Good Credit: Myths and Facts

When it comes to offering home loans to prospective homebuyers, lenders often provide more favorable terms to borrowers with good credit—because for them, good credit means less risk. Your credit score helps lenders determine the likelihood of whether you will pay your mortgage payments, and pay them on time. The most common credit score is the Fair Isaac and Company score (FICO). A FICO score considers a huge amount of credit history, including how many real estate loans and car loans a person has. It reviews credit card information: outstanding balances, whether you pay your cards off each month, and how close they are to the maximum credit limit. The score also reviews how recently and frequently your credit check has been run, and whether closed accounts were closed based on customer requests or vendor requests.

There are decisions you can make that have the potential to affect your credit score. Here are a few to be aware of.

Oddly enough, just having your credit score checked by a potential lender will affect the score. If you inquire about your own credit, this is called a “soft pull” and it does not affect your score; however, if others check your credit, it may cause a little damage. According to myfico.com, when you apply for credit, you authorize those lenders to ask for a copy of your credit report from a credit bureau. When you later check your credit, those credit inquiries are listed (sometimes along with others). The only inquiries that count toward your FICO scores are the ones that result from your applications for new credit.

Closing old or inactive accounts to help your score could shorten the measured duration of your credit history. This is a bad move. As long as you’ve paid in a timely manner and do not have an outstanding balance, old accounts simply show you have a history of taking care of business. This is good for your credit score. If at some point you got behind and were sent to collections, make sure you clean up those negative accounts. Unfortunately, paying off a negative account doesn’t erase it from your record (it usually remains on file for seven years), but it is far better than allowing it to continue to harm your financial reputation.

If you have a grown son or daughter (or any friend or relative) who may have had some credit trouble, be aware that if you co-sign on a loan for them, you are responsible for that account. If they default on the loan, the bank will come to you for payment. I realize this may sound obvious, but some folks are under the misimpression that co-signing is like a vote of confidence that makes the lender feel good about lending to this high-risk borrower. It is far more:  it is a financial guarantee that you may actually have to make good on in the future. And if your friend doesn’t pay on time it may impact your credit score.

As you consider how to build a strong credit score, making on-time rental, utility and cell phone payments isn’t actually all that helpful. It’s a good idea, anyway, but what really helps your credit score is not getting sent to collections for missed payments. While your score will incorporate your financial history, it is only a snapshot. It is like a home appraisal – its value is only good for that point in time. The good news about this is: if your credit score is not as high as you’d like, you can change it. The bad news is: if it is as high as you’d like, it may not remain there.

 

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or visit www.realtyworldselzer.com. If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.