Understanding your credit opens the door to home-buying success

March 3, 2010

Courtesy of ARA Content

With many signs pointing to the beginnings of a recovery in the housing market, potential home buyers can still find plenty of selection, low prices and low interest rates. If you’re thinking of buying a home, now might be the right time, but before you contact a real estate agent or apply for a mortgage, your top priority should be checking your credit report to see if your credit is in good shape.

Credit—specifically misuse and misunderstanding of credit—spurred the housing crisis, many experts agree. The consequences have included tighter standards from lenders and the need for borrowers to better understand how to use credit wisely.

Interest rates remain low, and those with good credit will be better positioned to take advantage of the opportunities available in this unique housing market. A good credit report and score can open doors for you in the real estate world, and empower you to secure the best loan and terms possible before you ever tour a single house. Being preapproved for an affordable mortgage can help you move quickly to secure a deal when you find the home of your dreams.

If you’ve already assessed your finances to determine how much mortgage you can afford, you’re ready for the next step—making sure your credit is in top shape to help you get the best possible loan.

Understanding your score and what it means

Lenders consider your credit score and your current credit report when deciding whether or not you’re a good credit risk. Your credit score is a number generated by using statistical models that factor in elements from your credit report. The number can change when information on your credit report changes, and it’s calculated at the time a lender requests a copy of your credit report. Different lenders may use different scoring methods, so your score may vary from lender to lender.

Because credit scores are objective and are based on the information in your credit report, they are fairer than the old opinion-based ways of determining a person’s risk level. Your score is a prediction of your likelihood to repay debt responsibly, based on your past credit history and current credit status.

Before you begin contacting potential lenders, check out your credit report, which can be accessed online at Web sites like FreeCreditReport.com.

Know what’s on your credit report

Your credit report is the other major piece of information a lender will consider when deciding whether to give you a mortgage loan. Your credit report is basically a summary of your financial behavior, including how you’ve used credit in the past and how well you manage repaying debt. The information on your report comes from creditors, public records and other reliable sources, which report it to the credit bureaus through automated processes.

Credit reports generally include personal data such as variations on your name, your driver’s license number, Social Security number, birth date, current and past employers, and current and past addresses. You’ll also find a listing of your credit accounts, when each account was opened and your payment history for each. If you’ve been involved in court action like bankruptcy or monetary judgments, this information will likely appear on your report as well.

Your report will also show past requests for your credit reports (inquiries) that might come from lenders, insurers, employers or stores. Too many inquiries on your report might make potential lenders think you are trying to overspend, so think carefully before applying for new credit; inquiries stay on your report for two years.

Because your credit report changes every time you use credit, it pays to enroll in a credit monitoring product. Web sites like FreeCreditReport.com make it easy to track both your score over time and monitor your credit report, ensuring you know what’s on your report before a potential lender looks at it.

Buying a home is likely the largest investment you’ll ever make—one that will impact your credit for many years to come. Before you jump into the process of applying for a loan to buy a home, it pays to understand credit, review your report and know your score.

From the Mar. 3-9, 2010 issue

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