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 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).

5 Ways You Could Accidentally Mess Up Your Mortgage Approval

Home buying can be both an exciting and simultaneously stressful process. Receiving a pre-approval letter from your mortgage loan officer can often be a huge relief. After all, a pre-approval is an important step toward purchasing the home you have been dreaming about. Yet it is important to understand that your pre-approval is not a golden ticket.

Once you are pre-approved for a mortgage, the next step is generally verification (aka underwriting). In this stage of the mortgage approval process you may be required to supply a number of documents to your lender in order to verify your income, employment history, and other information relevant to your loan. Assuming that you are able to pass successfully through the verification process your loan status should move from "pre-approved" to "approved." 

Yet just because a lender has issued you a pre-approval or even an approval does not mean you are guaranteed financing. There are still a number of ways to mess up your loan before your closing date rolls around. Keep reading for a list of 5 ways to mess up your mortgage approval. Hopefully you will be able to learn from the mistakes of others so that you never have to find yourself in the same unfortunate situation.

1. Apply for or Open New Accounts

Even though your credit was checked as part of the pre-approval process, your lender will likely check your three credit reports and scores again prior to closing. Lenders do this in order to be sure you have not experienced a change in "borrower circumstances." If credit or financial changes occur between pre-approval and closing (such as a drop in your credit scores), you could lose your loan.

Applying for or especially opening new accounts is one potential way to kill your mortgage before you ever make it to the closing table. Having your credit pulled by other lenders during this time has the potential to impact your credit scores negatively. Opening new accounts has the same credit damaging potential. Furthermore, when you open a new credit obligation while your mortgage loan is in underwriting, especially a large obligation like an auto loan, you could raise your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio as well. An increase in DTI could financially disqualify you from closing on your loan, even if your credit scores are not an issue.


2. Run Up Your Credit Card Balances

Another potential way to mess up your mortgage closing is to run up your credit card balances. As is the case with opening new accounts, when you run up higher balances on your credit cards you have the potential to both raise your DTI and to lower your credit scores simultaneously. You may not realize it, but your credit card balances have a big influence over your credit scores. As the credit card balances on your reports climb, your credit scores will generally begin to fall - sometimes significantly. In fact, the credit card balances on your reports can have a negative impact upon your credit scores even if you keep your accounts paid on time each and every month.

3. Close a Credit Card Account

When you close a current, positive credit card account that action has the potential to drive your credit scores downward as well. Closing a credit card does not cause you to lose credit for the age of the account (that is a myth), but a freshly closed account could potentially increase the revolving utilization ratios on your credit reports. When your revolving utilization ratio (the connection between your credit card limits and balances) increases, your credit scores are often impacted negatively. If your credit scores fall because of a credit card closure, there is a chance you may no longer qualify for the mortgage you had been approved for previously.

4. Pay Off a Collection

You would think that paying off old collection accounts is always a positive move when it comes to your credit scores. However, due to a deficiency in some of the older FICO credit scoring models which are still used by mortgage lenders, paying off an old collection can sometimes be interpreted as new derogatory activity. As a result, there are instances when paying off an old collection account could actually have a negative impact upon your FICO credit scores. Even if that impact is only temporary, those newly lowered credit scores could be enough to cheat you out of your home loan.

Of course you should not assume that paying legitimate old collections is necessarily a bad idea. However, if you were already approved for a mortgage with those old collections present on your credit reports then you might want to consider waiting until after your home closing before paying or settling any old accounts. (Tip: When the timing is right, it is generally best to settle collection accounts in a single, lump sum payment in order to protect yourself from being sued and to potentially save more money as well.)

5. Make Late Payments

Making late payments on any of your credit obligations while your mortgage is in the underwriting process is a huge mistake, a mistake which could easily put the brakes on your home loan. Over 15 years ago while working in the mortgage industry, I had a client who was moving from out of state to purchase a new home. During the busyness of the move he forgot to make a tiny, $15 credit card minimum payment. That late payment caused his credit scores to drop over 50 points per credit bureau on average and disqualified him from his home loan.

Thankfully, this story has a happy ending. We were able to assist the client in calling his credit card issuer to request a "goodwill removal" of the late payment. Because he had never made any previous late payments on the account his credit card issuer agreed to remove the new 30 day late from his reports as a one-time courtesy.

Once the late was removed and his credit scores rebounded the client's loan officer was able to reschedule his closing date (albeit at a slightly higher rate due to market fluctuations). Yet many people are not so fortunate when it comes to the goodwill removal of a late payment. This credit mistake has caused many people to lose their home loan altogether.

The Takeaway

Just because your three credit reports and scores were checked by your lender prior to receiving your initial pre-approval does not guarantee you the money in hand to purchase your home. Yet if you can avoid the five mistakes above you should have little to worry about, at least from a credit perspective.


About the Author: Michelle Black is an author and leading credit expert with over a decade and a half of experience in the credit industry. She specializes in the areas of 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 here.