5 Steps To Prepare Your Credit for a Mortgage

So you are ready to take the plunge and apply for a new mortgage loan? Great! Congratulations on making the decision to become a homeowner. With low interest rates, tax advantages, and a host of other benefits that come along with purchasing a home, you have about a million reasons to break free from the shackles of renting.

You can set yourself up for success during the home buying experience by knowing what to expect ahead of time. Most importantly, you should be sure that your credit is in tip top shape so that you can qualify for the most attractive rates and terms available on your new loan. Check out these 5 steps to help you get started.

1. Check Your Credit
There’s nothing worse than filing out a mortgage application only to find some unwanted “surprises” have shown up on your credit reports. Unfortunately, this is a very common problem. However it doesn’t have to be since you can access your own credit scores and reports online 24/7. Plus, contrary to a popular credit myth, checking your own credit does NOT harm your credit scores in any way whatsoever.

You are entitled to a free copy of each of your 3 credit reports once every 12 months from AnnualCreditReport.com. However, if you want your scores from this website then you will have to pay for them from each credit bureaus individually.

An easier solution to accessing your credit scores is also available through a 3-score, 3-bureau credit monitoring service, but you should know that there are generally fees involved for these services as well. (Note: many credit monitoring services only give you data from 1 of the 3 credit bureaus so you want to be careful when choosing the right credit monitoring service to access your credit scores and reports.)

CLICK HERE for a list of great resources where you can access your 3-bureau credit reports and scores. Finding out what is on your credit prior to your loan application should definitely be the first item on your “to do” list during the home buying process.

2. Dealing with Surprises

If your credit reports were all three squeaky clean when you checked them in step 1, then skip down to step 3. However, if you found errors or blemishes on your credit reports, you may have some work to do before applying for a mortgage. 

Thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) you have the right to dispute inaccurate and unverifiable accounts with the credit bureaus. You can dispute accounts on your own or you can hire someone to help you with the process. Either way, credit reporting errors should not be ignore as they can be quite hazardous to the health of your credit scores.

3. Optimize Your Credit Scores

Even if you have no errors or derogatory items on your credit reports (e.g. collection accounts, charge-offs, foreclosures, etc.), it may still be possible to improve your credit scores. You can start by taking a long, hard look at your credit card balances.

Paying your credit cards down to $0 can potentially have a very BIG impact upon your credit scores. Can’t afford to pay off all of your credit cards? You still have options. Paying down some of your cards to zero can still be beneficial to your credit scores. Plus, you can always consider using a personal loan to transform that score-lowering credit card debt into much more credit score friendly debt – an installment loan.

4. Avoid Mistakes!

When preparing to apply for a mortgage, you need to be a credit boy or girl scout. You don’t want to make any credit mistakes which could result in lower credit scores and a loan denial.

Some of the most common mistakes you should avoid include making late payments on existing accounts, charging up your credit card balances, opening new accounts (that new car loan needs to wait!), and having your credit report pulled excessively by too many lenders (unless those inquiries occur within a short window of time for rate shopping purposes).

5. Monitor Your Credit

There is no better time to keep a close eye on your credit than while you are preparing to apply for a mortgage. However, with so many credit monitoring options available, it can be difficult to choose.

Keep in mind that a credit monitoring service which allows you to keep an eye on just one credit bureau and one credit score may not be sufficient. After all, when you apply for your mortgage the lender is going to take a look at all three of your credit reports and scores – Equifax, Trans Union, and Experian.

Buying a new home is an incredible and exciting experience. However, credit problems during the mortgage application process can often turn what could be a wonderful experience into a nightmare. Follow these five steps above and set yourself up for mortgage success. It can be tempting to take shortcuts, but putting in the work on your credit ahead of time will pay off every time.


michelle-l-black-credit-expert-freelance-writer

Michelle Black, Founder of CreditWriter.com and HerCreditMatters.com, is a leading credit expert, author, writer, and speaker with over a decade and a half of experience in the credit industry. She is an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring, identity theft, budgeting, and debt eradication. She is featured monthly at credit seminars, podcasts, and in print. You can connect with Michelle on Twitter (@MichelleLBlack) and Instagram (@CreditWriter).

Is It a Smart Idea to Consolidate Credit Card Debt?

