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‘I need a 20 percent down payment to get a loan’ … and other common homebuyer myths

Wells Fargo survey finds that Americans are still eager to buy homes but have many misconceptions about what it takes to get there

Americans are eager to buy homes, but they still don’t fully understand how credit scores, down payments and income requirements will impact their path to homeownership, according to a recent Wells Fargo survey.

Despite efforts by lenders and the government to enhance the availability of credit and to introduce low down payment programs, many aspiring homeowners still lack awareness of their true financing options, according to the “How America Views Homeownership” survey, which Wells Fargo first conducted last year.

The survey polled more than 2,000 Americans about how they perceive the homebuying process.

Although 65 percent of survey respondents said they view homeownership as “a dream come true” or “an accomplishment to be proud of,” and 72 percent agree that now is a good time to buy a home, potential buyers have many misconceptions about what it takes to buy a home.

For starters, many of the survey’s respondents believe they need a “very good” credit score to buy a home, with 45 percent thinking that is over 780; however, according to multiple credit score models and investor guidelines, a score above 780 is actually considered “excellent,” and a score over 660 is considered “good.”

Consumers also tend to overestimate the down payment funds they need to qualify for a loan, the survey found, with about a third of respondents thinking a 20 percent down payment is always required. In reality, options may be available with down payments as low as 3 percent or 3.5 percent for different loan programs, Wells Fargo said.

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“Creditworthiness isn’t determined based on a single factor, so potential homebuyers should find out what options may be available before excluding themselves based on credit score alone,” said Franklin Codel, head of mortgage production for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage.

Creditworthiness isn’t determined based on a single factor, so potential homebuyers should find out what options may be available before excluding themselves based on credit score alone." - Franklin Codel, head of mortgage production for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage

“Wells Fargo considers a loan applicant’s entire financial picture, including income, assets, debt-to-income ratio, credit history, credit scores and the amount of the loan compared to the value of the property.”

Wells Fargo said the survey’s results highlight the need for industry and government to better educate the public about what the homebuying process is currently like, but it also produced some good news about what consumers do understand about the process.

For example, 90 percent of respondents are aware that the process involves costs outside of their mortgage that they need to prepare for, such as attorney, agent and inspector fees, or insurance costs.

And 39 percent believe that “as long as you can afford the monthly payments, you can get a mortgage” — indicating that a majority understand the importance of having enough funds for living expenses and a savings “cushion,” the survey found.

Email Amy Swinderman.