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With collection accounts, most of the damage is done when they are initially placed on your credit report. Some collection companies are now reporting you are late each month the debt goes unpaid. This continues to drag on many people’s credit scores each month until the debt is paid in full. Until you do that, your credit score has little chance of improving.
In exchange for paying the collection account in full, you can try to negotiate to have them completely remove the derogatory item once the payment is received. Some collection agencies will do this, while others will not. You will just have to ask each one and see. If they will not remove it, just having it paid and closed will help in the long run.
All liens and judgments will also need to be paid in full. These impact the title position of a mortgage so they must be satisfied.
It is very important that you be VERY careful in disputing accounts. You cannot dispute accounts which you know to be accurate. For a mortgage, you cannot have an active and open account that has a disputed status. Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac/HUD all have very specific guidelines to be following when a borrower has an account in a disputed status. In some cases, it could cause you not to be able to qualify.
To build positive credit, you typically need to have 2-3 trade lines reporting for 12-24 months. There should be no late payments or other derogatory items reported in the last 12-24 months. On your Revolving credit accounts, your outstanding balance on your monthly statement should not exceed 30% of the credit limit.