Sunday, January 13, 2008

Credit Reports, Credit Scores, and Buying a Home - The Basics

Let's take a brief look at credit scores, credit reports, and how these items affect your home buying power, plus your long-term financial strength. Three companies provide this information to potential lenders, and others who deem this information necessary; Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. Also, it is a federal law that you be provided a copy of your credit report from these three companies once a year. Go to to view your reports.

First, your credit report is a compilation of your credit history related to things like credit cards, revolving charge accounts (gas card or Sears card), previous mortgages, student loans, car payments, etc. It contains detailed information on your payment history, whether or not you have any negative items affecting your credit, plus details of your personal information known by the credit reporting company. It is very important you immediately dispute any negative reports in these credit reports if they are incorrect, or take whatever steps necessary to correct the negatives if they are correct.

Several items on your credit report will affect your credit score, the number that is supposed to represent to the lender the risk they will take on by loaning you money. The factors are, in no particular order, the length of your credit history (the longer they have data for you, the better), the length of time you have had your accounts open (again, the more time, the better), the type of accounts you have (variety is good), your payment history with your accounts (on time, never late is your goal), and the ratio of your debt to your credit limit (Even if you have a credit card with a $100 max limit, if you carry a $100 balance, you are considered 100% financed, and this is viewed as a negative.).

How can you improve your credit scores by viewing the information on your credit report? Most credit reports will have a summary page that tells if there any negative items on your credit report. It is very important you do whatever necessary to remove these items from your credit report. Let me give you an example...

Back in the days before free credit reports existed, I had an outstanding medical bill that went to an old address and was never forwarded that I did not know about until I made an attempt to make a purchase that required my credit to be pulled. This negative showed up because the bill had gone to collections. All I had to do was call the doctor's office, explain what had happened, pay the bill plus a small penalty, and they immediately reported the matter resolved to the credit reporting companies. I also followed up with the credit reporting companies and it took a few weeks of time for everything to stabilize, but the action disappeared from my credit report and I was able to again get prime rates. It won't always be this easy, but you have to do everything in your power to resolve all negatives if you want credit and the best rates.

Another way to improve your scores is to get your debt ratios below 50% on your credit cards and revolving charge accounts. As I stated before, just because your balance is low in terms of dollars it doesn't mean that is a positive if your debt ratios are above 50%. Use your credit report to compare account balances and credit limits and devise a plan to get your balances under the 50% (25% is even better) debt-to-credit-limit ratio as soon as possible. This will definitely improve your credit score.

Two more ways to improve your scores are to pay all of your bills on time, and not to have too many people pull your credit at any one time. There is some debate as to how much your credit score is affected by numerous pulls, and it seems to be less of a problem if all of the pulls are for the same thing, but your score will go down with every credit pull no matter what it is for. Don't go buy a car on credit, then the next week buy a TV on credit, then a house...Space your purchases out reasonably and monitor your credit scores to see when they recover from each purchase.

Speaking of monitoring your scores, for a small one-time or monthly fee any one of the credit reporting companies will give you your credit score. It can be worth it to monitor your score as you prepare to buy a home to see what changes are improving your score and to have an objective goal to work towards to get the best possible rates and terms.

I hope this post has provided you with some helpful guidance to first gather your credit report, correct any negatives, and then improve your score. If you think of the thousands upon thousands of dollars in interest this work could potentially save you, I think it is well worth the effort...Please feel free to contact me through Louisville Homes for Sale if you have further questions.