Credit scores are an effective barometer of an individual's credit health, and they are widely used by creditors to evaluate the potential risk of lending money to you. But credit scores have their limits, and lenders often consider a variety of factors to determine whether you qualify for a loan or credit card and what your terms will be.
Here are seven elements of your credit and financial situation that lenders may consider.
1. Employment History
Lenders may want to review your job history as a means of estimating income stability. A good employment track record—say, two or more years at the same company—indicates you're stable professionally and pose less of a risk.
But if your employment history is of the job-hopping variety, that could be a cause for concern for lenders. Lenders may also have more requirements for self-employed individuals, who are more likely to experience income instability, and may require more documentation to prove your employment and income.
Lenders are generally required by law to assess your ability to repay any debt you incur. As a result, lenders want to make sure that your income is sufficient to pay your bills and take on a new monthly payment.
Some lenders may also set a minimum income requirement you need to meet to be considered for approval. However, not many display these minimum thresholds publicly.
Keep in mind, though, that you can usually count more than just earned income on a credit application. If you're 21 or older, you can also include other household income, income from government benefits (including unemployment) and retirement income. If you're under 21, you'll typically only be able to include earned income on a credit application.
3. Credit History
Your credit score provides a quick snapshot of your overall credit health, but it doesn't tell the full story. As such, lenders will typically run a hard credit inquiry on one or more of your credit reports to view your full credit history.
4. Debt-to-Income Ratio
Your debt-to-income ratio (DTI) is the percentage of your gross monthly income that goes toward debt payments. In most cases, your DTI needs to be less than 50% for you to have a good chance of getting approved. With mortgage lenders, however, it's typically 43% or less.
If you have a high DTI, it could be an indication that you're overleveraged with debt and taking on more of it could strain your budget.
5. Assets and Cash Flow
If you're applying for a mortgage loan, lenders typically ask you to provide information about your cash reserves, investments and other assets to gauge your financial health. In some cases, lenders may consider your financial assets as evidence of good money management, which can improve your chances of getting approved, even if your credit isn't stellar.
Additionally, some lenders may also ask you to connect your bank account, so they can evaluate your financial responsibility via your cash flow, or how well you manage your income and expenses.
If you're applying for a secured loan, such as a mortgage or auto loan, your lender will consider the value and condition of the collateral you're using to secure the debt—typically the asset you're buying with the loan.
Lenders will typically have limits on how much they're willing to finance in relation to the asset's value. For example, you may be able to borrow up to 130% of a car's value with an auto loan, but with some mortgage programs, home lenders may only finance up to 95% of a home's appraised value.
7. Housing Status
You may be asked about your housing status—whether you rent or own your place of residence and what your housing payment is. Lenders may want to consider your home stability as part of your overall risk assessment. If you have frequent moves, it could be an indication that you have issues with money management.
Lenders may also want to know your rent payment, if applicable, because it won't be listed on your credit reports.
Prepare Your Credit and Finances Before Applying for Credit
Before you apply for a loan or credit card, it's a good idea to check your credit score and review your credit report to evaluate your credit profile and look for potential issues you can address before you start the application process.
You may also consider paying down credit card balances, eliminating small loan balances and other steps to shore up your finances and improve your credit. This process can take some time, but if your need for credit isn't urgent, the time and effort can help you maximize your approval odds and interest savings.