Woman paying at register

It’s no secret that credit is a very important part of qualifying for a mortgage.

In fact, for the most part, there are four things that will dictate if you qualify for a mortgage and how much mortgage you qualify for: credit, income, assets and debt.

It’s pretty simple: the higher your credit score, the lower your mortgage rate. Lower mortgage rates translate to lower interest payments. So the higher your credit score, the less interest you’ll pay on your mortgage. In other words, a higher credit score will save you money.

That’s why we created our latest guide, Understanding and Managing Credit 101, as part of our Zing Education Series. We want to provide you with the information and tools you’ll need to keep great credit and qualify for the best possible mortgage rates.

What is Credit?

If credit is an entirely new term to you, here’s a good way to think about it. Your credit is like your own financial track record. It’s a record of your financial history and how well you’ve managed your finances in the past. Your credit cards, car loans, how much debt you have, any unpaid bills or missed payments – everything’s in there.

Why is your credit so important when applying for a mortgage? Simply put, before lending you money, mortgage companies want to have confidence in your ability and willingness to pay back a loan. They base that confidence on how you’ve managed your finances in the past – which will all be reflected in your credit report. Your interest rate depends on your credit record, or how good your credit is. The better your credit record, the lower your interest rate.

What Determines My Credit?

Ultimately you and your financial habits determine your credit. A credit bureau, or credit reporting agency, is a company that collects information regarding an individual’s credit report, and makes it available to lenders, financial institutions, and more. The report details specific account information, including the date the account was opened/closed, credit limits, loan amounts, balances, and monthly payments. Also included are late payment records, bankruptcies, liens, and collection agency attempts to collect past-due amounts. Each agency may have different information regarding your credit, which is why monitoring your report for errors is very important.

There are three main credit bureaus, or reporting agencies:

  • Equifax: Equifax.com, (866) 349-5191
    • Experian: Experian.com, (888) 397-3742
    • TransUnion: TransUnion.com, (800) 916-8800

For access to your complete credit report and score, visit QLCredit.com, an online tool designed to help you manage your credit and debt.

Who Sees My Credit Report?

Your credit report contains all of your credit history, so it is of most interest to lenders and creditors.

Why?

Lenders review your credit history to determine if you’re a good candidate to lend money to, and whether you’re likely to pay it back. That’s why it’s so important to maintain good credit.

What’s a Credit Score?

A woman is focusing on her work outside the building

A credit score attempts to condense a borrower’s credit history into a single number ranging from 300 (a poor credit score) to 850 (an excellent credit score). The better your financial track record, the higher your score; a poor financial history will result in a lower number. In essence, the score tells lenders how likely you are to pay your bills. That’s why this number will help Quicken Loans determine if you’re a good candidate for a home loan.

Check Your Credit Report

Are there any inaccuracies on your credit report? How close are you to paying off all of your debt accounts? How has your score changed over the years? Head over to QLCredit.com, and sign up for an account today to check your complete credit report!

FICO

Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO) takes millions of anonymous credit reporting data from each of the three credit bureaus and calculates a score for each agency. FICO also uses your credit report data to create industry-specific scores for lenders to view. All of the FICO score variations are made to give lenders an idea of how reliable you are when it comes to loan repayment.

VantageScore ®

VantageScore is a generic scoring model created by the three credit reporting agencies. The model creates a scoring formula so that more consistent credit scores across all the agencies are provided to lenders and consumers. Scores range from 300-850.

What Determines Your Credit Score?

Woman in a cafe having problems with the credit card

Want to know how your score is calculated? Here are the factors that make up your credit score.

35%: Timely Bill Pay

Do you make your payments on time, or do your bills find their way to a kitchen drawer until you pay them later? And if you do wait to make your payments, how long do you wait? Thirty days? Sixty days? Ninety days? The amount of time your credit accounts sit unpaid has the most impact on your score. However, an overall good credit picture can outweigh a few late payments, and if you do have a few late payments, they’ll continue to have less impact over time.

