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Home ownership is one of those things that everyone thinks about sometimes. We all assume it will happen one day. We vaguely save money or think about the neighborhoods we’d want to live in. And then, all of a sudden, the idea takes root so strongly that there’s little else we can think of.

Unfortunately, if we aren’t actively preparing for a mortgage before the idea takes hold, then there’s a good chance buying a home will have to be put on pause. And while networks like HGTV make home buying seem as simple as deciding between granite or marble countertops, the fact is that there’s a whole lot more to be done.

If the idea of homeownership has recently rooted in your mind, take note. There are a few things you can do now to get your finances ready – and I don’t mean just saving for a down payment. Read on to learn what you can do to get that mortgage.

Better Your Mortgage Possibilities by Boosting Your Credit Score

It’s easy for credit scores to fall by the wayside when it comes to preparing for a mortgage. After all, without a decent down payment, it’s hard to even begin to qualify for a mortgage. However, a down payment is by no means all you can do to prepare your finances for a mortgage – and it’s certainly not the only step to take.

When it comes to taking out any credit, your credit score will make or break your chances of getting approved. And not just that – your credit score will determine the interest rate you’ll pay if you are approved. And when we’re talking about the typical 30-year mortgage, even 1% more in interest can add up to some serious cash over a lifetime.

Getting a mortgage isn’t just about doing what you can to get approved so you can get the keys to your dream home. If you focus on your credit score and not just your down payment, you’ll be able to get those keys and keep them for far less.

How You Can Make Your Credit Score Mortgage-Ready

So the question is, what can you do to make your credit score mortgage-ready? A lot! And it might not take as long as you might think. Steady, positive credit behavior can start to bump your credit score in as little as six months. Here’s what these behaviors look like.

1. Make all your monthly payments on time

There are a few major factors that make up your credit score, and your payment history is one of the biggest. Luckily, it’s also one of the easiest to control.

If you simply make all of your monthly payments on time (including credit cards, loans, utility bills, phone bills, etc.), then you’ll show positive payment history. Miss just one payment, or pay one 30 days late, and you could get an immediate ding on your score.

2. Decrease any outstanding debt you have

Another major factor in your credit score is your credit utilization ratio. This is the amount of debt you have compared to the amount of credit available to you. The lower your utilization ratio, the better. Less than 30% is ideal.

Not sure what this means? Imagine that you have two credit cards with $500 limits and no other loans or lines of credit. You would currently have $1,000 available to you in credit. Now let’s say you owe $250 on one and $250 on the other. You would currently have $500 in debt. Divide the credit by the debt and you’re looking at a 50% credit utilization ratio. Pay that down just a little, and suddenly your ratio goes down as well.

The best way to work on this is to pay down your debt as much as possible before you apply for a mortgage. If your budget is tight, that could mean splitting the money you’re saving for a down payment in half and giving the other half to extra debt payments. Doing so could lead to years of savings if you end up getting approved at a lower APR.

3. Keep all your accounts open, even if unused

Going down the list of important credit score factors, next is the length of credit history. The longer your credit history, the better your score. So this one is simple: keep all accounts open, even if you’re not using them anymore.

4. Don’t apply for new credit unless you really have to

This isn’t as important a factor as the first two, but the number of times you apply for credit does impact your score. If you know you’ll be mortgage shopping this year, refrain from applying for multiple other loans or credit cards. Doing so too frequently could bring your score down.

5. Review your credit reports regularly 

This isn’t so much a factor in your score as a best practice. Review your credit reports regularly. You can do so for free via annualcreditreport.com. It’s imperative that you do this because a review could highlight something you need to work on or, worse, it could show you that there’s an error on your report.

Credit reporting errors are not at all uncommon, but they can be fixed. There are three credit reporting bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, Equifax), so check your report from all three. If you spot an error, immediately dispute it with the bureau showing the error. The sooner that’s off your report, the better off you’ll be.

Solid Down Payment + Good Credit Score = Winning Mortgage Combination

Shopping for a home is a lengthy and sometimes arduous process. The more you can do now to make it easier on yourself, the less you’ll find yourself feeling frustrated or stuck. The best part is, while it can take time to prepare, the steps to take are fairly straightforward.

If you’re in the market for a home, a solid down payment plus a good credit score can be your winning combination. These two things will not only save you money getting in the door, but they’ll save you money for years to come. Now that’s the kind of process we should all be working towards!

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