Closing Costs

As you think about how much house you can afford and consequently how much of a down payment you will need, you will likely want to run some numbers. You might start with a home affordability calculator to help you know your target range.

Now, about that down payment: Perhaps you’ve cobbled together a few thousand, but wonder about what is the average down payment on a house. Many people have heard you need at least 20% down, which can be an intimidatingly high number.

You can breathe a bit easier: Many homebuyers put 13% down — that’s $39,000 on a $300,000 home. Nothing to sneeze at.

The more you can put down, the more likely it is that you could get a lower interest rate. In most cases, you’ll need a 20% down payment to avoid private mortgage insurance or a mortgage insurance premium.

Here’s a glimpse of loan types and down payments of each:

•   Conventional conforming loan. This is the most common type of home mortgage loan and typically has a minimum down payment requirement of 3%.

•   FHA loan. This loan, among a few kinds of government home loans, requires as little as 3.5% down for those who qualify.

•   VA loan. If you qualify for a VA loan, you can usually buy a home with no money down.

•   USDA loan. This income-restricted loan, geared toward rural properties, requires no down payment.

If you are a first-time homebuyer, you can also look into down payment assistance programs. An online search for these programs from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), state and local housing authorities, nonprofits, and other organizations can help you reach your homeownership aspirations. They can offer grants and loans.

The other aspect of buying a house that may require cash: closing costs. These typically add up to between 3% and 6% of your loan. They include items like bank processing costs, title search, appraisal costs, and more. It’s worth noting that some lenders may offer credits toward closing costs; that can be something to keep in mind when you are searching for a lender.

Gain home-buying insights
with the latest housing
market trends.

5. Documentation

There are a couple more answers to “What do I need to buy a house?” When preparing to buy a home, you will likely need documents; a lot of documents, in fact. Assembling a file of what’s required can be an important step in getting organized. Here is some paperwork you may want to gather as you begin thinking about working with a mortgage lender:

•   Recent tax returns and W-2 forms as well as proof of other income

•   A letter from your employer verifying your employment

•   For those who are self-employed, a business tax returns and P&L statements

•   Recent bank account, brokerage account, and retirement account statements

•   Student loan, car loan, and credit card statements, to show how much debt you have

•   Titles to your assets, such as a current home or your car

•   A gift letter, if appropriate (a statement that, say, a family member gave you funds toward your down payment)

•   Photo ID

Yes, it can feel like a lot, but starting sooner rather than later and chipping away at the list can make it easier.

6. Pre-Approved Mortgage

Before you go home shopping, it can be wise to get a pre-approval letter from a lender or a few lenders. You submit some credentials that share financial information, and the lender says that you likely qualify for a loan of a certain amount.

While not a guarantee of mortgage approval, this will give you insight into what kind of loan you qualify for. It can also show homeowners that you are a serious shopper who is ready to buy.

Recommended: Mortgage Pre-Approval vs. Pre-Qualification

7. Mortgage Loan

When you find a property you love and work your way to an accepted offer and contract, you will probably be ready to apply for your mortgage. You will likely have to make decisions about the term of the mortgage (30 years is common, but shorter terms with higher monthly payments are possible, too), the rate (both the percent you’ll pay and whether you go with a fixed or adjustable rate), and other details.

When you submit your application, you will provide documentation of your financial qualifications. You will likely work your way through questions as your file goes through underwriting and you move toward your final approval and closing date.

8. Real Estate Agent (Probably)

The vast majority of buyers use the services of a real estate agent or broker, according to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR). In 2022, 86% of homebuyers worked with one.

You can go it alone, but finding a real estate agent who is experienced and knowledgeable can be key to, well, getting you a new set of house keys.

Agents have access to the multiple listing service, which is a comprehensive list of homes for sale by a real estate agent or broker in your desired location.

A buyer’s agent can help you:

•   Build your wishlist and hunt for homes that fit your needs

•   Check out listings in person

•   Write offers and counteroffers, including putting an offer on a contingent house

•   Negotiate with the seller

•   Navigate the complexities of the purchase contract.

