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By Tara-Nicholle Nelson | Broker in San Francisco, CA

6 Quick Fixes for Your Credit Score

Q:  What do you advise a financially fit homebuyer to do to increase their credit score or make themselves more attractive buyers, to qualify for the lowest mortgage rates?

A FICO score of 700 (FHA)/740 (Conventional) or better qualifies you for the lowest rates. In fact, it qualifies you just as well as a higher score, so if you’re at or over 700/740, there’s no loan qualification rationale for investing effort into boosting it.  But these are firm breaking points. The difference between a score of 698 and a score of 700 (in an FHA loan scenario) can cost you a quarter of a point in interest, or thousands of dollars over the life of your mortgage.

I’ve found that people asking about how to boost their credit to qualify for the best interest rates is similar to people asking me how to lose weight: I tell them the truth, then their eyes glaze over when I give them the straight dope, no magic bullets.  No one wants to hear: eat vegetables, cut the sugar, and exercise; similarly, they don’t want to hear pay your bills on time, every time.

But I’ve been asked this question a lot recently, so here goes, anyway!

1.    Pull your reports online – get them for free, no strings attached, at the government authorized website AnnualCreditReport.com.  This doesn’t get you your actual FICO scores, but it does get you the content of your report. Look for errors that could be depressing your score, like accounts that don’t belong to you, balances that are actually lower than reported, old debts that are paid off that should have been removed entirely (7 years for credit cards, 10 for bankruptcies).

2.      Consider reopening accounts you thought were open but have been closed because you haven’t used them in so long - it will help boost your utilization ratio, one element of your credit score that is dependent on how much available credit you have.

3.      Pay down some debt.  This both decreases your debt-to-income ratio (36% is the goal, including the proposed mortgage payment) and increases your credit score, if you do it right (see the next tip).

4.     Don’t close any accounts.  Instead, spread your debt out. The ideal utilization ratio is about 20-30% of your available credit overall, and on any given account.  Closing accounts reduces the amount of credit that is available to you, so it makes it look like you’re closer to being maxed out.

So if you have one card that’s near its max and several others that have zero balances and you’re trying boost your score a bit, quickly, consider balance transfers to spread our your debt more evenly, aiming for 20-30% of the available credit on each card.

5.     Use your credit regularly – and pay it on time, every time:  Having a good FICO score doesn't happen because you have sound personal finances, including no debt. FICO scores are a measure that shows that you have a history of responsibly using and managing and repaying your debt on an ongoing basis.

6.      Finally, check in with your mortgage broker.  Have them pull your report and score, as the report they pull is the one they’ll have to go by in the final analysis.  If you’re really close to a score level higher, that would empower you to qualify for a lower rate, they can actually run a credit diagnostic on your score and generate some recommendations for which actions you could take to raise your score by the needed few points. Then many of them can do what’s called a ‘Rapid Rescore’ – once you’ve paid that bill off, they can actually submit a request directly to the credit bureaus to update that information and your score in just a few days.

None of these tips will get someone with a 500 credit score to a 700 (other than a massive debt reduction program).  But if you’re trying to get a little boost to get you over a credit score hump, these can be potent, and save you beaucoup bucks in interest.

Psst - you should follow Trulia and Tara on Facebook, too!


