Owning a home is most likely the biggest deal you’ll ever make, while losing your home is most likely one of the biggest disasters in life. So before jumping in, make sure all your ducks are lined-up and be confident you will not run into financial trouble later.
Start at ground zero: monitor your credit scores and get up the learning curve on how credit works.
The better your credit history, the more likely you are to receive a good interest rate on your mortgage loan. Lenders will use your credit reports and scores as important factors in determining whether you qualify for a loan, and what interest rate to offer you. If there are errors on your credit report, you may have trouble qualifying for a loan. So, don’t delay in checking your credit. Review your credit reports and take steps to fix any errors.
It’s the first step to building a strong financial foundation for your new home.
Here are some credit basics from our good friends at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau:
A credit report contains information about your credit such as the status of your credit accounts and your payment history. Lenders use these reports to help them decide if they will loan you money, and at what interest rate. Credit reporting companies (also known as credit bureaus or consumer reporting agencies) compile these reports. Credit scores are calculated using a mathematical formula — called a scoring model — that companies and lenders use to predict how likely you are to pay back a loan on time. Your credit scores are calculated from the information in your credit report.
Your credit report
Here’s a step-by-step guide to getting, reviewing, and understanding your credit reports.
1. Request your free credit report online or over the phone.
There are three major credit reporting companies – Equifax , Experian , and TransUnion . Each company maintains a separate report. You have the right to a free copy of your credit report once per year from each of the three companies at www.annualcreditreport.com . You can also call 1-877-322-8228.
If you review your credit report from one of the major companies every four months, you can get a good idea of your credit throughout the year at no cost. However, if you are planning to start the homebuying process within the next six months to a year, you may want to request and review all of them at once to check for errors or issues. Checking your credit report will not hurt your credit score.
Your free credit report does not include your credit scores – keep reading to learn how to check your scores.
2. Review your credit report.
Once you get your credit report, you will want to review it carefully. Ordering it is not enough — you have to read it. Credit reports may have mistakes. And if there are mistakes, you are the one who is most likely to find them. Incorrect information can appear on your report because the credit bureaus processed the information incorrectly or because lenders or debt collectors sent flawed information to the credit bureaus or did not update the information they previously reported. Incorrect information may also be a result of fraud, such as when someone uses your identity to open accounts or takes on debt without your knowledge. You should review your credit report for any errors or fraudulent activity.
When you review your credit report, look for:
▪ Incorrect first and last names
▪ Addresses of places where you did not live
▪ Names of employers you did not work for
Review each account listed on your credit report. If you see any of this information, highlight it:
▪ Accounts you don’t recognize
▪ Accounts that are listed twice
▪ Accounts that have been closed but are listed as still open
▪ Incorrect current balances
▪ Incorrect negative account information, such as late payments and missed payments
▪ Negative account information, such as late or missed payments, that is more than seven years old
Check the credit inquiries section of your credit report:
▪ Look at the section labeled “inquiries that may impact your credit rating” or “inquiries shared with others.” Are there any companies listed that you don’t recognize? This section should only include companies that you have applied for credit with in the past two years.
▪ Inquiries listed in sections labeled “inquiries shared only with you,” “promotional inquiries,” or “account review inquiries” do not impact your score.
Check the “negative information” section:
▪ Are there accounts placed in collection that you don’t recognize or that are more than 7 years old?
▪ Are there public records such as civil lawsuits, judgments, or tax liens that you don’t recognize or that are more than seven years old?
▪ Are there bankruptcies that are more than 10 years old?
3. Report any errors, fraudulent activity, or outdated information.
If you find errors or fraudulent activity after your review of your credit report, you have the right to dispute inaccurate or incomplete information. Keep in mind that there’s a difference between inaccurate or incomplete information and negative but accurate and complete information. Both can lower your credit score, but a credit reporting company will only correct information that is inaccurate or, incomplete, or outdated.
To dispute an error, you should contact both the credit reporting company and the company that provided your information to the credit reporting company. For example, if you review your report and find a listing for a student loan you never took out, you should contact both the credit reporting company that provided the report and the student loan company listed. Be sure to include supporting documentation with your disputes to both companies. The companies must conduct an investigation and fix mistakes as needed.
The three major credit reporting companies provide instructions for filing a dispute online: Equifax , Experian , and TransUnion . You can also submit a dispute by phone or paper mail.
No matter how you submit your dispute, make sure to include:
▪ Your complete name
▪ Your address
▪ Your telephone number
▪ A clear description of what you are disputing (e.g., wrong name, not my account, wrong amount, wrong payment history)
▪ If you are disputing something about a specific account, a clear description of which account, including the account number if possible
▪ Copies of any documents you have that relate to the inaccurate or incomplete information
Beware of any service that says it can dispute inaccuracies for a fee. You have a legal right to dispute inaccuracies yourself, at no cost. If you find an error on one of your credit reports, check your credit reports from all three reporting agencies. Lenders operate differently from one another, so while one may pull your Experian report, another might pull your TransUnion or Equifax report. It’s important to make sure they’re all accurate.
If you find outdated negative information on your credit report, contact the credit reporting company and ask that it be removed. Bankruptcies are considered outdated if they are more than 10 years old. Most other negative information is considered outdated if it is more than 7 years old.
Your credit scores
A credit score is a number based on information contained in your credit report. You don’t have just one credit score. There are many credit scoring formulas, and the score will also depend on the data used to calculate it.
Different lenders may use different scoring formulas, so your score can vary depending on what type of score the lender uses (a mortgage score or an auto score, for example).
Today, most mortgage lenders use a FICO® score when deciding whether to offer you a loan, and in setting the rate and terms. Your FICO® score will differ depending on the credit bureau and FICO® scoring model your lender uses – so you have an Experian FICO® score, an Equifax FICO® score, and a TransUnion FICO®score. Also, be aware that your score changes as the information in your credit report changes.
Different scoring formulas may come up with somewhat different numbers for your credit score, but they are all based on the same key information:
▪ Your payment history: How you’ve handled loans and credit cards. This category includes details about whether you’ve made payments on time, missed payments, or had accounts in collection.
▪ How much you owe: The amount of debt you’re carrying compared to your available credit line or the original loan balance.
▪ Length of credit history: How long you’ve been borrowing money.
▪ Credit mix: Your history managing different types of loans.
▪ New credit: How many accounts you’ve applied for or opened in the past six to twelve months.
Most FICO® scores range from 300-850. A higher score makes it easier to qualify for a loan and may result in a better interest rate. As of March 2015, the median FICO® score nationwide was 721. The best rates go to borrowers with credit scores in the mid- to high-700s or above.