30%: Reasonable Balances

How much debt is too much for your financial report? If you owe a lot of money on numerous, different accounts, lenders and creditors may see you as financially unstable or overextending yourself. However, simply having a reasonable balance on a few credit accounts that you pay down over time may help increase your credit score, showing lenders that you’re a responsible borrower with control over your budget.

15%: Length of Credit History

Typically, the longer you’ve been using credit accounts, the higher your score. It’s best to establish credit early on (provided you understand the importance of good credit management) to extend your credit history over time.

10%: Credit Inquiries

Would you like to open a credit card and save 10% today? You hear this all the time in stores. Ask yourself, “Is the 10% savings worth an inquiry on my credit report?” Credit inquiries are when a credit company requests and reviews your credit report before they approve or deny you for a credit card. Several inquiries in a short period of time can negatively affect your credit score – more so if you have a short credit history.

Conversely, let’s assume you’re shopping for car insurance, and you want to find the best rate. Insurance companies will pull your credit report to give you a quote. If you’re really rate shopping, that could result in several credit inquiries in a short period of time. Don’t worry. To your benefit, credit reporting agencies are able to distinguish between rate shopping and requests for new credit accounts. Your credit score will not likely be affected.

10%: Types of Credit

Your credit report will show every credit account in your name. Chances are, you have more than one kind of credit account. Your car lease, your mortgage payment and your credit cards for retail stores are all types of credit accounts. A healthy mix of different kinds of credit accounts will improve your score. However, we don’t advise that you use this particular factor as a means to improve your score. It’s not advised to simply open accounts that you don’t need in the interest of getting a good mix of credit accounts.

How to Interpret Your Credit Score

man paying for coffee with a credit card

Your credit report typically lists up to four explanations for your credit score. Below are the eight most common reasons and what they mean:

  • Serious delinquency and public record of collection filed: You have one or more accounts that have been sent to a collection agency.
  • Time since delinquency is too recent or unknown: You have one or more accounts that are recently past due.
  • Level of delinquency on accounts: Your accounts are 60–90 days or more past due.
  • Number of accounts with delinquency: You have numerous past-due accounts.
  • Amount owed on accounts: You have too much debt.
  • Proportion of balances to credit limits on revolving accounts is too high: The balance on your credit cards is too high.
  • Length of time accounts have been established: You haven’t had enough credit history to show responsible credit management.
  • Too many accounts with balances: There are concerns over your debt load.

Your Quicken Loans Home Loan Expert will find the best possible mortgage for your situation. We’ll take a look at your credit report, score and income to determine what you qualify for and what you can afford. Based on your credit report, your Home Loan Expert can help you consolidate debt, resolve any errors and pay off credit cards with a home loan that has a reasonable interest rate. We help clients every day who think they can’t qualify for a home loan because of lower credit scores. If your credit is already intact, your Home Loan Expert will get you a low interest rate and a loan option to help you reach your financial goals.

10 Ways to Give Your Credit Score a Boost

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You can’t change your credit score overnight. But making some adjustments to the way you handle your finances can help raise your score over time. Here are some things to keep in mind if your credit score needs a pick-me-up:

1. Pay Your Bills on Time

Paying your bills by the date they’re due is the best way to improve your score. And honestly, it’s never too late to start, even if you’ve had serious delinquencies in the past. Your prior past- due payments will be outweighed by new financial habits as long as you’re consistent.

2. Keep Credit Card Balances Low

High outstanding balances on your credit cards can weigh down your score. If you can, work toward getting your balance under 50% of your total credit limit on each account. If possible, pay off your balance at the end of the month.

3. Check Your Credit Report for Accuracy

Check your credit report periodically for inaccuracies. Pay close attention to payments you’ve made and cards you’ve closed or paid off. Look out for bills you’ve paid that may still be showing up as discrepancies on your report. Also be on the lookout for credit cards that might have been fraudulently opened in your name.

