Credit Score too Low for a Mortgage? Quick Fixes

Thanks to the 2008 housing market meltdown, getting a mortgage these days can be tough. For potential homebuyers with bad credit, the process can be downright difficult.

Lenders, such as banks, use an applicant’s credit score to determine mortgage rates, car loans and other loans. Individuals with a credit score below 700 face having to make concessions in regard to their interest rate and loan amount. But there are some steps would-be homeowners can take to quickly improve their score.

“You can begin impacting your score positively within 30 days,” says FICO spokesman Anthony Sprauve. “Paying bills on time, keeping low balances [on credit cards] and only opening new credit when you need it will positively impact your credit score.”

Industry experts recommend individuals first obtain copies of their credit score from the three credit score providers: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, to ensure there are no errors. If there are inaccuracies, get them corrected as soon as possible.

“Always check your credit report once a year to help avoid any surprises and to make sure the reporting is accurate,” advises Rod Griffin, director of public education at Experian. For people looking to make a home purchase within the next year, Griffin recommends they check their credit report every three to six months to make sure nothing has changed.

Consistently paying bills on time will provide a nice boost to a credit score. According to Sprauve at FICO, a credit score is based on a person’s payment history--the longer bills are paid on time, the higher the score. “As you begin to change that history and the missed or late payments are farther in the rear view mirror, your score will improve,” says Sprauve.

Indeed, according to Griffin, the more recent the missed payment, the more significant the impact. Griffin notes that a credit agency doesn’t consider a payment late until the entire billing cycle is missed--even if a lender has issued late penalties and fines.

People looking for a quick credit boost should not close a credit card account even if they have paid off the entire balance. “It’s better to keep older accounts open to show payment history,” says Sprauve.

Keep in mind that any instability in a buyer’s credit history could hurt a credit score, and in turn, increase the interest rate on a loan. For instance, it’s not smart to open up a new credit card when trying to secure a mortgage. Same goes for closing a credit card. “Stability is really important, which means not making a lot of changes when applying for a mortgage,” says Griffin.

While these steps can help repair a damaged credit score, the time it takes to see the improvement varies. People with severe credit problems face a longer road to rehabilitate their credit. According to Griffin, people who have had only a few delinquencies on their credit score will typically recover in three to six months, but more serious problems can take about a year to repair.