Changing a Secured Credit Card to an Unsecured Card

A secured credit card can help you establish credit for the first time or build your credit if you’ve damaged yours with missed payments, defaults, or bankruptcy. While secured credit cards offer many of the same advantages as traditional credit cards, they do have some limitations.

Eventually, those who start out with a secured card may want to switch to a traditional credit card. Here’s a closer look at how to transition from a secured credit card to an unsecured card.

What Is A Secured Credit Card?

A secured credit card requires that you put down a cash deposit, which serves as collateral for the charges you make with the card. Usually, the amount of the deposit is the same as your credit limit. So if you deposit $1,000, you’ll be able to borrow up to that amount.

If you miss payments, the bank can cover their losses by drawing on money from the deposit. That said, making on-time payments is just as important with secured credit cards as it is with traditional cards, especially if you are using the secured card to build credit.

As with traditional credit cards, secured cards require that you make a minimum monthly payment. Beyond that, you can carry a balance from month to month, but you will be charged interest on that balance. Pay your balance off in full each month to avoid interest payments.

Recommended: Differences Between a Secured and Unsecured Credit Card

Benefits of Secured Credit Cards

Secured credit cards offer users and banks a number of advantages.

Easier to Qualify

Because secured cards require users to put down a deposit, banks are taking on relatively little risk. As a result, it can be much easier to qualify for a secured card than it would be a traditional credit card.

Can Help Build Credit

If you have no credit or poor credit, it can be difficult to get approved for credit cards or loans. Making small purchases regularly with a secured card and paying off your bill in full and on time can help you establish credit or rebuild your credit.

If you’re looking to build credit, you may also consider becoming an authorized user on a credit card.

Convenience

You can use secured credit cards anywhere traditional cards are accepted. Secured credit cards allow you to shop in person or online without carrying cash around with you. It’s also difficult to accrue too much debt because you’re limited by the amount of your deposit.

Drawbacks of Secured Credit Cards

Alongside the benefits offered by secured cards, there are limitations to be aware of.

Coming Up With the Deposit

In order to get a secured card, you will have to come up with the cash that will serve as your deposit. That may require you to save for a period of time before you apply.

Once you deposit that cash, you can’t access it while your secured card is in use. That said, your deposit is refundable when you close the account or convert your secured credit card to an unsecured card.

Higher APR

The annual percentage rate (APR) is the interest rate you’re charged when you carry a balance on your card. Secured credit cards may offer higher interest rates than traditional cards, which can end up costing you more money if you carry a balance.

Spending Is Limited

Most credit cards, whether they’re secured or unsecured, have spending limits. For a secured credit card, your limit will depend on the size of the deposit you make, which will typically range from $200 to $2,000. If you’ve only deposited $1,000 and need to replace your transmission for $1,800, you won’t be able to put the repair on your card.

In comparison, the average credit limit across all cards is upwards of $30,000, according to a recent report from the credit reporting bureau Experian®.

What Is an Unsecured Credit Card?

An unsecured credit card is a traditional credit card that does not require a deposit as collateral. Instead, your credit limit is determined based on your creditworthiness. If you fail to pay off your credit card, your card company can send your bill to a collections agency, and your credit score will take a hit.

There are a variety of types of credit cards to choose from when it comes to unsecured cards, including rewards cards and balance transfer cards.

When You Might Keep Your Secured Credit Card Open

The biggest reasons to keep your secured credit card open have to do with the potential implications closing the account can have for your credit score.

For one, closing an account may result in a dip in your credit score. Additionally, closing the account may decrease the age of your credit history, another factor that goes into determining your credit score.

When You Might Upgrade to an Unsecured Credit Card

You may consider upgrading to a traditional, unsecured card if you’re able to manage a secured card responsibly and are looking for a lower APR or a higher credit limit. Ultimately, making the move requires that your credit is in decent shape.

To do so, it’s important that you stick to credit card rules. That includes being sure that you’re not in the habit of overspending, you’re able to pay your bills on time and in full, and you can keep your total purchases lower than your available credit. Experts suggest keeping your total balance at 30% or less of your available credit.