4. Pay Off Debt Instead of Moving It Around

When it comes to the amount of debt you have, the most effective way to improve your score is simply to pay down the amount you owe. Unfortunately, consolidating your credit card balance onto one credit card, spreading it over multiple cards or rolling your balance over onto a new credit card every year doesn’t help to improve your score in the long run.

5. Keep Your Credit Cards, but Manage Them Responsibly

Keeping your credit cards can help improve your credit score, provided you manage them responsibly. It will not necessarily help your score to cancel cards or loan accounts immediately after paying them off. A higher average age for all of your accounts can help your score.

6. Don’t Open Multiple Accounts too Quickly, Especially if You Have a Short Credit History

Opening multiple credit accounts in a short period of time is considered a risk by reporting agencies. Why? Because you’re potentially taking on a lot of debt. If you open three credit cards in one month and they each have a $10,000 available balance, you’re allowing yourself the opportunity to gain $30,000 worth of debt instantly. New accounts will also lower the average age of your existing accounts, which can also lower your score.

7. Don’t Close an Account to Remove It from Your Record

A closed account will still show up on your credit report and may still be factored into your score. Closing accounts could lower your score if they’re positively contributing to your length of credit history.

8. Shop for a Loan in a Focused Period of Time

FICO scores can distinguish between a search for a single loan and a search for many new credit lines, based in part on the length of time over which recent requests for credit occur.

9. Contact Your Creditors or See a Credit Counselor if You’re Having Financial Di iculties

Don’t hesitate to seek help. The sooner you begin better managing your credit and making timely payments, the sooner your score will improve.

10. Talk to a Home Loan Expert About Refinancing Your Home Loan to Pay Down Debt

You might be able to use your home’s equity to pay off high-interest credit card debt. And, as an added bonus, the interest on a home equity loan could be tax-deductible.

The Importance of Good Habits

Couple sitting in their living room and checking their finances

Your financial status is based purely on habits: spending habits, work habits and lifestyle expectations. Getting a handle on spending, paying bills on time and defining your lifestyle takes commitment and self-control. It may not always be easy, but the effort will pay off in the long run.

Develop an Action Plan to Pay Your Bills on Time

Always set up your bills on a recurring schedule when possible. Get your paychecks directly deposited into your bank account to avoid any lag time. Create a budget and note exactly how much you’ll need to pay toward credit accounts and how much you have left over for spending and saving. At QLCredit.com, you can receive a personalized credit analysis and Debt Tracker, which allows you to view how close you are to reaching your financial goals.

Forego Using Credit Cards

Put your credit cards in a drawer and avoid using them altogether. Focus on paying down the existing balance on your current credit cards while you abstain from increasing your debt. It might take some discipline, but you’ll adjust to using the cash you have on hand over time.

Create a Budget

Creating a budget can work to your advantage. Paying your bills should be your first priority. Everything else comes second. Carefully weigh the importance of any new purchases against the long-term advantage of re-establishing good credit.

How to Clear Up Credit Report Inaccuracies

man holding credit card

So you’ve requested your report, you’ve paid close attention to each item on your report, and as it turns out, you’re quite sure you’ve never had a Norwegian Cruise Line credit card. Don’t worry. Clearing up inaccuracies on your credit report may seem like a daunting task, but with QLCredit’s online tools, it is now easier than ever before.

Credit report disputes can also be made in writing and sent via the postal service. You can use the sample letter on the next page as a guide when drafting your dispute.

What to include in your letter:

  • Which account is in error
    • What is incorrect about the account as it appears on your credit report • What corrections need to be made and why
    • Any documentation you have that supports your claim

For instance, if a credit card is listed as “active” when you had closed it years prior, you’ll need to submit proof that the card is closed. You may have to obtain this from the credit card company.