By Sarah Padgett,  Mon Aug 23 2010, 13:43
Great Blog!!
By Alicia Mendoza,  Mon Aug 23 2010, 19:08
thanks for sharing! do you have any advice for those whose credit has been affected by short sales? curious to know what other measures they can take in order to get their score up.
By Derrick Allison,  Tue Aug 24 2010, 14:02
Great TARA
thanks for the great tips everyone can use!
By Terry Bell,  Tue Aug 24 2010, 19:51
Good ideas as most people do think that paying off cards will help their credit. Just wanted to add that what I have done is I have paid off all my store accts like Target, Macys, Kohls etc. BUT, I alternate or rotate buying one thing for under $50 from each so that they do not close the account. If you don't use a card for six months or a year, they will close it, not sure if you've moved. So instead of buying groceries at Safeway, buy $50 from Target, then next month buy from a different store. The trick is to not buy anything that you wouldn't have bought with your checking account anyway!
By Tara-Nicholle Nelson,  Tue Aug 24 2010, 21:11
Good idea and "trick", Terry - have seen so many financially savvy people surprised to find accounts closed and their credit affected.
By Janet M. Nation,  Tue Aug 24 2010, 21:19
Alecia, the credit advice would be the same although they may not be able to buy again for up to 4 years depending on the type of situation and state and type of loan.
By Bryan Watkins,  Wed Aug 25 2010, 09:16
We have had a client who need to jump his credit score...open a new savings account and get a 10 point FICO score jump in a few weeks. It always helps to be proactive.
By Najat Masri,  Wed Aug 25 2010, 16:07
It is a great Blog. I have few clients will benefit from your advise
By Tara-Nicholle Nelson,  Wed Aug 25 2010, 16:13
@Bryan Watkins - really? That's certainly easy enough!
@Alicia - their issue might not be credit score, per se, so much as the fact that many lenders and loan guidelines just impose a hard 2 year + no-finance period after a short sale, no matter what their credit score is! That time gives them a great opportunity to rent and pay down the rest of their consumer debt. On time, every time.
By Mike Bodeen,  Wed Aug 25 2010, 16:38
I was not aware of the Rapid Rescore. Thanks.
By Mathew,  Wed Aug 25 2010, 18:10
There seems to be an error in the first line: " A FICO score of 700 or better qualifies you for the highest rates"
I am sure the author meant "best" or "lowest" rates instead of "highest" rates
By Tara-Nicholle Nelson,  Wed Aug 25 2010, 20:51
@Mathew - yep - I stand corrected! (and so does the article).
By Clipperskipper,  Thu Aug 26 2010, 04:54
There are so many variables in order to get that "carrot rate" advertised on Zillow. As far as qualifying, the new 720 Fico is now 760, and loan to value less than 60%. You'll also need to pay down at least one point to see that rate.
By Jane Sullivan,  Thu Aug 26 2010, 05:02
I didn't know about point # 4. Within the last year, I was notified by the major bank that held my mastercard account that my interest rate would change from 12.9% to 29%. The explaination was that the economy force a change across the board. I carried a $10,000+ balance and could keep my old rate if I closed the account. So I did it. It dropped my score below 700. The only way I can pay it off in full is to borrow against my retirement. Would it help?
By John H. Douglas,  Thu Aug 26 2010, 05:02
Thanks for the information very helpful will pass this along to others.
By Susan Fritz,  Thu Aug 26 2010, 05:11
Great thoughts - I am going to send to all of my prospects - maybe it will motivate them to check their credit & take the time to get their score up!!!
By Donna Chorey,  Thu Aug 26 2010, 05:18
I have been told by a local lender here in Las Cruces that after a short sale, you have to wait a year before applying for another mortgage. Of course you have to keep your other credit current and pay everything else on time. Has anyone seen what the credit report actually says after a short sale. I am told it could say numerous things such as "negotiated settlement", which certainly doesn't sound as bad as foreclosure or deed in lieu of.
Donna Chorey, Associate Broker in Las Cruces,NM 575-640-1332
By Harold Arnold,  Thu Aug 26 2010, 05:20
By Imeldacs,  Thu Aug 26 2010, 05:56
How do I get a FREE credit SCORE with no strings attached? I already have a credit REPORT but I am really interested to know how love my SCORE IS!!
By Susana Field Rangely RealtyGal,  Thu Aug 26 2010, 06:59
I thought there was a difference in rates going all the way up into the 800s.

Also thought one should limit number of cards to 4 or 5, with it being very important to keep the oldest cards to show history.

My personal gripe is that I'm not rewarded in my score for paying my cards off every month!

Thanks Tara. I love your posts.

Susana Field, The Steamboat Gal
Steamboat Springs CO
By Oc Buyer,  Thu Aug 26 2010, 07:05
It's not true that a 700 score will get you the best rate conventional loans cost less and have the best rates for scores of 760 and up. 740 is the next tier and then 720. FHA is less price/rate sensititve for really high scorets. but I believe even their high score max is 720.
By Sonya Burnett,  Thu Aug 26 2010, 07:06
I have not found a website where you can get a "free" credit score, but you can get a free report at http://www.freeannualcreditreport.com If you want a credit score, I think it costs $7.95. That is just from one agency. And they don't make you sign up for 30 days and the option to cancel in 30 days. i'm bad about cancelling something in 30 days so I don't do deals like that. At least with this website there really are "no strings attached".
By Jim Simms,  Thu Aug 26 2010, 07:18
Very good advice, I agree with all 6 points!