However, whether you can change a secured credit card to unsecured will also depend on your credit card issuer. Not all card companies offer unsecured options that you can upgrade to. In those cases, you’ll need to apply for a new card.

Guide to Upgrading from a Secured Card to Unsecured Credit Card

If you’re looking to upgrade to an unsecured card, make sure you’re following these steps.

Monitor Your Credit Score

Many credit cards require that you have at least a good credit score to qualify. That means, you’ll need a FICO® score of 670 or higher. Not only are you more likely to qualify for a card with a higher score, you’ll also be more likely to secure more favorable terms and lower interest rates.

If you’re considering trying to convert a secured credit card to an unsecured card, monitor your credit score regularly. You might check with your card issuer to see if they offer you free access to your credit score.

Making the Minimum Monthly Payment

Getting approved for a change from a secured credit card to an unsecured credit card requires displaying responsible credit card behavior. Ideally, you’d avoid interest payments by paying off your credit card in full every month. But if that’s not possible, be sure you are making at least your minimum monthly payment, as payment history is one of the biggest determinants of your credit score. On-time payments are a big part of using a credit card responsibly.

Managing All Your Accounts Responsibly

Before opening an unsecured credit card, make sure you’re able to make other debt payments on time as well. This includes student loans, car payments, or a mortgage. If you’re not displaying good credit behavior elsewhere, that will show up on your credit report and potentially hurt your chances of qualifying for an unsecured credit card.

Limiting the Number of Credit Accounts You Open

Opening new accounts requires a hard inquiry, which will result in a temporary dip in your credit score. Additionally, if you open too many new accounts in a short period of time, it can lower the average age of your credit accounts, which is another factor that influences your credit score.

Ideally, you’ll avoid activities that will cause your credit score to drop as you’re trying to work toward being able to qualify for a secured credit card. A better score will improve your chances of getting approved.

Recommended: Does Applying For a Credit Card Hurt Your Credit Score

The Takeaway

A secured card is an important tool for building or rebuilding credit. However, once you’ve established healthy credit card habits and good credit score, it may serve you to switch from a secured to unsecured credit card.

Whether you're looking to build credit, apply for a new credit card, or save money with the cards you have, it's important to understand the options that are best for you. Learn more about credit cards by exploring this credit card guide.

FAQ

Can I upgrade my secured credit card to unsecured?

Some lenders will allow you to change a secured credit card to an unsecured card. However, others will require that you apply for a new card.

How long does it take to convert a secured credit card to an unsecured one?

To move from a secured credit card to an unsecured one can take anywhere from several months to a couple of years. How long it takes will depend on the credit card issuer’s policies as well as what your credit score was when you opened the account.

Does converting a secured credit card to an unsecured card hurt your credit score?

Closing your secured card to open a traditional credit card may cause your credit score to take a temporary dip. However, you shouldn’t notice a huge impact.

Do all credit card issuers allow the conversion from a secured to unsecured card?

Not all credit card issuers will convert a secured card to an unsecured card. More often than not, you’ll have to close your secured account and open a brand new card.


Photo credit: iStock/Ridofranz

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.

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 .

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.

SOCC-Q224-1910871-V1

Read more

Guide to Lowering Your Credit Card Interest Rate (APR)

The annual percentage rate (APR) of a credit card represents how much someone pays in interest on an annual basis if they carry a balance on their credit card. The lower someone’s APR is, the less they would pay in interest. Because of this, it makes sense to try to secure the lowest APR possible.

Keep reading to learn how to lower the APR on a credit card.

What Is Credit Card APR?

A credit card’s APR represents the total cost of borrowing money using a credit card. The APR on a credit card is the interest rate charged to carry a balance, plus any fees. A credit card can have a fixed or variable interest rate, meaning the rate can either stay the same or change over time based on index rates.

Understanding what APR is can help credit card users know how much they’d need to pay in interest if they don’t pay off their credit card balance in full each month. If they don’t carry a balance, they can avoid paying credit card interest.

Recommended: What Is a Charge Card?

