Establishing and Rebuilding Credit

There's a Right Way and a Wrong Way to Build a Positive Credit Record

Whether you are a homebuyer or a homeowner, your credit is the single most important element in your financial success.

As a homebuyer, your credit report and score will determine whether or not you will be approved for a mortgage and how much you will pay for your home over the life of your loan. The higher your credit score, the lower your interest rate will be.

As a homeowner, your credit report and score will determine your ability to refinance your mortgage or to obtain the credit you need to maintain your home.Why does your credit matter?

  • An estimated 80% of credit reports contain errors that damage your credit rating
  • Identity thieves can destroy a strong financial foundation—don’t be a victim!
  • Save yourself time and money by knowing your credit status before applying for loans
  • Don’t miss out—there are simple and foolproof ways to raise your credit score
  • Start improving your credit profile, now.

Meet with a Homeownership Advisor for a confidential one-on-one counseling session.

Establishing & Rebuilding Credit

Establishing a good credit history has never been as important as it is today. There are multiple reasons why people may want to establish new credit. They may be new entrants into the world of credit, or are perhaps trying to reestablish credit after a financial hiccup. Either way, there are some do's and don'ts that consumers should follow that will make the road to credit much smoother.

It's not just that you'll need good credit to get decent rates when you're ready to buy a home. Your credit history can determine whether you get a good job, a decent apartment, a deal on your cell phone and reasonable rates on insurance. One seemingly minor misstep -- a late payment, maxing out your credit cards -- can haunt you for years.

*If you're just starting out, you have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a credit history the right way. Here's what to do and what to avoid.

Check your credit report

You'll first want to see what, if anything, lenders are saying about you. That kind of information is contained in your credit report at each of the three major bureaus: Equifax, Experian and Trans Union. You're entitled to a free annual look at your reports from AnnualCreditReport.com.

Credit reports are used to create your credit scores, the three-digit numbers that lenders typically use to gauge your creditworthiness. Can you have a credit report if you've never had credit? Maybe. Somebody else's information could be mixed in with your report, either through a credit bureau mistake or because of identity theft; i.e. someone using your personal information to open bogus accounts.

*If that's happened to you, you'll need to clean up your credit report before trying to apply for new accounts. The Federal Trade Commission's identity-theft site has information that can help.

Understand the basics of credit scoring

You need to know that the two most important factors in your scores are:

  1. Whether you pay your bills on time.
  2. How much of your available credit you actually use.

It's essential that you pay all your bills on time, all the time. Set up automatic payments or reminder systems so that you're never, ever late. All it takes is a single missed payment to trash your credit scores -- and it can take seven years for the effects to completely disappear.

You also don't want to max out any of your credit cards, or even get close. Keeping your credit use to less than 30% of your credit limits (10% is better) will help you get the best possible credit scores -- and should help keep you from getting over your head in debt, as well. Finally, you don't need to carry a balance on a credit card to have good credit scores. Paying your bill in full each month is the best way to keep your finances in shape and build your credit at the same time.

Lenders are willing to take risks with you that they won't once you graduate, probably because they know that your parents' willingness to bail you out will end once you graduate.

"Even though it is possible to live on a cash basis, most will need a thick and positive credit file to purchase big-ticket items such as a house or a vehicle," said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the NFCC. "Whether building a credit history from scratch, or trying to improve a tarnished one, it's important that consumers recognize the impact that a positive credit file can have on their financial well-being."

The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) suggests that consumers consider the following tips when applying for credit:

Do obtain a copy of your credit report from www.annualcreditreport.com.

This is particularly useful if you are trying to rebuild your credit, as you'll want to review what existing debts you need to satisfy before moving forward.

Do open checking and savings accounts.

Even though this activity is usually not reported to the credit bureaus, lenders may inquire about the presence of such accounts on credit applications, thus it can count in your favor.

Don't apply for too much credit at once.

This can appear as though you're desperate for credit and perhaps make lenders less inclined to extend credit to you. Further, too many credit inquiries can have a negative impact on your credit score.

Do apply for a variety of credit types.

Credit scoring models value having different types of credit. Therefore, having some revolving accounts (typically credit cards) and some installment fixed payment loans (such as a car payment) can improve your score.

Do research the type of card that is right for you.

Each issuer has different lending standards (yes, a credit card is a loan), so you'll only want to apply for cards from those whose lending profile you fit. Familiarize yourself with the various standards by going to www.CreditCards.com or www.Bankrate.com.

Don't fall for a credit repair scheme.

Why pay for something that you can do for yourself for free? If rebuilding credit, know that time is your friend, as the farther you move away from the financial distress, the less negative impact it has. Follow with responsible behavior with your new credit, and you'll soon have a solid credit file.

Don't pay to piggyback.

Piggybacking is a legitimate way to build a credit history, but only if you use it as it was intended. This tool allows someone with existing credit to add an authorized user to their account. The credit activity is then reported in the primary cardholder's name as well as the authorized user's name. Examples are adding a young adult on the parent's card, or a spouse on the other spouse's card. The wrongful use of piggybacking would be when strangers utilize this method, typically for money.

Do consider a co-signer.

Obtaining a loan in the absence of any credit history can be difficult, sometimes requiring a co-signer to guarantee payment. The loan is usually structured where the primary borrower is expected to make the payment, with the pay history reported in both names. If the borrower defaults, the lender will approach the co-signer, and missed payments will be reflected on both credit files. There is somewhat of a risk to the co-signer, but if handled responsibly, co-signing can be an effective way to help another person obtain and build credit

Do consider a secured credit card.

This type of account is secured by a deposit made to the financial institution issuing the card. For example, if you wanted a card with a $500 limit, you would deposit that amount with the bank offering you the card. Know, however, that secured cards can have fees attached to them, and typically have a higher interest rate. The account activity is reported to the credit bureaus each month, and after responsibly making payments on a secured card, the issuer often offers the borrower an unsecured card.

Do take out a small loan.

A personal loan from a bank or credit union can serve to establish credit. You may be asked to put up collateral, but it will be worth it in order to build your credit.