Using a real estate agent might also relieve some of the stress that comes with purchasing a home, especially when buying in a hot house market.

The Takeaway

What do you need to buy a house or condo? First, you’ll want to be on pretty solid financial footing, typically with a good credit score, income history, and DTI, as well as some money saved toward a down payment and closing costs. You may also want to have a good agent and the right documentation in your corner.

If, like many buyers, you are hunting for a mortgage, check out what SoFi Mortgage Loans can offer you. You’ll find competitive rates and access to a host of SoFi perks. Plus, first-time homebuyers who qualify can put as little as 3% down.

Let SoFi Mortgage Loans simplify your path to becoming a homeowner.


What are the basic needs to buy a house?

To buy a house, you will likely need documentation of your finances, a reasonable credit score and debt-to-income ratio, a mortgage pre-approval, and probably funds for a down payment and closing costs, as well as a real estate agent to help you manage the process.

How much money should you have before buying a house?

Lenders will likely want to see that you are financially stable and can afford the costs associated with owning a home. In terms of a down payment, the typical amount is 13% percent of the home’s price, but there are ways to buy a home with less or perhaps with no money down. A down payment of 20% or more will allow you to avoid paying for private mortgage insurance (PMI).

What credit score is good to buy a house?

The credit score needed to buy a house will vary, with 620 being the usual minimum for a conventional loan, though most buyers have a score of 650 or higher. Those with scores of 740 or higher will usually get the best loan terms. There are also programs to help those people with credit scores in the 500s become homeowners.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

SoFi Mortgages
Terms, conditions, and state restrictions apply. Not all products are available in all states. See for more information.

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see Equal Housing Lender.

Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.


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house next to a condo

House or Condo: Which is Right For You? Take The Quiz

If you’re thinking about buying a home in the not-too-distant future, you may be wondering what kind of property to purchase. Would a single-family house be better, or perhaps a condo unit?

Some important factors: Do you prefer being in a city, perhaps in an apartment or townhome, or are you all about a house with a picket fence? Do you like handling your own gardening and picking your own front-door paint colors, or would you like to delegate that? Do you like neighbors close by or prefer privacy? Does your household include furbabies?

These are some of the considerations that may impact whether a house or a condo is right for you. Each option has its pros and cons, and of course, finances will play a role too.

To decide which might suit you best, take this house vs. condo quiz, and then learn more about some key factors.

Next, you might want to take these pros and cons into consideration as well.

Pros and Cons of Buying a House

A top-of-mind question for many people is, “Isn’t a house more expensive than a condo?” Cost is a factor, especially when buying in a hot market, and there can typically be a significant difference between a house and a condo when you are home shopping.

The median sales price of existing single-family homes was $467,700 in the fourth quarter of 2022, according to St. Louis Fed data, compared with $365,300 for existing condos and co-ops as of April 2022.

Now that you know that price info, look at these pros and cons when buying a house vs. a condo.

Pros of Buying a House

Among the benefits of buying a house are the following:

•   More privacy and space, including storage

•   A yard

•   Ability to customize your home as you see fit

•   Room to garden and create an outdoor space, just as you want it to be

•   Control of your property

•   Pet ownership unlikely to be an issue

•   Sometimes no homeowners association (HOA) or dues

•   Generally considered a better investment

Cons of Buying a House

However, you may have to contend with these downsides:

•   Potentially higher initial and ongoing costs

•   More maintenance inside and out

•   Typically higher utility bills

•   Potentially higher property taxes and homeowners insurance

•   Possibly fewer amenities (such as common areas, a gym, etc.)

If, after taking the quiz and weighing the pros and cons, buying a house feels like the right choice, you can start brainstorming about size, style, location, and price; attending open houses; and looking online.

Learning how to win a bidding war might also come in handy, depending on the temperature of the market.

First-time homebuyers can
prequalify for a SoFi mortgage loan,
with as little as 3% down.

Pros and Cons of Buying a Condo

A quick look at how condos work before diving in: Condominium owners share an interest in common areas, like the grounds and parking structures, and hold title to their individual units. They are members of an HOA that enforces community rules. Being a member of a community in this way is a key difference between a condo and a house.