Ways a Lower Interest Rate Can Help

Having a good APR for credit cards is important for a number of reasons. A lower interest rate can save you money. In turn, this can make it easier and faster to pay off debt. Doing so is one way you can help build your credit score.

The higher your interest rate is, the harder it can be to chip away at your credit card balance, as the bulk of credit card payments will go toward interest. This is why achieving a lower credit card APR can make escaping high-interest credit card debt easier.

Recommended: How to Avoid Interest On a Credit Card

How to Lower APR on a Credit Card

If you are interested in lowering your credit card APR, there are steps you can take to try to do so.

Apply for a Balance Transfer Card

If your card has a high APR, one option for how to get a better rate can be a balance transfer card with a lower interest rate. You can then transfer your balance from the high-interest credit card to the balance transfer card.

Usually, this new balance transfer credit card can’t be issued by the same company or any affiliates of the original card. Balance transfer cards may offer a 0% APR promotional period. During that period, you won’t pay any interest, which means all of your payments will go toward paying down the principal.

However, once the promotional period ends, a higher APR will kick in (this is one example of what can increase your credit card’s APR). Additionally, a balance transfer fee may apply to move over the existing credit card balance to the new card. It might make sense to calculate your credit card interest rate on your old card to ensure you’ll save money.

Negotiate With Your Credit Card Issuer

When it comes to figuring out how to get lower APR on a credit card, it’s possible to simply ask for an APR reduction with a credit card issuer. This strategy may be particularly effective if the cardholder has used their credit card responsibly and consistently paid their credit card bill on time — one of the cardinal credit card rules.

You can also provide a reason why you’re requesting a reduction. You may have experienced a job loss or have unexpected medical bills to pay. Maybe you got a raise and are really motivated to pay off your debt, and having a lower interest rate would help you do that. It’s also possible to leverage new credit card offers with lower interest rates to try to negotiate a current APR down.

Consumers can also ask for a temporary reprieve if the credit card issuer won’t offer a lower rate indefinitely. For example, it may be possible to request a one-year rate reduction of one to three percentage points.

Low-Interest Credit Cards

If you can’t quite figure out how to get a lower interest rate on a credit card with your current issuer, you could also step away from using that specific credit card. Instead, you might apply for a low-interest credit card to use in lieu of the card with the higher APR.

Cardholders who have consistently made on-time payments and taken other steps to build their credit score may be able to secure a new card with a lower interest rate. As an added bonus, doing so can make it easier to negotiate a lower APR with a current credit card.

Some different types of credit cards even reward cardholders for their good behavior by lowering their APR.

The Takeaway

If you pay off your credit card balance in full each month, you won’t have to worry about your APR too much. That being said, it’s always smart to try to secure the lowest APR possible in case it’s necessary to carry a balance from time to time.

Having a lower APR on a credit card means the cost of borrowing money is lower. More of your monthly payments can go toward paying down the principal balance instead of interest. In turn, this can help you pay off your debt faster, save money, and even build your credit score.

Whether you're looking to build credit, apply for a new credit card, or save money with the cards you have, it's important to understand the options that are best for you. Learn more about credit cards by exploring this credit card guide.

FAQ

How can I reduce my credit card interest rate?

You have a few options for lowering the interest rate on a credit card. You can try to negotiate a lower interest rate on any current credit cards by calling your issuer and trying to come to an agreement. If that doesn’t work, you can apply for a new credit card or a balance transfer card. If you can secure a lower interest rate on a new credit card, you can choose to use that credit card or take that offer back to your current lender to try to negotiate a lower APR.

Why do credit card issuers charge varying APRs?

Credit card issuers use a consumer’s credit score to help determine what the APR on a credit card should be for a specific consumer. The reason that APRs vary is because credit card issuers give a custom APR to each applicant based on their financial history. Generally, the lower someone’s credit score is, the higher their APR will be.


Photo credit: iStock/Charday Penn

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.

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 .

SOCC-Q224-1910584-V1

Read more
What Is a Contactless Credit Card and How Does It Work?

What Is a Contactless Credit Card and How Does It Work?

