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The do's and don'ts, how to prime your credit score before you house hunt

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Posted: Wednesday, April 23, 2014 5:00 pm | Updated: 1:32 am, Thu May 1, 2014.

(BPT) - Spring is traditionally the busiest home-buying season of the year. And this year, with the housing market and economy finally starting to show signs of resurgence, many consumers are looking to buy. But although location, school district and the size of the home are important, many people overlook one of the most important factors of the home buying process – their credit scores.

In fact, many people still don’t realize that lenders review credit scores when making decisions about the availability and pricing of credit, this according to a 2013 survey conducted by the Consumer Federation of America and VantageScore Solutions, a credit score model developer.

If you are hoping to get into the real estate market this spring, follow these tips to help you improve your credit score the right way:

* Reduce your credit card balances. If you’re looking to improve your credit scores quickly and legitimately, reducing your existing credit card debt is a great first step. According to VantageScore Solutions, its best to keep credit card balances at less than 30 percent of the maximum amount of credit allowed.

* Check that the info that appears in your credit files is accurate and up-to-date. You don’t want to miss out on a great loan because of an error in your credit reports. Be sure you check your reports at all three national credit reporting companies, which are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, because most mortgage lenders will pull all three of your credit reports and credit scores. Consumers are entitled by Federal law to receive a copy of each of their credit reports once every 12 months at www.annualcreditreport.com.

* Understand the reasons why your scores aren’t higher. When you receive your credit score disclosure notice, reason codes appear along with your credit scores, and they detail why your credit score isn’t higher. You can learn more about these reason codes and how to improve your credit score at the new consumer education website ReasonCode.org.

While these are good strategies for score improvement, make sure to also avoid these pitfalls:

* Taking on any new debt just before or during the underwriting period. Keep in mind that lenders may pull a credit report and score more than once during the mortgage approval process including just before closing on the loan. Buying a new boat or car during this time could impact the total amount of debt you owe. Credit score models factor the amount of debt you owe into your credit score. Additionally, owing more debt on new loans will impact your debt-to-income ratio. While your debt-to-income ratio is not a part of your credit score, it will be considered by your mortgage lender. If you are planning to apply for a mortgage or refinance, hold off on that new car or boat until after you have closed your home loan.

* Soliciting credit repair services. You’ll find numerous services on the Internet that say they can help you “repair” your credit quickly. These should be avoided. They often over-promise and under-deliver. Federal laws prohibit credit repair companies from charging fees upfront, and consumer advocates agree that you should think twice before paying these companies to do what you can do on your own and at no cost.

Remember, improving your credit score, like many other things in life, requires hard work, dedication and discipline but if you stick to the plan you’ll see the benefits in the end.

To get a true picture of your credit status, it’s best to review your credit reports and credit scores from multiple sources. Test your knowledge about credit scores at http://www.CreditScoreQuiz.org, which was created by VantageScore Solutions along with its partner, Consumer Federation of America. Both the online quiz and a corresponding brochure are available in Spanish at www.creditscorequiz.org/Espanol.

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