Pros of Buying a Condo

Here are some of the upsides of purchasing a condo:

•   More affordable

•   Amenities included (this might include common rooms, a fitness center, and other features)

•   Potentially less expensive homeowners insurance and property taxes

•   Repairs and upkeep of the property typically taken care of

•   Typically lower utility bills

•   Security, if the community is gated or patrolled

•   Access to urban perks

Cons of Buying a Condo

Next, consider the drawbacks of condo living:

•   Less privacy

•   Typically no private yard

•   Rules and restrictions (about noise levels, outside wall colors, pets, and more)

•   Typically less overall space

•   HOA fees

•   Limited parking

•   Slower appreciation in value

Plus, the mortgage interest rate and down payment are often higher on a condo vs. a house of the same value, though that isn’t always the case, especially for a first-time buyer of an owner-occupied condo.

Conventional home loan mortgage lenders sometimes charge more for loans on condo units; they take into consideration the strength of the condo association financials and vacancy rate when weighing risk.

Mortgages backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) are available for condos, even if they are not part of an FHA-approved condominium project, with a process called the Single Unit Approval Program.

An FHA loan is easier to qualify for and requires as little as 3.5% down, but you’ll pay upfront and ongoing mortgage insurance premiums.

Condo vs House Pros and Cons

What Are the Costs of a House or Condo?

As mentioned above, houses tend to cost more than condos. But here are a few other ways to look at the financials when comparing a condo vs. a house:

•   Condos tend to have lower list prices than houses which may mean a smaller mortgage. However, you also need to factor in monthly maintenance fees and HOAs so you get the full picture.

•   Condos may have assessments from time to time. These are additional charges to fund projects for the unexpected expenses, such as a capital improvement to the entire dwelling.

•   Homeowner fees are growing along with inflation, so when you make your purchase, understand that these charges are not static.

•   Before buying into an HOA community, it’s imperative to vet the board’s finances, including its reserve fund, how often it has raised rates in recent years, whether it has collected any special assessments or plans, and whether it’s facing any lawsuits.

•   If you are buying a house, keep in mind that maintenance and upkeep are your responsibility. This can mean everything from replacing a hot-water heater that’s reaching the end of its lifespan to dealing with roof repairs.

•   Down payments will vary due to several factors. For a condo, a down payment is typically around 10% but can vary considerably from, say, 3% to 20%.

•   With a house, a down payment could be from 3.5% with an FHA loan to the conventional 20% needed to avoid private mortgage insurance, or PMI. Those who qualify for VA loans may be able to buy a house without a down payment.

•   If you are buying a house, make sure to scrutinize property taxes and factor those into your budget. Those are not fixed and can rise over time.

Another smart move: Check out this home affordability calculator to get a better feel for the bottom line.

When Is a Good Time to Buy?

You may know what you’d like to buy (condo vs. a house) and where (in what neighborhood), but do you feel as though now is the right time? If so, fantastic.

You might decide, though, that you want to rent for a while longer under certain circumstances, which can include:

•   Hoping to wait out an overheated market and looking at price-to-rent ratios

•   Wanting to save more money for the down payment and closing costs (the bigger your down payment, the lower your monthlies will likely be)

•   Needing to boost your credit score first

•   Wanting to pay down credit card debt or other debt, which improves your debt-to-income ratio or DTI

•   Needing more time to look at houses and condos before deciding which path to take

Check out local real estate
market trends to help with
your home-buying journey.

The Takeaway

The condo vs. house decision depends on a multitude of factors. Reviewing the pros and cons of buying a condo vs. a house can at least give you a direction to start your search. And so can such givens as knowing that you want to be in a certain location (downtown in a condo instead of in a house on a couple of acres), or that you have lots of dogs and therefore want your own yard, and so forth.

If you’re ready to get prequalified for a home loan, know that SoFi offers competitive mortgage loan rates for single-family homes and condos with as little as 3% down for first-time buyers.

Make mortgage shopping simple with SoFi.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

SoFi Mortgages
Terms, conditions, and state restrictions apply. Not all products are available in all states. See for more information.