Contactless credit cards are a method of payment that allows you to simply tap or hold your card on the card reader, as opposed to inserting or swiping it. This kind of card has grown in popularity over the past few years.

Here’s a look at the tech that enables contactless credit card payments, as well as the pros and cons of using this sort of card.

What Is a Contactless Credit Card?

Physically, a contactless credit card looks like a regular credit card, with the bank name and the account number on the front of the card and the ubiquitous magnetic stripe on the back of the card. However, contactless credit cards allow cardholders to “tap and pay” instead of inserting or swiping their card in a merchant payment machine.

This enables a consumer to make a purchase at a retail location without ever having to physically touch a payment device. This was one of the reasons contactless payments soared during the pandemic.

What Does Contactless Payment Mean?

The term contactless payment more broadly refers to a form of payment that involves no touch. You can make a contactless payment using a credit card as well as a debit card, gift card, mobile wallet, or wearable device.

Regardless of the form, contactless payments rely on the same technology to make a payment without needing to swipe, enter a debit or credit card PIN, or sign for a transaction.

How to Know If Your Credit Card Is Contactless

Major credit card providers like MasterCard and Visa offer contactless cards. You can determine if your credit card is contactless-capable by looking for a contactless card symbol on the back of your card. This symbol looks like a wifi symbol flipped on its side, with four curved lines that increase in length from left to right.

Even if your card has this symbol on it, you’ll also want to check that the merchant has contactless readers. You can figure this out by looking for that same symbol on the card reader or asking the merchant directly.

How Contactless Credit Cards Work

Like other credit cards, contactless credit cards have small chips embedded in them. But instead of requiring you to insert the card, this chip emits electromagnetic waves that transfer your payment information when you place the card close to a payment terminal that accepts contactless payments.

You don’t actually even need to tap your contactless credit card to pay — all you have to do is place your card within a few inches of the payment terminal. This will initiate payment.

You might then have to wait a few seconds while the transaction processes. The terminal may give a signal when the transaction is complete, such as by beeping or flashing a green light.

Technology That Enables Contactless Credit Card Payments

Instead of inserting a credit or debit card into a merchant payment terminal, contactless credit cards rely on radio frequency identification technology (RFID) and near-field communication to complete a retail transaction.

The “no touch” concept is driven by a contactless card’s short-range electromagnetic waves, which hold the cardholder’s personal data, including their credit card account number. This information is then transmitted to the merchant’s payment device. Once the device grabs the airborne card information, the transaction can be completed and the purchase confirmed.

Pros and Cons of Contactless Credit Cards

Like most consumer finance tools, contactless credit cards have their upsides and downsides. Here’s a snapshot of the pros and cons to note:

Pros

Cons

Convenient to use Not always available overseas
Secure Low transaction limits
Increasingly offered Not always reliable
Better for merchants

Pros

These are the main upsides of contactless credit cards:

•   Convenient to use: Contactless credit cards are extremely convenient to use once you get the hang of how credit cards work when they have this feature. All a user has to do is wave their contactless credit card in front of the card reader, and the deal is done in a matter of seconds. Plus, you can avoid touching any surfaces in the process.

•   Secure: With data thieves regularly on the prowl, “tap and pay” and “wave and pay” technologies are highly protective of a consumer’s personal data. All of the data is stored on a password-protected, fully-encrypted computer chip embedded inside the card, making it difficult for a financial fraudster to steal a user’s personal information.

•   Increasingly offered: The availability of contactless payments has increased in recent years, and many brand-name companies now offer the option. Companies may even offer discounts and loyalty point details that are immediately added to a consumer’s account at the point of sale.

•   Better for merchants: Companies that offer contactless credit/debit card payments also benefit from “no touch” card technology. Aside from superior operational capability and faster transactions, merchants get a better customer experience and formidable fraud protection from contactless payment technology, with no extra cost. That’s because merchants pay the same transaction processing fee with contactless payments as they do with regular credit card transactions.

Cons

Of course, there are downsides to contactless credit cards as well:

•   Not always available overseas: Contactless payments may not work abroad, given the recent expansion of a new card payment technology. Additionally, consumers may be charged foreign transaction fees when they do use contactless payments overseas, depending on the specific country’s credit card payment laws.