Do you feel like your credit card debt is suffocating you? Are high interest fees taking a huge bite out of your hard-earned money every month? Are you tired of your credit scores being hurt by high credit card utilization rates? If so, the time for action is now.

Once you acknowledge that your credit card debt has gotten out of control, it is time to step back, assess the damage, and come up with a plan of action to fix the problem before it gets any worse.

Step One: Face the Facts

Now that you are ready to begin tackling your credit card debt problem, the first step is to figure out how much debt you actually have. Make a list of your credit card debt, from the card with the highest balance at the top of the list down to the card with the lowest balance at the bottom. Here is an example:

1. Capital One - $5,000
2. Chase - $3,500
3. Citibank - $2,800
4. Discover - $1,200

Step Two: Figure out How Much You Can Afford to Pay

You will still need to maintain at least the monthly minimum payment on each of your credit cards in order to do the bare minimum to protect your credit scores. However, paying the minimum payment isn’t nearly enough. If the minimum payment is all that you pay, you can count on being stuck underneath a pile of credit card debt for a long time – potentially decades!

A good place to start your debt-slashing strategy is to give your budget a good ol’ honest check up. The goal of this checkup is to find out where you may be overspending each month.

Once you have updated your monthly budget (and hopefully decided to weed out some unnecessary spending), you will be able to determine how much “extra” income you can afford to pay toward your credit card debt each month.

Oh yeah, don't forget to shelve your credit card usage so that your balances don't continue to climb during this time. Just don't close the accounts, whatever you do. That can be a big no-no for your credit scores.

Step Three: The Snowball

One option for paying off your credit card debt is the “snowball effect.” Here is how it works.

Begin by paying the minimum payment on all of the credit cards on your list, with the exception of the card with the lowest balance (#4 – Discover in the example above). For the card with the lowest balance you will want to use all of your additional funds and pay the largest payment possible.

Your goal should be to completely pay off the card with the lowest balance first. Next, move up the list to the next card with the lowest remaining balance. Rinse and repeat until every account on your list has been paid in full.

Step Four: Determine If a Consolidation Loan Is Right for You

If you find yourself in a situation where it is going to take a while to pay off your credit card debt, even using the snowball method, it may be time to consider a debt consolidation loan. Here are two great reasons why you might want to use a debt consolidation loan to help tackle credit card debt.

1. First, when you consolidate your revolving credit card accounts into an installment loan, your credit scores will likely increase.
The reason a score increase is likely is because credit scoring models, like FICO and VantageScore, do not treat installment debt the same way they treat revolving debt. A credit card with an outstanding balance has a great potential to harm your credit scores. An installment loan (like a personal loan or a vehicle loan) does not have the same negative effect.

2. The second benefit that comes along with a consolidation loan is that it has the potential to save you money.
Credit card debt is among the most expensive debt most people will ever pay. Interest rates are notoriously high compared with other loans, especially for subprime credit cards. Most debt consolidation loans have a much lower interest rate than your credit card accounts.

Step Five: Do’s and Don’t of Using Consolidation Loans

If you’ve decided that a consolidation loan is right for you, it’s also a good idea to follow these rules of thumb once you’ve decided to pull the trigger and apply for a loan of your own.

1. Don’t charge your credit cards back up once they have been paid off.

You have to determine ahead of time that you will not even allow it to be an option for you to charge up new balances on your credit cards again. This has to be non-negotiable. In fact, it would probably be a good idea for you to lock your credit cards up in a safe place and only use them about once a quarter (in order to maintain some activity on the accounts) until you have thoroughly broken the overspending habit.

2. You should still try to pay off your consolidation loan early.
Just because you consolidate your credit card payments into an installment account does not mean that you should not try to pay the loan off early. Paying extra money onto the principle balance of your consolidation loan each month is still a wise financial strategy to follow.


michelle-black-credit-expert

Michelle Black, Founder of CreditWriter.com and HerCreditMatters.com, is a leading credit expert, author, writer, and speaker with over a decade and a half of experience in the credit industry. She is an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring, identity theft, budgeting, and debt eradication. She is featured monthly at credit seminars, podcasts, and in print. You can connect with Michelle on Twitter (@MichelleLBlack) and Instagram (@CreditWriter).