Jeffrey Harrington's Blog
What do buying a house, opening a credit card, and getting approved for an auto loan have in common? They all depend on your credit score.
Building credit is a multifaceted undertaking. In a way, this is a good thing--you wouldn’t want lenders to base their opinions solely on one aspect of your financial history. The downside is that understanding just what makes up your credit score can be difficult.
To complicate matters further, there isn’t one standard method for scoring your credit, and different credit bureaus each use their own criteria.
In this article, we’re going to talk about some of the factors the major credit bureaus use to calculate your credit, and give you some ways you can boost your credit.
But first, let’s talk about some of the implications of having a good credit score.
Why credit matters
Typical credit scores range anywhere from 250 to 850. The three main reporting agencies (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian). Most lenders use a combination of those scores that is reported by FICO.
Most credit reports will rank your category from “bad” to “excellent.” Here’s an example of what a credit ranking might look like:
Good: 700 - 749
Fair: 650 - 659
Poor: 550 - 649
U.S. legislation makes it possible for Americans to receive a free report of their credit score and to challenge and correct the score if it contains inaccuracies.
If you’re thinking about buying a house, opening a new line of credit, or taking out a loan of some kind, then the provider will likely run your credit score. Those providers are going to want to see a return on their investment, so they’ll charge interest.
If you have a high credit score, it tells the lenders that you are a low-risk investment, and therefore they can offer you a lower interest rate, saving you money in the long run.
Components of a credit score
There are five main factors that credit bureaus take into consideration when formulating your credit score. Not all of the factors are treated equally. Your ability to pay your bills on time, for example, is considered to be more important than the types of bills you have. Here’s a breakdown of the five components that make up a credit score:
35% - Bill and loan payments
30% - Current total amount of debt
15% - Amount of time you’ve had credit (since you took out your first loan or opened your first credit card)
10% - Types of credit (cards, loans, etc.)
10 % - New credit inquiries
Quick tips for building credit
It takes time to build credit and improve your score. So, if you’re hoping to buy a home within the next few years, now is the time to start working on your credit. Here are some best practices for building credit:
Set up autopay for your bills to avoid late payments. Even if the service doesn’t offer autopay, you can likely set up recurring payments through your bank.
Settle outstanding debt. Avoiding debt that you can’t pay off will only hurt you more in the long run. Call your creditor and see if they offer debt relief programs. More likely than not they’d rather work with you to ensure they receive some repayment rather than none at all.
Start budgeting the right way. New budgeting software like Mint and “You Need a Budget” are easy to use and link up with your accounts. They’ll help you monitor your spending and start paying off debt.
Don’t open new lines of credit close to when you want to take out a loan. New credit inquiries can briefly lower your credit, especially if you make more than one. Viewing your free credit reports doesn’t count as an inquiry, so feel free to do that as often as needed to check your progress.
Get credit for bills you’re already paying. You can report your monthly rent payments, switch bills into your name that you contribute to, or take out a credit builder loan. All three will help you build rent without changing your spending habits.
Buying a home through a cost savings program like the Veteran's Administration, a community financial services firm's initiative or similar program is a great way to save money on the overall cost of owning a home. Participating in these types of programs can also reduce your monthly mortgage payments.
Mortgage savings through an established program
Yet, everyone may not qualify to participate in a mortgage cost savings plan. For example, some organizations only offer mortgage discounts to people who work at their organizations and make a low salary.
To take advantage of other mortgage cost savings programs, you might need to be a member of an association or you might need to be a long standing customer at a bank. Unions also offer mortgage cost saving programs.
Fortunately, not qualifying to participate in a mortgage reduction program at work or through a lender or association doesn't exempt you from saving money when you buy a house. There are ways that you can save money on your mortgage independently.
Don't wait to start saving money as a homeowner
In fact, if you're serious about homeowner savings, you'll be creative and keep looking for ways to save money. You won't accept that owning a house is expensive and simply keep spending unnecessary funds on your house.
Below are homeowners' savings actions that you could start reaping benefits from now. Specifically, you could:
- Unplug electrical appliances while you are at work and away from home on vacation
- Close refrigerator and freezer doors as soon as you get what you want out of the appliances
- Make sure that your washer is full before you wash laundry
- Hang laundry outside on the clothesline or in your basement instead of using a clothes dryer
- Limit your use of your dishwasher to occasions when you have a lot of guests over your house
- Pay utilities and other household bills on time to avoid incurring late fees, fines and penalties
- Buy healthy foods like leafy greens and fresh fruit to cook with instead of eating out at restaurants
- Bundle homeowner's, auto and life insurance plans
- Bundle cable, Internet and phone services if doing so will reduce these payments
- Regularly price compare costs on utilities, insurance and household expenses
- Ask service providers if they have a loyalty price reduction plan that you can participate in through your employer or after you've been their customer for a certain number of years
Cut out these costs and you could stay financially on track as a homeowner
Your mortgage payments are the same from month to month if you have a fixed mortgage. What fluctuates are expenses like your utilities, home repairs and home maintenance costs. It's these costs fluctuations that can sink your budget. It's these costs that can tempt you to send in a mortgage payment late.