•   Low transaction limits: Contactless card users may find they can’t cover large transactions, like a laptop computer or king-size bed. That’s because merchants may issue those limits until they’re convinced contactless payments (like any new technology) are completely safe, secure and free of any fraud threats. In the meantime, contactless card-using consumers can always use the same credit card to make a big purchase by using “chip and sign” or “chip and swipe” card technologies.

•   Not always reliable: Contactless credit card transactions aren’t always reliable, as sometimes the payment won’t go through even though a reader indicates that it accepts contactless payments. This could cause someone to have to resort to swiping their card instead to complete the transaction.

Recommended: What Is a Charge Card?

Guide to Using a Contactless Credit Card

When using a contactless credit card, the transaction is enabled and completed in three key steps: look, tap, and go.

1.    Look. The consumer checks for a contactless symbol on a merchant’s payment device (this will look like a wifi signal tipped on its side).

2.    Tap. After being prompted by the payment device, the consumer will wave the credit card an inch or so over the payment device, or actually touch (tap) the credit card on the payment terminal. This is why the process is sometimes referred to as credit card tap to pay.

3.    Go. Once the wave or tap is executed, the payment device picks up the transaction, confirms the credit card payment, and completes the transaction.

Be mindful that if you carry multiple contactless credit cards, you may want to keep those cards away from a terminal that accepts contactless payments. This will help ensure the correct credit card is being charged. Instead of holding your wallet or purse over the payment terminal, take out the specific card you’d like to use instead.

Recommended: When Are Credit Card Payments Due?

Are Contactless Credit Cards Safe?

Contactless payment cards basically offer the same anti-fraud protections as any card that relies on a credit card chip.

This is because the chip in contactless credit cards creates a one-time code for each merchant transaction. Once the payment is confirmed and the transaction is approved, the code disappears for good. That makes it virtually impossible for a financial fraudster to steal a consumer’s personal data, as they can’t crack the complicated algorithmic codes financial institutions use with chip-based payment cards.

Additionally, a contactless card is equipped with electromagnetic (RFID) shielding, which helps keep card information from being “skimmed” by data thieves. In turn, this removes another data security threat from the credit card transaction experience.

The Takeaway

Contactless credit cards are emerging as an effective payment technology that’s gathering steam among consumers and retailers alike. Thanks to the tech that enables contactless credit card payment, these credit cards allow you to simply wave or tap the credit card within range of a payment terminal that accepts contactless payments. You can figure out if a payment terminal — and your credit card — offer contactless payment as an option by looking for the contactless payment symbol.

Whether you're looking to build credit, apply for a new credit card, or save money with the cards you have, it's important to understand the options that are best for you. Learn more about credit cards by exploring this credit card guide.

FAQ

Are there extra charges for using contactless credit cards?

No, there are no extra charges for using contactless credit cards. This is true for the consumer who’s tapping their card as well as for the merchant accepting contactless payments.

What are the risks with contactless credit cards?

While contactless credit cards generally offer enhanced security, there is the risk of a thief skimming cards in your wallet by using a smartphone to read it. However, the thief must be within very close range to do so. Perhaps the easiest way for a thief to get ahold of your information is by stealing your physical credit card, which is a risk with any type of credit card.

Where can I use my contactless credit card?

You can use your credit card at any retailer that has a terminal accepting contactless payments. You can determine if a card reader will take your contactless credit card by looking for the contactless payment symbol.

What happens if I lose my contactless credit card and someone else uses it?

If your card is stolen or lost, contact your credit card issuer immediately. Check your recent credit card transactions for any fraudulent activity, and make sure to report that information to your credit card issuer.


Photo credit: iStock/milan2099

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.

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.

SOCC-Q224-1917311-V1

Read more
How to Buy a House With No Money: Guide to Getting a No Down Payment Mortgage

How to Buy a House With No Money: Guide to Getting a No Down Payment Mortgage

Even in a hot real estate market, it’s possible to learn how to buy a house with no money down. The trick is, you need to know where to look. Zero-down home loans aren’t available everywhere and to every borrower, but if you do qualify and can find an area with a zero-down mortgage, homeownership could be much more attainable.

