Mortgage borrowers today understand the need for a high credit score. You won't have access to the best mortgage rates unless your credit score is 740 or above.
If you're in the market for home loan and simply need to give your score a little boost before submitting your application, experts say there are several things mortgage borrowers can do to push their scores in the direction.
Here are five methods to raise your credit score in a short period of time:
No. 1: Pay down your credit card balance. "People with the highest FICO scores carry balances on their credit cards that are less than 20 percent of their total available credit," says Anthony A. Sprauve, director of public relations for MyFICO.com in San Francisco. "Your balances account for 30 percent of your credit score."
While is it impossible to say exactly how much any one action will improve your score, Rich Arzaga, founder and CEO of Cornerstone Wealth Management in San Ramon, Calif., says, "Paying down debt is an easier and faster way to improve your score than fighting derogatory credit history and it's more in your control."
Michael McNamara, regional vice president of United One Resources in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., which provides rapid rescoring services for mortgage lenders, says you should pay down your debt to less than 30 percent of your credit limit. Transferring a balance from one credit card to another is not likely to improve your score much because total utilization of credit is more important than each individual debt, he says.
No. 2: Fix credit report errors. McNamara says that while every individual is different, he has seen credit scores rise by as much as 100 points after a credit report error has been removed.
"For example, a common item is a medical collection that you don't know about because you thought the insurance company had taken care of the bill," says McNamara. "Sometimes you can have it removed if you can prove it's invalid, and sometimes it can help to pay it and then have it removed."
Remember, legitimate negative information stays on your credit report and will only fade with time.
No. 3: Eliminate disputed accounts. Kevin Quaid, branch manager with Fitzgerald Financial Group, a division of Monarch Bank in Alexandria, Va., says disputed items on your credit report should be removed, particularly if you are applying for a conventional loan guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.
"Fannie Mae says disputed items have to be removed, so the borrower must send a letter to the creditor and the credit bureau that says they are no longer disputing the item," says Quaid. "Freddie Mac puts less weight on this as long as you don't have any late payments."
Disputed accounts appear as a derogatory item to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, said Gail Kullman, a senior loan officer with PrimeLending in Alexandria, Va., in an email. She recommends contacting the creditor directly and asking to have it resolved and removed immediately from your credit report.
No. 4: Use an old credit card or apply for a new one. While you may assume your credit score is high because you don't use credit cards, your score will actually improve if you can prove you use credit wisely. Unused old accounts won't have a positive impact on your score unless you use them occasionally.
"If you have four or five accounts with no activity and then use one and pay off the balance immediately, your score will go up," says McNamara.
McNamara says that while most people should not apply for additional credit when they are applying for a mortgage, some consumers who lack a recent credit history can improve their score by being approved for a new credit card and then using it once.
No. 5: Don't close any accounts. Arzaga says opening new, unnecessary credit cards and closing unused credit card accounts are equally likely to negatively impact your score.
"Closing accounts is not advised, as it looks better to have more credit extended to you than what you are using," said Kullman in an email.
Consumers can utilize these strategies on their own to improve their credit score in a short period of time.
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Michele Lerner, author of "HOMEBUYING: Tough Times, First Time, Any Time", has been writing about personal finance and real estate for more than two decades for a variety of publications and websites including Investopedia, Insurance.com, HSH.com, SavingsAccount.com, National Real Estate Investor magazine, The Washington Times, Urban Land magazine, NAREIT's REIT magazine and numerous Realtor associations.