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see Equal Housing Lender.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.


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Getting a Mortgage Without a Regular Income

Getting a Mortgage Without a Regular Income

Qualifying for a home loan can be especially challenging if you don’t have a regular paycheck.

Even if you have a solid credit score, money in the bank, and low or no debt, you can still expect mortgage lenders to check on your income to be sure you can afford your loan payments. And you may face stricter eligibility requirements if you’re a seasonal employee or a freelance or gig worker.

Having an inconsistent income isn’t an insurmountable hurdle — but there are some basic guidelines homebuyers should be aware of as they prepare to apply for a mortgage.

Here, you’ll learn:

•   Can you get a mortgage without a job?

•   How do you apply for a mortgage if you have seasonal income?

•   What sort of income documentation do you need?

•   How can you improve your chances of mortgage approval?

First-time homebuyers can
prequalify for a SoFi mortgage loan,
with as little as 3% down.

Is Employment Required to Qualify for a Mortgage?

Usually, you are required to show two years’ worth of employment and income on a mortgage application. Lenders use the information on a loan application to evaluate a borrower’s risk based on a number of factors, including their credit history, their assets, how much debt they can comfortably handle, and the amount and reliability of their income.

If you can prove to your lender that you can make your monthly house payment even though you don’t have a traditional employment situation, you still may be able to qualify for a mortgage. In fact, you may be able to get a mortgage without a job at all if you can prove that you have adequate financial resources.

For example, a retired couple may be eligible for a mortgage based on their Social Security and pension payments alone. And if that isn’t enough for a mortgage, income from other sources may push things ahead. For instance, they may be able to qualify if they have a retirement account they can tap, rental property income, or investments that pay dividends or interest. A divorced individual may be able to use alimony or child support payments to qualify for a home loan. And certain types of long-term disability income also may be accepted.

Applying for a Mortgage with Seasonal Income

If you’re earning an income but some or all of your work is seasonal, you should be prepared to provide extra documentation that proves your income is dependable.

For example, seasonal employees who work for the same company (or in the same field) every year should be ready to furnish two years’ worth of W-2 forms, pay stubs, tax returns, bank statements, and other financial backup. Your employer (or employers) also may have to write a letter stating you can expect to work again the next season.

Remember, the lender wants to be as certain as possible that you can manage your home mortgage loan. If you’ve been working at the seasonal job for less than two years (or if you can’t prove the work will continue), you may not be able to get past the underwriting process. In other words, your mortgage loan would not be approved.

In that case, you may have to wait until you’ve put in more time on the seasonal job, or you could consider applying with a co-borrower or cosigner to improve your chances of getting a loan.

Part-Time Income vs Seasonal Income

Some points to note about part-time vs. seasonal income:

•   Income documentation requirements are generally less demanding for part-time workers than for seasonal workers.

•   Part-time workers still must provide paperwork that supports the income information on their mortgage application. But if a lender can see a borrower has year-round employment and a regular paycheck — even if he or she works fewer than 40 hours a week — that consistency can help with qualifying for a mortgage.

•   Even if you work full-time or overtime in a seasonal job (as a store cashier during the holidays, for example, or at a theme park during the summer), you may have a harder time proving that your income is stable.

Proof of Income Documentation

Proving income stability also can be a challenge for freelancers and gig workers who are trying to qualify for a mortgage.

Instead of pulling out pay stubs and W-2s to prove their income, as employees with more traditional jobs do, self-employed workers have to round up their 1099s and other documentation from their business (bank statements, tax returns, profit and loss statements, etc.). They need to share those as proof of income for a mortgage, along with the required information about their personal finances.

Documentation requirements can vary depending on the lender or the type of loan, but freelance and contract workers typically need to provide proof of at least two years of self-employment income to qualify for a home mortgage loan. And if that income is significantly different from one year to the next, or is going down instead of up, the lender may have questions about the borrower’s ability to keep up with mortgage payments over the long-term.

Something else to keep in mind:

•   Though it may be tempting to take advantage of every tax break for your freelance business, those deductions might affect how a mortgage lender looks at your bottom line.