To submit your claim via mail, send your dispute letter and supporting documentation to all three credit bureaus and the original creditor, such as a credit card company. Keep copies of everything you send. By federal law, the credit reporting agencies must help you resolve the issue within 30 days.

Sample Dispute Letter

Date

 

Your Name

Your Address

Experian
P.O. Box 2104

Allen, TX 75013

 

To Whom It May Concern,

I am writing to dispute items that were wrongly listed on my credit report. Here are explanations as to why these items should be removed or the information changed:

Item #1

BOA MBNA
This item is inaccurate. This is not my account.

Item #2
SEARS/CBSD
This item is inaccurate. This is showing as unpaid; the account was paid off on *date*. (include supporting documentation)

I’m requesting that the items be changed or deleted as indicated. Thank you for taking care of this immediately.

Sincerely,
Your Full Name
Your Phone Number

What to Do When Someone Steals Your Personal Information

Mature Adult man working in the office

Identity thieves make it their business to steal your personal information – your Social Security number, credit card numbers, driver’s license information – and use it to commit fraud. Victims are at risk of losing financial assets, not to mention their peace of mind. If you take a look at your credit report and see exorbitant charges or behavior that’s not your own, it’s critical that you research the situation immediately.

Here’s what you can do if you think your identity has been stolen:

  • Contact the fraud department of any one of the three major credit bureaus. Ask them to place a fraud alert on your credit file.
  • Close the accounts if you suspect fraud.
  • File a police report. Get a copy of the report to submit to creditors.
  • File your complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC maintains a database of identity theft cases used by law enforcement agencies for investigations. For more information, call (877) 438-4338.
  • Consider subscribing to a credit watch service that monitors your credit report for unusual activity. They’ll alert you when they suspect your credit is being abused. If you’re a victim of fraud, contact your credit card company to submit a report.

Is Your Debt Out of Control?

man holding money

Debt Danger Signs That Can Guide You Back on Track

Carrying some debt is normal and, as we discussed, can help build your credit history. But how do you know when you’ve lost control of your debt?

If you identify with many of these debt dangers, it’s time to take some steps toward realigning your financial habits.

  • You spend more than you earn.
    • Creditors call you regarding past-due accounts.
    • You find yourself living paycheck to paycheck.
    • You don’t know how much you owe on your bills.
    • You’ve paid late fees more than twice in the past year.
    • You occasionally find yourself making late payments.
    • You pay only the minimum on your credit cards.
    • You put o paying one bill so you can pay another.
    • You commonly argue about money with family members.
    • You take cash advances from credit cards to pay bills.
    • You make impulsive purchases.
    • You’ve borrowed money from your retirement fund to pay bills.

10 Smart Ways to Cut Your Budget

Guy budgeting at night

You learned that you need to better manage your finances, but where do you start? If you’re not sure which habits are hitting your budget the hardest, try these suggestions to trim a little off the top.

1. Document Everything You Spend

It sounds elementary, but you’ll notice the waste in your daily spending when you have a record of each purchase. Create a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet or download an app on your phone to help you keep track while on the go.

2. Pay O Your Credit Card Debt as Quickly as Possible

Keeping a high balance on your credit cards will incur interest every month. Focus on paying off your high-interest credit cards first by allocating an amount each month from your savings account toward the credit cards. Chances are you’re losing more money in credit card interest than you’re earning in interest on your savings account.

3. Transfer Credit Card Debt to a Zero-Percent Interest Card

If you’ve got more credit card debt than you can pay off, it might make sense for you to transfer that debt to a zero-percent interest card to buy some time and save on interest. Look for cards advertising zero-percent interest on balance transfers – aim for 12 months or more. Calculate how much you’ll need to pay toward the card every month to have the balance paid off before the zero-percent interest period ends. If you choose to make the transfer, make absolutely sure you pay down your balance in time. Some credit card companies will charge your account with all of the interest you would have accrued during your introductory period when your zero-percent interest period expires. Before you transfer your balance, ask your credit card representative if the interest is deferred until after your introductory period.