The only thing I question is the statement about credit scores above 700, there are three tiers on conventional loans in my area above 700. My shop is by far the largest originator in the local metro area. We also broker a few loans to a large Midwest investor and I checked their rates for a much larger region and found the same thing on their sheet. Both of us have seven tiers on conventional loans, 700 to 719 is actually tier 3 and that band also contains 5 loan-to-value factors. It is possible the hits are lower in your area but I am under the impression they are universal and dictated by Fannie or Freddie. I think they set the minimum hits but lenders may be allowed to increase them if necessary, would appreciate any insight if other lenders do not agree.

The difference on my rate sheet from 700 to 740 could be as much as one point, which is cost not interest rate. On a loan of $400,000 that would equal a $4,000 increase in closing cost to keep the rate the same. I believe this is a very good incentive for increasing a 700 credit score if you live in my part of the country.
The other way of looking at it as used in your answer is an increase in rate of 3/8% based on my rate sheet from yesterday. On the same loan amount that equals a difference in payment over the life of the loan of $32,000+ which is another good reason.
By Lisa,  Thu Aug 26 2010, 07:42
To get a free credir report with no-strings attached it with:


You get one free look/print/save a year but you will have to pay a few $$ to look at the actual score, but you can dispute anything that is not correct. They send you an email when the dispute is settled. You get to look at all 3 credit bureaus.
By Ron Wouters,  Thu Aug 26 2010, 07:48
With the amount of people with problems buying homes i think the market needs someone(a national company,or banks who have REO propertys) who well lease with option to own,now its very hard to find someone who does it.All these empty propertys arent doing anyone any good.
By Robert M Bragg,  Thu Aug 26 2010, 07:50
My wife and I are totally out of debt...I'd like to see how that has lowered our score. Can we pull a credit report on our own to show a FICO score, or do we have to go through a mortgage company?
By Brion Crum,  Thu Aug 26 2010, 07:57
A company in Arizona, Ironwood Associates, has software that can help a client repair their credit themselves instead of paying a potentially disreputable credit repair firm hundreds of dollars. Their website is http://www.ironwoodcredit.com
By Tara-Nicholle Nelson,  Thu Aug 26 2010, 08:19
Hi, all - AWESOME, very substantive feedback. Thanks.

At the time I wrote this, I did check with my mortgage sources. 740 was the ideal score for conventional, 700 for FHA - but - at the time, FHA and Conventional rates were actually running neck and neck. Obviously, FHA is more universally accessible due to the down payment issue, which is the number one issue otherwise qualified buyers are struggling with right now.

So, I'd have to agree with @JimSimms that with the most recent change to the FICO algorithm, there are some times/situations when 740 CAN be incrementally more desirable in terms of rates.

One good reason EVERYONE should be checking out their reports and scores - even if you've already been told you have a "great" score!
By Dawn Nelson,  Thu Aug 26 2010, 08:36
Great article. I will share with my clients. We are seeing a tough time getting our clients all the way through the loan process. They get preapproved, but then when it's time to close the bank requires more money up front or more repairs, or something the else buyer or seller is required to do. Many grow frustrated and decide to walk away completely. I see credit reporting/scoring reform much needed. The rating practices benefit the credit issuers instead of reflecting someone's financial responsibility and ability to pay back what they need to borrow. I know we have to work with the rules as they are. To encourage someone to keep accounts open they don't need, to use credit they don't need, and to spread their credit limits out over a few cards (each with a payment, and each with perhaps less favorable credit terms) versus one credit card are clearly financial strategies that are more profitable for the credit issuers versus the individual being rated.
By Linda Sloss,  Thu Aug 26 2010, 08:44
When you request your credit report, just do so from one of the 3 agencies. That way, every 4 months you can get a new credit report from one of the other 2. Each agency allows only 1 report from them annually. So spreading out your requests allows you to keep an eye on your status throughout the year.
By Linda Sloss,  Thu Aug 26 2010, 08:50
I agree with Dawn. The credit card issuers and the loan providers are using their rules to gouge their customers. They have no interest in "good customer service". I asked Visa, which has my interest rate at 29.9% if there was a way I could lower the rate. They told me that I would have to close the account and issue to them a hardship letter, showing that I was in dire straits. I can't see how that would improve my credit worthiness.
By Camille Victour,  Thu Aug 26 2010, 09:36
I checked out Ironwood credit and the website does not exist. But this bit did come up....apparently the guy has left for parts unknown....http://www.ripoffreport.com/Credit-Debt-Services/Ironwood-Lending-Mic/ironwood-lending-michael-brown-ea67c.htm
By Mildred Valentin ( Bronx #1),  Thu Aug 26 2010, 09:58
Awesome, all this information is great to have. Homebuyers appreciate all the information agents can give them as well.