•   If you have accepted some payments under the table to avoid taxes, you won’t be able to count that money as income on your loan application.

Gathering Your Income Documentation

Not having the proper income documentation can slow down the mortgage loan process, so it can be a good idea to gather up your paperwork well before you actually sit down to apply.

If you’re a first-time homebuyer, or you aren’t clear on what you might need as a seasonal or self-employed worker, a good lender will walk you through the list — but here are a few things you’ll likely need:

•   Tax returns from the past two years. (Personal and business returns if you’re self-employed.)

•   Two years’ worth of W-2s or year-end pay stubs. (If you’re self-employed, you can use your 1099s.)

•   Bank statements. (Personal and business bank statements if you’re self-employed.)

•   Letter verifying your employment. (If you’re a seasonal worker, your employer would state that you’re expected to be hired again. If you’re self-employed, you might provide a letter from a CPA verifying that you’ve been in business for at least two years. You also could include a client list with contact information or your company’s website.)

•   Statements verifying additional assets.

•   Proof of other income sources. (Alimony and child support, disability income, Social Security, etc.)

Improve Your Chances of Mortgage Approval

A stable income can be key to getting a mortgage, but lenders also will consider several other financial factors when evaluating an application. If you want to improve your chances of qualifying for a home loan — and get the lowest interest rate possible — here are a few things to focus on:

Credit Score

Generally, borrowers need a FICO® credit score of at least 620 to qualify for a fixed-rate conventional mortgage. But a higher score (670 to 739 is considered “good”) could make you more appealing to lenders and help you get a lower interest rate. Before you apply for a loan, it’s a good idea to check on your credit score and make sure your credit reports are accurate and up to date.

Down Payment

Coming up with a larger down payment could boost your chances of being approved for a loan. (The tools in SoFi’s Home Loan Help Center can help you figure out the amount you can afford.)

Debt-to-Income Ratio (DTI)

In general, mortgage lenders like to see a DTI ratio of no more than 36%. To figure out your DTI, add up your monthly bills, such as housing costs and any monthly loan or debt payments, and divide that total by your monthly gross (pre-tax) income to get your DTI percentage. If your DTI is running high, lowering or eliminating some debt before applying for a mortgage can make you look like less of a risk.

Cash Reserve

Your lender also may want you to see that you have a backup emergency fund or an asset you can liquidate easily, just in case your income falls short of expectations.

Recommended: Mortgage Pre-Approval Need to Knows

The Takeaway

If you don’t have a traditional job with a regular paycheck, you may have to jump through a few extra hoops to qualify for a mortgage. But if you can show your lender that you have reliable and consistent income sources, good credit, and can afford your monthly payments, a home loan shouldn’t be out of reach.

How can SoFi help? SoFi’s online application makes it easy for all types of borrowers to get started. And SoFi’s mortgage loan officers can provide one-on-one assistance as you work your way through the mortgage application process, so you can know what’s expected.

With SoFi, it takes just minutes to find your mortgage rate.


Can I qualify for a mortgage using seasonal income?

If you can prove you’ve worked in a seasonal job for at least two years, the money you’ve earned, once documented as proof of income for a mortgage, may help you qualify.

Can I include tips as part of my income when qualifying for a mortgage?

If you keep good records and claim the tips you receive from customers on your income tax return, you may be able to include that money as income on your mortgage application. But if you pocket the money and don’t report it on your taxes, you can’t expect your lender to count it.

Are there any exceptions to the two-year employment requirement when applying for a mortgage as a seasonal or freelance worker?

If you change employers but remain in the same line of work from one year to the next, you may be able to get around a lender’s two-year requirement. Let’s say, for example, you’re a swimming coach. If you move from one county to another, but you’re still teaching swimming at a community pool, the fact that you changed employers may not affect your income eligibility.

Photo credit: iStock/Prostock-Studio

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

SoFi Loan Products
SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see Equal Housing Lender.

SoFi Mortgages
Terms, conditions, and state restrictions apply. Not all products are available in all states. See for more information.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .


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