Here’s exactly what you need to know about how to buy a house with no money down.

Can You Buy a House With No Money Down?

You can buy a house with no money down with certain loan programs in certain areas. There are more homeowner resources to help you buy a home than you may realize, and first-time homebuyer qualifications can be more flexible than you know. Here’s where to look for and what to expect on a zero-down mortgage.

Recommended: Learn more about first-time home buyer programs.

How to Buy a House With No Money

Of all the things you need to buy a house, a down payment holds many buyers back. But there are a few avenues you can take to get a mortgage loan and buy a home with no money down.

•   Buy a home with a VA or USDA loan. These loans, from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are no down payment mortgages

•   Receive assistance for your down payment or closing costs from a state or local program or a family member

•   Receive a lender credit

•   Ask for a seller concession

USDA Loan

A USDA loan requires no money down and is intended for buyers in rural areas. There are two ways the U.S. Department of Agriculture loans money:

•   Single-family housing direct loans

•   Single-family housing guaranteed program

The direct loans are issued by the USDA and come with a 33-year term for low- and very-low-income households. (Very-low-income applicants may stretch the repayment term to 38 years.) The guaranteed program is run through approved lenders with a 30-year fixed rate for low- to moderate-income households.

VA Loan

A VA loan guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is a zero down payment mortgage with low interest rates for qualified veterans, active-duty service members, certain reservists and National Guard members, and surviving spouses. Most borrowers pay a one-time funding fee, which can be rolled into the loan. Lenders can be more flexible with credit scores, mortgage amounts, and debt-to-income ratios.

Down Payment and Closing Cost Assistance Programs

Many city and state agencies offer different mortgage types and down payment assistance to buyers, especially low- to moderate-income homebuyers, first-time homebuyers, veterans, and people buying in federally targeted areas.

The terms vary. Sometimes the assistance for a down payment is in the form of a second mortgage that is repaid over time. Other terms include deferred payments that are only due if the property is sold, loans that are forgivable if the property is occupied by an owner for a specified amount of time, and even grants.

HUD, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, steers homebuyers to city, state, and nonprofit programs that offer down payment assistance.

Down Payment Gift From a Family Member

A down payment gift from a family member can also help you buy a house with no money down. The main thing to remember about a down payment gift from a family member is that the money must be properly documented with a gift letter. Your lender will likely provide a template to make sure you have all the crucial elements included.

Lender Credits

Lender credits are what you get when you agree to pay a higher interest rate in return for some money that the lender contributes toward your closing costs. The more lender credits you receive, the higher your rate will be. With some lenders, you can cover your closing costs entirely with lender credits. This is a common practice when refinancing a loan.

Seller Concessions

One strategy real estate agents have used is to ask for a credit from the seller, to be contributed toward the buyer’s closing costs. Making an offer above asking price in tandem with the seller concessions makes this option more palatable for sellers in a competitive housing market.

Recommended: Home Loan Help Center

The Takeaway

Learning how to buy houses with no money takes some research, but could be well worth your time. With a VA or USDA loan, down payment assistance, gift money, or lender credits, it is possible to obtain a no money down mortgage. Qualifying first-time buyers can also still catch a break with a conventional mortgage loan — some lenders will let you put just 3% down.

Looking for an affordable option for a home mortgage loan? SoFi can help: We offer low down payments (as little as 3% - 5%*) with our competitive and flexible home mortgage loans. Plus, applying is extra convenient: It's online, with access to one-on-one help.


SoFi Mortgages: simple, smart, and so affordable.

FAQ

Can cash gifts be used as a down payment?

Yes, but certain rules must be followed for the gift to be documented by the lender, usually in the form of a gift letter.

Are there any homebuyer grants?

Sometimes. They’re usually reserved for first-time buyers, veterans, or people buying homes in federally targeted areas. You might start a search for assistance with your state housing finance agency or HUD and then look for city and county programs.

What are down payment assistance programs?