4. Reduce Spending

If you can’t pay with cash, then don’t buy it. This is where lifestyle habits come in. If you can’t afford to pay in full for an item, don’t purchase it. Interest on a credit card will only cost you more in the long run. And to help you save each year, below are several suggestions for reducing your spending habits.

  • Drink coffee from home rather than buying it during the day. If a daily cup of coffee costs $3, you’ll save $780 per year.
  • Quit smoking or cut back. At $4 or more per pack, cutting back one pack a day could save you at least $1,460 per year. If you quit smoking entirely, you might be able to lower your health insurance and homeowners insurance premiums.
  • Eat out less and bring your lunch to work. Cutting out one family restaurant visit a week could save up to $1,560 per year. Spending $7 a day on lunch adds up to more than $1,600 per year.
  • Cancel physical magazine subscriptions, and consider reading the online version, downloading a digital version for a small fee or visiting your local library.
  • Rent a movie instead of going to the theater. An evening at the movies (plus snacks) can run upwards of $50 for a family of four. Renting a movie from your local library typically doesn’t cost over a dollar. Even a movie from your local rental store won’t run you over $5, making it a much less expensive (and more comfortable) alternative. Make a night of it. Get microwave popcorn, soda and candy. The cost of your night should be less than $10 total.
  • Cancel unnecessary channels on your cable service, and ask for the promotional rate to be extended. Do you need three movie channels … or even one? Consider canceling the channels you don’t watch. Also, if your rate has increased since you signed up for cable, put on your bargaining hat. Call your cable company and tell them that you’re going to shop around for service if they can’t get you a lower rate. If they want your business, they’ll find a better promotion for you.
  • Give fewer gifts, and be more creative about them. Does every niece and nephew need Easter, Halloween and Thanksgiving Day gifts? Probably not. Send a card with a small cash gift inside. If the recipient is young, $5 with a card is absolutely acceptable and thoughtful. Assign a reasonable spending amount for each person on your holiday shopping list. Consider splitting the cost of gifts with relatives, or getting more creative.
  • Taking time o for vacation? Who says you have to leave the state? Take a week with the family and spend it at home exploring local attractions. You’ll have a relaxing week without the stress of overspending.

5. Make Energy-Efficient Upgrades

In the summer, raising the temperature on your thermostat by just a couple of degrees can make an impact on your bill. In the winter, consider lowering the heat a few degrees. Put in storm windows and caulk around your interior windows.

Is your energy bill nothing short of electrifying (and not in a good way)? Install energy-efficient lightbulbs. They may seem a little more expensive upfront, but you’ll notice that they last longer than regular lightbulbs, and they help lower your energy bill significantly over time.

6. Join a Warehouse Club

You’ll pay less per item by buying items in bulk. The trick to saving big at warehouse stores is to work the shopping trip into your grocery budget. Know how much you can spend at the grocery warehouse every month ahead of time to avoid overspending. Plus, warehouse stores can offer steep discounts on gas, saving you a nice chunk of money on transportation bills.

7. Shop the Sales and Clip Coupons

Most local grocery stores post their weekly ads on their website. Before you go shopping, make your list based on the current week’s sale items. Clip coupons of only the items you regularly purchase. Don’t purchase a new item just because you’ve found a coupon. This will help you stay focused on your budget.

8. Seek Out Free Family Activities

Check your local newspaper for free events at museums and other attractions. Go online to your local chamber of commerce or parks and recreation website for event listings.

