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How-to’s: Understanding Your Credit Scores

March 31 2010

When you apply for a mortgage loan, one of the first things your lender will do is check your credit history, but they don’t read through your credit reports page by page. They get a snapshot of your credit called a credit score.

Fair Isaac Corporation is the company that compiles your credit scores based on the information in your credit reports.

You’ve probably noticed the use of plurals – scores, reports. That’s because there are three credit bureaus, along with Fair Isaac, that are under the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission. The three bureaus are called Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

The credit bureaus operate independently and each collects its own data about your credit from banks, landlords, credit card companies, retailers, and other sources. Each credit bureau also has its own credit scoring methodology.

When Fair Isaac scores your credit reports, it creates a FICO score that will be anywhere from 300 to 850. The lender buys your credit score and determines how much of a risk you are based on how you handle your other financial obligations.

Credit scores impact your interest rate. According to an example by the Consumer Federation of America and Fair Isaac Corporation, a 720 FICO score can help a borrower qualify for a low 5.5% 30-year-fixed-rate mortgage. A different borrower with a 520 score will pay 8.5% or $2,400 more annually on a $100,000 loan.

*Five areas of your credit can impact your FICO score:

1. Your payment history – about 35%
2. Your debt (how much you owe) – about 30%
3. Length of credit history – about 15%
4. New credit – about 10%
5. Credit mix – about 10%

How to improve your credit scores

Delinquent accounts, high debt-to-income levels, and numerous open lines of credit (credit cards with high limits) can all conspire to lower your scores considerably. In order to keep your credit scores high:

1. Pay your bills on time. Don’t worry if you’ve missed a payment; catch up and stay current.
2. Keep balances as low as possible on your credit cards.
3. Don’t move your credit from card to card. If a credit card company is charging you a higher interest rate than you feel is fair, contact them and negotiate a lower one or pay the card off in full.
4. Don’t open more credit cards than you need.
5. Credit card companies reward their good customers with higher loan limits. If you don’t want more credit with this company, call them and ask them to return you to your previous limit.

Having a high credit score may not only get you a lower mortgage interest rate but it could also speed up your mortgage approval process.