Down payment assistance programs help homebuyers afford down payments and sometimes closing costs as well. This is done in the form of grants and loans and can vary by location.

What credit score do I need to buy a house with no money down?

For a zero down mortgage backed by the USDA or VA, lenders are advised to look at a borrower’s situation case by case. Approved USDA loan lenders usually require a minimum credit score of 640, though the department itself doesn’t have a credit score requirement.

Most VA loan lenders will want to see a credit score above 620, but again, the VA does not have a minimum credit score. Applicants may qualify with a score below 620 when debt, income, and the ability to shoulder future mortgage payments are given a close look.

Down payment assistance programs often require a minimum credit score of 620.


Photo credit: iStock/Paperkites

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 SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.


SoFi Mortgages
Terms, conditions, and state restrictions apply. Not all products are available in all states. See SoFi.com/eligibility 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.

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.

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.

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.

¹FHA loans are subject to unique terms and conditions established by FHA and SoFi. Ask your SoFi loan officer for details about eligibility, documentation, and other requirements. FHA loans require an Upfront Mortgage Insurance Premium (UFMIP), which may be financed or paid at closing, in addition to monthly Mortgage Insurance Premiums (MIP). Maximum loan amounts vary by county. The minimum FHA mortgage down payment is 3.5% for those who qualify financially for a primary purchase. SoFi is not affiliated with any government agency.
Veterans, Service members, and members of the National Guard or Reserve may be eligible for a loan guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. VA loans are subject to unique terms and conditions established by VA and SoFi. Ask your SoFi loan officer for details about eligibility, documentation, and other requirements. VA loans typically require a one-time funding fee except as may be exempted by VA guidelines. The fee may be financed or paid at closing. The amount of the fee depends on the type of loan, the total amount of the loan, and, depending on loan type, prior use of VA eligibility and down payment amount. The VA funding fee is typically non-refundable. SoFi is not affiliated with any government agency.

SOHL-Q224-1903338-V1

Read more
Guide to Buying a Townhouse

Guide to Buying a Townhouse

If you’re shopping for a new home and traditional single-family houses are out of your price range or the mere idea of lawn mowing and tree trimming makes you sweat, a townhouse could be the answer. Many — but not all — buyers will find that townhouses rise to the occasion.

What Is a Townhouse?

Among the different home types, from condos to modular homes, are townhouses. But what is a townhouse, specifically? It’s a multi floor home with its own entrance that shares at least one wall (not floors or ceilings) with an adjacent townhouse. Townhomes may be part of a community of units with a uniform appearance, but that isn’t always the case.

Why Buy a Townhouse?

There are pros and cons of buying a townhouse, with benefits including the following:

•   Ownership

•   Affordability

•   Low maintenance

Here’s more about each benefit.

Ownership

It’s a bit tricky because some townhouses are sold as condos. If you buy a townhome as a condo, you will own just the inside of your unit. If you buy it as a townhouse, you’ll own the interior and exterior of the structure and the land under and sometimes around your property.

This means fewer restrictions on how you’d use your yard compared with a condo owner. Townhouse owners could, as just one example, have the right to grill in their private outdoor space.

Ownership of the structure and land also means that financing a townhouse is much less complicated than financing a condo. It’s basically the same as getting a mortgage for a detached single-family house.

Affordability

Townhouses are typically less expensive than detached single-family homes, which can be especially important in expensive cities and for first-time homebuyers. Townhouses can serve as space-efficient choices, too, in places where land is scarce.

Note that townhouses may be more expensive than a condo in the same community.

Low Maintenance

Yards are likely smaller and, if the townhouse is part of a homeowners association (HOA), you may benefit from its security protocols and maintenance of shared areas. In some cases, you can enjoy amenities like pools because of HOA membership.

Some home downsizers may appreciate the lack of interior and exterior sprawl to maintain.

Recommended: First-Time Homebuyer Guide

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


Disadvantages of Buying a Townhouse

Buying a townhome can also come with disadvantages, including:

•   HOA fees and restrictions

•   Lack of privacy

•   Stairs

Here’s more about each potential disadvantage.

