Wells Fargo Bank is lowering the bar for some government-backed mortgages in hopes of boosting homeownership among people with credit scores harmed by the recession.
The San Francisco-based bank will start accepting scores of 600, down from 640, for FHA and VA loans, which require as little as a 3.5 percent down payment.
Wells Fargo is the country's biggest mortgage lender. The bank's mortgage lending business totaled $50 billion in the fourth quarter of last year, down from $80 billion the previous quarter and $125 billion in the last quarter of 2012.
Banks overall are motivated to increase lending to homebuyers because of a decline in refinancing. Bank of America reported there may be some cases where it will accept a credit score in the "lower 600 range," depending on the borrower's ability to repay the loan. JPMorgan Chase hasn't revealed whether it will accept lower scores.
While the FHA accepts scores as low as 580 - and sometimes lower - finding a lender to make such loans can be difficult. For people with damaged credit the loans can be costly. Wells Fargo is offering a 30-year fixed FHA mortgage at 4.25 percent, although mortgage insurance and fees bring the effective rate up to 5.837 percent.
Wells Fargo's decision is part of an effort to increase access to credit, especially for first-time and low- to moderate-income buyers, according to spokesman Tom Goyda. Borrowers still must meet underwriting requirements, which include a demonstrated ability to repay the loan.
The bank's government-backed lending, which is mostly FHA but also VA and Rural Housing Services loans, accounted for an estimated 26 percent of its lending for the first nine months of 2013, Goyda said.