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Building Pathways to Homeownership, No Social Security Number Required

How a unique home buying program is helping new Americans secure a mortgage. 

By Bianca Gonzalez

Like many new Americans, Gutierrez uses an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) instead of a Social Security Number. When it comes to securing a mortgage loan as a first-time homebuyer and ITIN user, "we don’t have many options," he says. When he found Sunrise Banks' Pathway2Home mortgage program for ITIN users in Minnesota, Gutierrez (who declined to give his first name for privacy) says he "went right with it. This is not an opportunity that is going to come often for me.”

The Pathway2Home mortgage program came out of the realization that there are a number of unique barriers new Americans face when looking to buy a home. Many banks will not accept ITINs as a result of the perceived additional risks involved in lending to someone without a social security number. By making ITIN users eligible for a mortgage loan, Pathway2Home is making homeownership possible for new Americans who otherwise would be turned away. 

Navigating documentation in English can also be a barrier. While ITIN users can come from a variety of countries and speak a number of languages, the majority of Pathway2Home non-English preferred clients speak Spanish. 

For this reason, Sunrise Banks has two loan officers who are fully fluent in Spanish. One of them is Rocio Gomez. "My native language is Spanish. Therefore, there's no need for interpreters and we're able to communicate effectively," she says, adding that 95% of the loans she does are I-TIN loans."

Gomez worked with Gutierrez to help him secure a mortgage to buy a home for his family. He calls her support "a fundamental part of the process." “She explained everything I needed to do for the process step by step,” he says.

Being perceived as a riskier investment also affects down payment costs. Traditional loans often require a down payment of roughly 3%. Because ITIN mortgage loans are seen as riskier, they usually require 10-20% in down payment funds. Sunrise Banks requires 10% as a down payment.

To offset costs, Sunrise Banks helps to connect clients with down payment grants like ones from the Federal Home Loan Bank. The program also accepts seller contributions and gifts from family members.

Another barrier for those who are new to the U.S. is that they may have no preexisting credit history, or they may have established bad credit due to being unfamiliar with how credit scores in the US work. 

The Pathway2Home program requires borrowers to have a minimum credit score of 670, but clients who don’t meet this benchmark can be referred to Sunrise Banks' Credit Builder Program. About 30% of the participants in the Pathway2Home Program went through the bank's Credit Builder Program, says Bryan Toft, chief revenue officer at Sunrise Banks.

"A lot of the participants of this program come from countries that don't really use credit,” Gomez says. “So don't they don't know how to manage it, how to build it, or how to improve it if they have some established credit."

The Credit Builder Program is a loan program with 12- and 18-month options. The funds from the loan get placed into a CD and will earn interest while the customer pays off their loan at a rate of roughly $50 a month. Once paid off, the funds in the CD will be added to the client's checking or savings account.

Sunrise Banks also partnered with Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota to offer Financial Choice, a financial literacy program that provides six free counseling sessions each year to all Sunrise Banks customers and employees. "There's a lot of education, a lot of financial literacy that goes into this," Toft says.

The program requires that all participants take a class on homeownership through the locally-based Homeownership Center. The class covers everything from understanding how property taxes work to maintaining your home and demystifying insurance. For new Americans going through the program, "most of the time it is their first home," Toft says. "That requirement is there to make sure that they understand what it really means to be a homeowner."

Thanks to his partnership with Gomez, Gutierrez and his family moved into their new home in March 2023. His next goal is to become a business owner. “It’s life-changing,” he says. “It’s a teaching moment for my children. It allows me to show my children that we can achieve things.”

This story is part of our series, CDFI Futures, which explores the community development finance industry through the lenses of equity, public policy and inclusive community development. The series is developed in partnership with Next City.