9. Transportation

  • Take public transportation or carpool. You can cut your gas budget in half if you carpool with coworkers and alternate drivers. Or explore taking public transportation. Less wear and tear on your vehicle will cost you less in the long run.
  • Raise the deductible on your homeowners and car insurance. You may be able to shave 15%-20% o your annual premium.
  • Bundle your insurance purchases with the company. Typically, insurance companies will give you a discount for carrying more than one policy with their company. Add family members and combine auto and renters/homeowners insurance to maximize your discount.
  • Buy your next car – don’t lease. Do you absolutely have to have a new car every two years? You’re typically better o purchasing a car rather than leasing. Why? Because you don’t have to worry about mileage, and at the end of your term, you have something to show for your payments.
  • Consider a used car rather than a new car. A new car instantly loses 10%-30% of its value the minute you drive it o the lot. If you purchase a pre-owned or pre-leased vehicle, you’ll save the depreciation, and the car may even still be under warranty.

10. Banking

  • Find a bank with convenient ATMs. If you find yourself paying ATM charges from other banks because your bank never seems to have a convenient ATM location, then consider changing banks. At nearly $4 for every withdrawal, you’re probably paying too much.
  • Keep your checkbook and other accounts balanced. Or simply use Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to calculate your expenditures. You’ll always know exactly how much money you have and how it’s being spent.

Quicken Loans Is Here to Help You

Your Quicken Loans Home Loan Expert is not only here to help you manage your home financing today but will also help you achieve your long-term goals. Many people struggle with their credit scores and credit history, and improving it can often seem like a long and difficult process. However, Quicken Loans offers the Fresh Start program, which is designed to help you improve your credit score and regain financial control.

Not sure which program suits your needs best? Get in touch with a Quicken Loans Home Loan Expert today at 800-QUICKEN. They can help you pick the right program so you can take steps toward improving your credit score.

Contacts at a Glance

Here is a list of the resources included in this guide:

Credit Bureaus and Information

Equifax
Equifax.com • (866) 349-5191

Experian
Experian.com • (888) 397-3742

TransUnion
TransUnion.com • (800) 916-8800

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) FTC.gov • (877) 438-4338

Quicken Loans

QuickenLoans.com

QLCredit

QLCredit.com

We think this covers all the bases to get you on the path to being a credit expert. If you think you’re on track and ready to get started, apply here. If you have any questions or think we missed something, let us know!

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This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. If I delete all the old credit cards accont in good standing but are closed/ inactive will these lower my score? Can I ask lenders to remove inquires from my report and how long do they stay on there?

    1. Hi Trevor:

      According to Nerd Wallet, credit inquiries stay on your report for up to two years, but they only affect your score for a year and primarily in the first six months. You can also close credit card accounts, but your score may take a bit of a hit for a while. If they aren’t costing you money, there’s no reason to close them. You can ask lenders to remove inquiries, but they don’t always do it. It’s worth a shot.

      Thanks,
      Kevin Graham

  2. Your Zing website said to go to Quizzle.com for my free credit score and that I would not need to give them my Social Security Number. I went to Quizzle and could not complete the questionnaire without giving my SSN. So how do I get my credit score without giving my SSN?

    1. Hi Catherine:

      You’re correct that you do need to put in a Social Security number to use Quizzle. I know of no credit report site that will let you get a credit report without inputting your SSN. That’s usually how they verify that you are you. These guides are in the process of being updated and I will make sure this gets corrected in the next version of the guide.

      Thanks,
      Kevin Graham

  3. In recent years, I’ve started to pay monthly credit card bills and utility bills when received…rather than waiting to the end of the cycle period. With zero interest rates, it costs me nothing to “pay early.”

    Not sure if related, but the credit score printed on my Discover Credit Card statement each month has been steadily going up at the same time.

    Coincidence, or cause & effect? Anyone know?

    1. Hi Steve,

      In most cases, creditors like to see that you are making on time payments and also are using credit and paying it back. This shows you are responsible with credit.

      Without looking at the report from Discover, it would be impossible to know if that is truly the only thing that is causing the change on their report. There are so many factors that go into your credit score that one can offset another and cause a different type of change than if only one of them were factored in. It’s most important to pay it on time, but it can sometimes help with the utilization part of your score if you are using some of your available credit and that is being reported on your credit report.

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