Scrutinize your credit reports
Of course, you need to make sure that your credit score is the one you've truly earned. If there are mistakes on your credit reports, they will translate into lower scores.
At least six months before you intend to apply for a loan, get updated copies of your credit reports from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, plus a copy of your FICO score. All borrowers are entitled to one free copy of each credit report annually through the www.annualcreditreport.com Web site. Through the www.myfico.com Web site, Fair Isaac charges $47.85 for the three reports plus their FICO scores that are based on those reports. The budget-minded might opt for the $15.95 choice, for one of their credit reports and a single FICO score. If you spot problems, you can always go back and order the other two individually without spending more than their three-report package.
Review each of your credit reports for errors. Sometimes other people's credit information can mistakenly make its way to your credit report.
Common names and family members' information can show up where they don't belong. There also can be errors about your payment history -- such as a notation of a missed payment when you can prove that you actually paid the bill.
Contact the lender involved with the error to straighten out the record. Normally it can take months for that information to make its way into your FICO score, according to Craig Watts, public affairs manager for Fair Isaac Corp. But if you're
already in the mortgage application process, your lender can request that the credit report companies do a "rapid rescoring" of your credit and have such errors corrected within 72 hours, he says. Lenders pay the credit bureaus for that service.
Bump up your score
You also can improve your FICO score by paying down outstanding balances on your credit cards, says Watts.
"If you're only interested in improving your FICO score, you should start with accounts that are closest to the credit limits." Even if you never miss a payment, borrowing a large percentage of the credit that is available to you hurts your credit score.
Financial advisers usually recommend paying off the credit lines that have the highest interest rates first, and Watts recommends that approach if you also use the interest savings to pay down your closest-to-the-limit debts.
Don't close any accounts
What you should not do in hopes of boosting your credit score is close any credit accounts.
"Closing an account will never improve a FICO score, and in some cases it can inflict harm on a credit score," says Watts. That's because, if you've closed one or two credit accounts, but not reduced your overall borrowing, you've boosted your ratio of indebtedness compared to the total amount of credit available.
Lenders prefer to see that you have lots of credit available -- but relatively little of it actually borrowed.
How about you? Are you concerned about your mortgage? Pleased with the one you have?