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Mortgage interest rates are near historic lows. Yet if you want to take advantage of those rates, check your credit score first.
That three-digit number determines whether you can get a mortgage, the type of loan you’ll get, what you’ll pay in interest and potentially how much money you need for a down payment. In this hot housing market, that could make difference in your success.
Credit scores range from 300 to 850. A good score is 670 to 739, very good is 740 to 799, and 800 and up is considered excellent, according to FICO, a leading credit-scoring company.
Homebuyers who took out mortgages in the fourth quarter of 2020 had a median score of 786, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
If you don’t measure up, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are shut out of the market. You can take several moves to improve your score.
You are allowed one free credit report a year from the three main credit-scoring companies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. You can reach out to each directly or you can access them through annualcreditreport.com.
Not only should you know your score, you should also make sure there are no mistakes or unintended skeletons in your closet, like a missed payment you forgot about.
Pulling your report before you apply for a mortgage or preapproval, ideally a few months in advance, will give you time to correct any issues.
Lenders will look at whether you have high balances on credit cards.
Even if you pay your credit card bills in full each month, you may still have a high utilization rate.
For example, if you make $3,000 in purchases and have a $5,000 limit, you are using 60% of your available credit. Try to keep it below 30%, Rossman said. Those with the best credit scores keep it below 10%.
Making an extra payment in the middle of the billing cycle can help knock the balance down before the statement comes out.
You can boost your credit with alternative solutions, which count bills that don’t normally go onto your credit report. However, they may not work for government-backed mortgages.
If you are looking to purchase a home, hold off on any other big-ticket items, like a car. Also, don’t open or close any credit cards until after the mortgage is approved, Rossman suggested.
“It is a sensitive time in your financial life,” he said. “Lenders don’t want to see anything weird.”