Wondering how to improve your credit score? Sure, it’s easy to fall in love with the idea of buying a home. You’ve got it all planned out: a five-bedroom home in your favorite neighborhood with a manicured lawn and—why not?—a nice pool.
But if you’re going to get a mortgage (and let’s face it, most homebuyers do), you’ll likely need to improve your credit score, also called a FICO score—a simplified calculation of your history of paying back debts and making regular payments on loans. If you’re borrowing money to buy a home, lenders want to know you’ll pay themback in a timely manner, and a credit score is an easy estimate of those odds.
Here’s your crash course on this all-important little number, and how to whip it into the best home-buying shape possible.
Pull your credit report
There are three major U.S. credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion), and each releases its own credit scores and reports (a more detailed history that’s used to determine your score). Their scores should be roughly equivalent, although they do pull from different sources. For example, Experian considers on-time rent payments while TransUnion has detailed information about previous employers.
To access these scores and reports, financial planner Bob Forrest of Mutual of Omaha recommends using AnnualCreditReport.com, where you can get a free copy of your report every 12 months from each credit-reporting company. It doesn’t include your credit score, though—you’ll have to go to each company for that, and pay a small fee.
Or check with your credit card company: Some, including Discover and Capital One, offer free access to scores and reports, says Michael Chadwick, owner of Chadwick Financial Advisors in Unionville, CT. Once you’ve got your report, thoroughly review it page by page, particularly the “adverse accounts” section that details late payments and other slip-ups.
Assess where you stand