Avoiding getting in over your financial head as a homeowner is fairly simple. Honesty and awareness are key. As soon as you start to struggle to pay your mortgage, home repairs and for house maintenance work, look over the last two to three months of your bills.
Reduce or eliminate usage of products or services that you really don't need. Also, focus on growing your savings. Put money away for unexpected repairs. Give yourself enough financial cushion to enjoy living at your house stress free. After all, you didn't buy a house just so you could worry endlessly, pacing the floor and staring at the ceiling late at night wondering how you are going to afford to stay in the house you love.
You may think of downsizing as something that makes sense when you have an empty nest. Larger families do, of course, need more room. Downsizing can also be financially strategic and rewarding for you and your family if you have the opportunity to do so.
How Much Is Your Home Worth?
There comes a point in your life when the amount of money that your home is worth is very important. Maybe you need the money for retirement and are looking to move to a cheaper city or state. Maybe it’s time for you to pursue your goals and dreams. Whatever the reason, your home is a very large asset.
If you downsize, you’ll have a bit more money available to invest for your future. You may even consider buying an investment property. If all of your money isn’t tied up in a home, you’ll have a bit more freedom to do other things with your money.
A Smaller Home Means Smaller Expenses
When you downsize your home you end up with much lower expenses for your housing. You’ll save big on both utilities and home maintenance. You’ll be surprised as to how much extra cash you’ll have each and every month that you’ll be able to use for other things like investing, travel, or other expenses. You’ll have the ability to do things beyond simply achieve that one dream goal of home ownership.
What If You Don’t Already Own A Home?
There’s a lesson to be learned here for renters as well. If you’re getting ready to buy a home, you may want to think small. A smaller home that can suit your needs will allow you to save thousands of dollars over the life of the mortgage on your home. Remember that a mortgage payment is more than just the cost of the home. You’ll need to include things like taxes, insurance, mortgage insurance, heating, electricity, and more. The smaller the house that you buy, the less all of these things will cost. Think of what you could do if you invested that extra money that you saved on all of these things each month.
What Would You Do With The Money You Save?
Having a big, beautiful home is a fantastic goal to achieve. You may have other dreams that you want to pursue in addition to owning a home. While downsizing isn’t for everyone, many people use the money they save to do some pretty incredible things like:
- Go back to school
- Buy a vacation home
The Negatives Of Downsizing
If you move into a smaller home, there are a few drawbacks. For one, you’ll have less storage and will actually need to downsize your amount of belongings as well. You’ll also have less room for visitors if hey come to stay. If grandkids frequent your home, you may be hesitant to sell and find a smaller place. It may also be difficult to find what you’re looking for at a certain price in a specific area. Think carefully before you decide to downsize and see if it has the right benefits for you.
If you're getting ready to put your home on the market, the thought of organizing, cleaning, and arranging it may seem like an overwhelming project!
Knowing where to begin and how much money to spend on home staging and decorating are among the many questions that may be flooding your mind, right now.
The key to success is to make as much of an impact as possible, without spending more money than necessary.
One way to avoid "spinning your wheels" when it comes to maximizing the appearance of your home is to work with an experienced real estate agent. A good agent will quickly notice aspects of your home that need attention and advise you on the most cost-effective ways to improve its marketability. If they've shown dozens (or more) houses in their career, they'll be very familiar with all the things that attract buyers, as well as what repels them.
Although everyone has different tastes and expectations, many house hunters are attracted to gleaming hardwood floors, energy efficient windows, and stainless steel appliances. While it may not be cost effective to have new floors, appliances, and windows installed to sell your house faster, you can make the best possible impression by making sure the windows are crystal clear, hardwood floors are polished, and appliances are clean and shiny.
Since many house hunters pay close attention to the kitchen, it's especially important to win their approval on appearance and cleanliness. Because food is prepared and often consumed in the kitchen, it's going to be one of the more challenging rooms to keep clean -- especially if you have children. However, if a prospective buyer is wavering between two houses for sale, you can be reasonably sure that the one with the clean kitchen and bathrooms will be their preferred choice.
There are a lot of other ways you can make your kitchen appealing to buyers, too. By minimizing clutter on counter tops and displaying fresh flowers and a colorful bowl of fruit, you can make your kitchen look much more inviting. Prospective buyers will also respond favorably to appealing fragrances, such as freshly baked bread, cookies, cinnamon buns, or coffee. Clean windows, attractive curtains, and plenty of natural light will also add to the ambiance of your kitchen.
The ideal reaction from potential buyers touring your home would be something to the effect of "I can imagine us preparing dinner, entertaining guests, and sitting around the breakfast table in this house!" Setting the table so that it looks like the family is just about to sit down for a meal together is one way to help convey that image. The encouraging news is that when someone expresses sincere appreciation for the comforts and features of your home, there's a good chance they'll find a place for it on their short list of possibilities!