Mildred Valentin
By Molly Thompson,  Thu Aug 26 2010, 10:44
What do you tell a client whose AMEX or Cap1 card (which she's used for 20-some years) has the high credit limit cut in half, when she was carrying a 50% balance, so it's now a 90+% balance, dropping her score dramatically... they said it was because of "too many inquiries" and they were the ones inquiring? Seems so wrong that they can have such a huge negative effect for no apparent reason... My answer was to spread load out over more cards, but that will take time to fix the damage...

Great Blog!
By Live Love Realty,  Thu Aug 26 2010, 11:11
great post, I will be sharing it.
By April Neuhaus E PRO and SFR,  Thu Aug 26 2010, 11:25
When you go to the http://www.annualcreditreport.com website - realize that you will not see your score - as indicated above, and that they try to bait you to pay by not giving you your credit report right away - you have to wait two days to get the email that will allow you to see it. They will make you wait the full two days - but then it will show up with a link you can use to access your free credit report. So be patient and you will be able to see your report for free. : )
By Ebwilliams,  Thu Aug 26 2010, 16:39
@Jane Sullivan, regarding your cc account due with the hike in APR - call up your credit card company again. With the new regulations passed, you should be able to keep your APR at the rate it was frozen at, and use your card. It is worth the call.
By Chris Casperson,  Thu Aug 26 2010, 18:30
Great post! Very informative and i will definitely book mark this for future reference.
By Tiffany,  Thu Aug 26 2010, 19:08
For a free credit report and a free score, there is a great website, Quizzle.com. Hope this helps,
By Gil Yanez,  Thu Aug 26 2010, 20:47
Chase.com and Discover card offer great services to view scores. Check them out.
By Voices Member,  Thu Aug 26 2010, 22:29
By Beat The System,  Thu Aug 26 2010, 23:58
I have tons of bills, and i don't care, the only thing a credit score is good for is buying a house or car, "thats it"
I owe $36,000 in credit cards..and i'm happy that they ain't getting a dime..If everyone did the same we would not have a credit score ?? think about it !! the entire system runs on how the banks feel they should treat you.
Well guess what, I beat the system.. Never paid one bill, and never will, after 3 years it's all wrote off any way..you are better riding it out...
By Beat The System,  Fri Aug 27 2010, 00:01
Never fill out a credit report "free credit" form. as soon as you do when you owe money, they now know where you are, and you WILL start getting letters from the collectors.. This free credit score garbage is a scam to track people down that owe money..
By Rob Dandrea,  Fri Aug 27 2010, 05:56
Very helpful. Thanks for the blog.
By Joe Huntington,  Fri Aug 27 2010, 07:58
When you chose to lock in rate instead of taking a 20% increase they reward you by lowering the amount you available as you pay off your balance keeping you at 90-95% until the account is payed off and closed even though you have always paid you bill ontime for 20 plus years.
By Corri Klebaum,  Sun Aug 29 2010, 11:35
Informative post, Clipperskipper and OCbuyer are right however about the tiers at 720,740 and 760. Also I would recommend using caution when spreading your debt out among cards and make sure you don't hurt your debt ratios. I have also used this trick... opt out from the credit offers online. This will stop the credit bureaus from selling your information and get you close to 10 points better, not to mention help lower your risk of ID theft and save a tree with the end of the junk mail.