HOA

If the townhouse is part of an HOA, there will be fees to cover shared services and spaces. Plus, HOA rules may limit how you can decorate your townhouse. Who is responsible for exterior repair costs can sometimes cause confusion. So be sure to find out the specifics of a townhome you’re interested in buying.

Lack of Privacy

Shared walls automatically mean less privacy than with a detached home, which can be especially problematic for families with young children. This can also be a consideration for young couples who may want to start a family or for other people for whom privacy is a plus.

Stairs

Because townhouses are multistory dwellings, residents will need to climb stairs, which can be challenging for those with temporary or permanent mobility issues. Plus, if someone is used to a larger yard, having a small lot with neighbors nearby can feel constraining.

How to Buy a Townhouse

When buying a townhome, there are several steps to take.

Find a Real Estate Agent

Very few buyers go it alone, so finding a real estate agent who is experienced in your geographical location can help you to make savvy choices. This agent can guide you through the process of finding the right townhouse and help negotiate the best deal for you.

Know the Market

An experienced real estate agent can look into comps, or recently sold townhomes in the area that are similar in size, condition, and features, and you can also use a real estate website to find asking prices of similar townhouses and other real estate in the area.

If more than one buyer is interested in the same townhouse, you’ll need to be clear in your mind about how much you’re willing to pay for the property and strategically make an offer without busting your budget.

Investigate the HOA Fees

If the townhouse is part of an HOA, you’ll want to know what the monthly fees will be and what they’ll cover.

You might ask when the HOA last raised the fee, by how much, and when any new increase might happen. Looking at the HOA’s budget and reserve study could also be a good idea. If the reserves are low, the community is at risk of needing a special assessment.

Shop for a Mortgage and Get Preapproved

If you’re shopping for a mortgage, you’ll benefit from looking at more than advertised interest rates. You can apply with more than one lender and then compare loan estimates.

You may want to compare the APR of different loans: The annual percentage rate reflects the interest rate, lender fees, discount points, and the loan term. If comparing, realize that escrow fees and mortgage insurance can skew the APR.

The loan estimate will also tell you what your monthly payment would be on your home mortgage. To get a sense of what a payment might be with different down payments, you can also use an online mortgage calculator.

By getting mortgage preapproval, you’ll know exactly how much of a townhouse you can afford to buy, which can give you the ability to bid on a property with confidence and compete with other buyers for a property of choice.

Order a Home Inspection

It’s a good idea to get the townhouse inspected inside and out. Also pay attention to how well neighbors are maintaining their properties.

The Takeaway

Buying a townhouse could be a good choice for first-time homebuyers, lawn-mower phobics, downsizers, and people priced out of the larger market. If you decide that buying a townhome is the right choice for you, you’ll probably need to apply for a mortgage.

Looking for an affordable option for a home mortgage loan? SoFi can help: We offer low down payments (as little as 3% - 5%*) with our competitive and flexible home mortgage loans. Plus, applying is extra convenient: It's online, with access to one-on-one help.


SoFi Mortgages: simple, smart, and so affordable.

FAQ

Is it worth buying a townhouse?

Townhouses, in general, don’t appreciate in value as quickly as detached single-family homes. But the purchase price is often lower.

Is a townhome a good first home?

A townhouse can be a good first home because of the low maintenance, and amenities may be included. Plus, the price is right for many first-time homebuyers.

Why shouldn’t you buy a townhouse?

Disadvantages can include a lack of privacy and usually a small yard. If an HOA is in place, ongoing fees and rules are involved. Plus, the stairs that come with townhomes may be challenging for some people to navigate.

How do I choose a good townhouse?

When buying a townhome, make sure that it has the features you want and need in a neighborhood where you’d like to live at a price within your budget. If it’s part of an HOA, ensure that the fees are palatable and cover what you expect them to.


Photo credit: iStock/cmart7327

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 SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.


SoFi Mortgages
Terms, conditions, and state restrictions apply. Not all products are available in all states. See SoFi.com/eligibility 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.

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.

SOHL-Q224-1903460-V1

Read more
TLS 1.2 Encrypted
Equal Housing Lender