By Melissa Improta,  Mon Aug 30 2010, 15:31
Great information. There are always misconceptions regarding credit. Thanks!
By Randy Dodd,  Tue Aug 31 2010, 18:39
cool, thanks that was some very useful info, I had a credit check done about two or three weeks ago.
By Mhillsrps,  Tue Aug 31 2010, 21:54
My wife and I are trying to buy our first home. I am 6 points away from the score I need for the loan I want! When I checked my report (for the first time in years) I found several issues. I have accounts on there that I never opened and court judgements that never happened. I am going to dispute them tomorrow and try to get them fixed. We have paid off all our cards and one car loan but didn't know we shouldn't close the cards. We now have a great debt to income ratio but no credit to build up. How quickly will the disputes be fixed? Our lease is up at the beginning of November and we want to stop renting. If we go month to month our rent goes up $245 and I don't want to pay it. Any advice on what else I could do or on how long the corrections will take? I don't want to rush into buying a home when waiting for these to be fixed could save us $1000's on the life of the loan but I also don't want to pay the month to month rate at our apt. Thanks in advance!
By Aaron Mtuanwi,  Thu Sep 2 2010, 05:08
Good info to share
By Karen Young,  Thu Sep 2 2010, 06:12
Knowing it takes 10 years to recover for bankruptcies, what is your best advice to start rebuilding credit. I've heard from one lender that I should advise clients that being a second on someone elses credit is one easy way of getting a jump on your credit score an example would be like becoming a second on your parents or siblings account.
By Sean Polley,  Thu Sep 2 2010, 06:43
Good stuff!
By Helen Oliveri,  Thu Sep 2 2010, 06:50
Excellent tips Tara!
By Andrew Betancourt,  Thu Sep 2 2010, 07:14
This credit score, FiCA, scheming and manipulations are what got American into trouble. When I sold property the boss had us contact buyers 6 months to 1 year later to see if they wanted to sell and upgrade. My folks lived in their house over 50 years before they died. I have been in my house 37 years. This just kills real estate people who can't make money unless you move on and upward. Well folks, welcome to the economic meltdown. Instead of playing with credit scores and limits, why not save your money and pay cash for things that you need, not what you want. So much of this credit is based on impulsed buying. Its called the "bigger fool theory"
By Stenogirl,  Thu Sep 2 2010, 08:23
I agree with Andrew. I'm opting out of this FICO crap because they're stupid algorithm is completely the opposite of what my financial situation is. My only debt is a 50k student loan which I've never defaulted on, but since I don't have much paid on it, it looks like I have a maxed out credit card with a 50k balance. I'm being penalized for getting an education and paying the loan on time! I don't want a credit card, and I don't think I should be forced to get one just to raise my fake score. Just think if you paid cash for everything how much money would be in your pocket and not the scheming banks. Why should I pay them? I'm going to pay myself. I will never finance another car, and I'm saving my money to pay cash for a house. Ahhh, no rent, mortgage, credit card or car payment.
By Intoci John,  Thu Sep 2 2010, 08:24
it is very important for any american to be carreful with the mony,so we protect our credit score and pay less for what we buy ,so be carreful and dilligent with the finances your American friend John
By Karen Colbert,  Thu Sep 2 2010, 13:04
Be careful about reopening accounts that could be considered opening a new account which would hurt your score. Old credit is good, new credit is bad.
By Sallen123,  Thu Sep 2 2010, 13:24
stenogirl, i am in same situation (but a higher balance), and I completely agree with you!! my only debt is student loan, and yet we are punished for NOT using and abusing credit cards. no one ever has advice on this issue - articles and advice columns about raising your credit score only focus on taking care of the credit card debt you've run up (i have none), or finding potential identity theft issues. what about legitimate loans, like student loans - how do you improve your score when you're saddled with enormous student loan debt and you are underemployed due to a rough economy, so can't pay it down any faster... ? Now, that's some advice I would welcome...
By Sean Nickle,  Thu Sep 2 2010, 15:25
By very careful of credit advise. A lot people believe they have a good understanding of credit and how it effects your FICO score but the truth is it is a very misunderstood industry. To better understand the credit system and how FICO really works there is a great book recently published called, "Revealed, The Truth About Credit". If you want to know the insiders secrets to credit, I highly recommend this book. To get the e-book go to http://expertcreditrepair.net/ and type in the promo code "seancredit" to download it for free. I have learned in life that it is always better to get advise from the experts and this book is from a credit expert.
By Deuce,  Thu Sep 2 2010, 19:10
I work at a major bank. We are doing everything to help people increase their credit scores so that can start loaning again. Two things to do: 1. Clean credit by disputing everything on your credit report. (They have 30 days to respond, if not, they are removed). 2. Build Credit by securing a bank loan from your own cash in a CD. (Low rates and will effect your credit like a small mortgage once paid off.) These are the best way to get you where you need to be relatively quickly.
By Sandy Horn,  Fri Sep 3 2010, 08:13
The article is good overall, we all have to play the game if we want to be able to borrow for anything. As much as it would be nice to be able to pay all cash, it's not always an option for most people. My concern on the article is the "spread the balance out over a few cards". My understanding is that your credit score can take anywhere from a 10-50 point drop when you transfer balances between cards! I have to agree that the credit card companies seem to be the winners in this situation, I firmly believe that there should be different scoring for paying your mortgage vs paying your credit cards. We were carrying three mortgages, paying all on time; but were late on a few credit card payments and we have been slammed to the ground on our credit score. In the current credit weather, it would seem, I took as much of a decrease in score for late credit card payments as someone who walked away from their mortgage. To me something is wrong with that system.
By Peter Dolci,  Sat Sep 4 2010, 06:11
Gee nice advice for the second time under a new heading. But pewople reading it for the first time should be impressed.
By David Nuss,  Sat Sep 4 2010, 21:30
Great information!
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By Diane Lees,  Mon Sep 6 2010, 00:31
Really great information. My son is a loan specialist with one of our area's top lenders. He often runs across borrowers who want to become pre-approved for a loan but their credit score is below the acceptable guidelines. He has "credit repair" software that he uses to try and bring up their scores. It also involves the things you mentioned in your blog and them paying off outstanding (car) loans or balances on smaller cards and calling the credit reporting agencies to get a questionable item resolved. It can take a few weeks, but many times he manages to raise their scores enough to get a loan.
By Michelle Tucker,  Mon Sep 6 2010, 19:59
Great information for consumers. The replies where even more interesting. I am surprised no one bashed out how to beat the system.
By Larry Tollen,  Tue Sep 7 2010, 03:31
Good advice that I'll share with my clients. Thanks for the information.
By Drew Foma'i,  Fri Sep 10 2010, 23:14
Great information for our respective buyers. They will need it especially for first time buyers. Besides Annualcreditreport.com, you can write a letter (I know, it's old school of thought) or call the 800# to the Big 3 and request the report, if you have time. Everyone is entitled to a yearly credit report from the Big 3 and it's free but it may take 30 days in order to receive it. Thank you Tara for the post. Cheers!
By Rosemary Bronson,  Fri Sep 10 2010, 23:31
I think it's all for the credit card companies! We had 3 car payments, 7 cc's and then we couldn't afford a mortgage!
Now, for nine years, one cc,paid, no other credit, renting the same house for 9 years with on time payments and get turned down through underwriters!!! You can't win for losing!!!! We thought we were doing very well. Paying cash for our cars, furniture, etc. And we get punished for it? America is not what it was! Shame on you!
By Lisa Eagle,  Thu Sep 16 2010, 12:34
Great tips. thx
By John Perkins,  Thu Sep 16 2010, 17:35
I have a good credit history and only a little debt which I always pay off monthly. However, and this is a BIG however, most of my good credit history has been accrued while I've lived overseas. As an American citizen who lives overseas, I cannot get a credit report through the usual agencies (why, I have no idea). Evidently, they are not allowed to issue credit scores to overseas residents. Is there a way I can get a credit report while living overseas? Also, because so much of my credit history is while I've been abroad, would it even show up on a credit report. Any advice would be most appreciated.
By James,  Sat Nov 6 2010, 15:54

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