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Credit Grades

Mortgage companies often grade your loan based on certain credit-related items such as payment history, amount of debt payments, bankruptcies, equity Credit Scoring - How it Works

Credit scoring is a statistical method that lenders use to quickly and objectively assess the credit risk of a loan applicant. The score is a number that rates the likelihood you will pay back a loan. Scores range from 350 (high risk) to 950 (low risk). There are a few types of credit scores; the most widely used are FICO® scores, which were developed by Fair Isaac & Company, Inc. for each of the credit reporting agencies.

Credit scores only consider the information contained in your credit profile. They do not consider your income, savings, down payment amount, or demographic factors like gender, race, nationality or marital status. Past delinquencies, derogatory payment behavior, current debt level, length of credit history, types of credit and number of inquiries are all considered in credit scores. Your score considers both positive and negative information in your credit report. Late payments will lower your score, but establishing or re-establishing a good track record of making payments on time will raise your score.

Different portions of your credit file are given different weights. They are:

  • 35% - Previous credit performance (specific to your payment history)
  • 30% - Current level of indebtedness (current balance compared to high credit)
  • 15% - Time credit has been in use (opening date)
  • 15% - Types of credit available (installment loans, revolving and debit accounts)
  • 5% - Pursuit of new credit (number of inquiries)

The most important factor for a good credit score is paying your bills on time. Even if the debt you owe is a small amount, it is crucial that you make payments on time. In addition, you may want to: keep balances low on credit cards and other "revolving credit;" apply for and open new credit accounts only as needed; and pay off debt rather than moving it around. Also don't close unused cards as a short-term strategy to raise your score. Owing the same amount but having fewer open accounts may lower your score.

Recent changes minimize the negative effects that rate shopping can have on a mortgage applicant. If there is a consumer originated inquiry within the past 365 days from mortgage or auto related industries, these inquiries are ignored for scoring purposes for the first 30 calendar days; then, multiple inquiries within the next 14 days are counted as one. Each inquiry will still appear on the credit report.

Every score is accompanied by a maximum of four reason codes. Reason codes identify the most significant reason that you did not score higher. The reason codes can help a lender describe the reasons for higher than expected rates or loan denial. Scores are not part of the credit profile and are not covered by the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Your credit report must contain at least one account which has been open for six months or greater, and at least one account that has been updated in the past six months for you to get a credit score. This ensures that there is enough information in your report to generate an accurate score. If you do not meet the minimum criteria for getting a score, you may need to establish a credit history prior to applying for a mortgage. 

Credit Scoring – What Your Score Means

Credit scoring places you in one of three general categories.
If you have a score of 680 or above, you may be considered an A+ borrower. Your loan will involve basic underwriting, probably through a computerized automated underwriting system and could be completed within minutes. If you are in this category, you have a good chance of obtaining a low interest rate and closing your loan quickly.

If you have a score below 680 but above 620, an underwriter will probably take a closer look at your file to determine potential risks. If you are in this category, you may find the process and underwriting time no different than in the past. Supplemental credit documentation and letters of explanation may be required before an underwriting decision is made. You may still be able to obtain "A" pricing, but loan closing may take longer than if you had a higher score.

If you have a score below 620, you may not be eligible for the best loan rates and terms offered. Mortgage professionals may divert you to alternate funding sources other than Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. You may find loan terms and conditions less attractive than “A” loans, and it may take some time before a suitable funding source is located.
If you do have negative information on your credit report, such as late payments, bankruptcy, or too many inquiries, your best strategy may be to pay your bills and wait. Time is often your best ally in improving credit.

The length of time to rebuild your score depends on the reason behind your low score. Most decreases in scores are due to the addition of a new element to your credit report such as a delinquency or an inquiry. These new elements will continue to affect your score until they reach a certain age. Delinquencies remain on your credit report for seven years. Most public record items remain on your credit report for seven years, although some bankruptcies may remain for 10 years and unpaid tax liens remain for 15 years. Inquiries remain on your report for two years.

While many lenders use these scores to help them make lending decisions, each lender has its own strategy, including the level of risk it will accept for a certain loan product. There is no single “cutoff score" used by all lenders and there are many other factors used to determine your eligibility and interest rate.

Credit Inquiries

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) outlines specifically who can see your credit profile. Businesses must have a "legitimate business need," and a "permissible purpose," as stated in the federal law to obtain your credit file. Otherwise, only you, and only those who you give written permission, can access your credit files. Your neighbors, friends, co-workers, and even your family members cannot have access to your credit profile unless you authorize it. Some examples of those who can access your credit files are:

  • Credit grantors
  • Collection agencies
  • Insurance companies
  • Employers

Any company that receives a copy of your credit profile will be listed under the "Inquiry" section of your report. An "inquiry" is a listing of the name of a credit grantor or authorized user who has accessed your credit file. Credit grantors post an inquiry before offering you a pre-approved credit card application. These are listed as "promotional" inquiries on your credit file because only your name and address were accessed, not your credit history information. They are NOT sent to credit grantors or businesses for reasons of credit reporting. They are listed for your informational purposes only.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is the federal law regulating credit reporting companies like Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. It has been in effect since 1971 and undergoes periodic revisions by the Federal Trade Commission. This law protects consumers' rights such as the right to review and contest information in their credit profiles. It also specifically defines who can access the information in a credit profile, and how you are notified of this activity.

How To Improve Your Credit

If you have had credit problems, be prepared to discuss them honestly with a mortgage professional. Responsible mortgage professionals know there can be legitimate reasons for credit problems, such as unemployment, illness or other financial difficulties. If you had a problem that's been corrected, and your payments have been on time for a year or more, your credit may be considered satisfactory.

If you are currently in excess debt, there are four ways to control it:
If your credit is not in terrible shape, you can reduce your other expenses, even if it means making hard choices or changing your lifestyle to fit your income. Consider selling a second car, taking equity out of your home, applying for a non-secured signature loan, obtaining a loan from a relative, selling your home and paying off your debts with the proceeds and then renting, cashing out your 401K/retirement benefits or selling family heirlooms, jewelry, etc.

If your credit is already damaged or one of the above isn't an option, go through Consumer Credit Counseling Services (CCCS). Check your yellow pages for the local number. CCCS may be able to help you pay off your debts as if you were in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, but you don't actually file for bankruptcy.

If CCCS won't take you, you may want to consider bankruptcy. Claiming Chapter 13 bankruptcy takes longer than a Chapter 7, but your credit will end up in a little better standing. Chapter 13 bankruptcy gives you up to 5 years to pay off your debts. The disadvantage is that you're in bankruptcy for up to 5 years plus your credit report shows your bankruptcy for 7 more years after you have finished paying off your debts.

If you are so far in debt that you can never repay it, then the best solution may be a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy is the least desirable from a credit standpoint, but you are typically out of bankruptcy in 6 months and you don't have to repay any debt. The disadvantage is that this shows on your credit report for 10 years from the date of filing your bankruptcy. Creditors are starting to tighten their credit requirements, and you may have a tough time getting future financing.

If you’re debts are under control now, but want to improve your bad credit history, the most important factor is to make your monthly payments on time. Use pre-addressed envelopes enclosed with your statements to mail your payments and call the company if you don't receive your usual statement. Also send your payment as early as possible if you carry a balance. Most companies calculate interest on a daily basis, so the sooner they receive your payment, the less interest you'll pay.

Don't procrastinate. It's the day your payment is received that counts, not the postmark date. Give the post office sufficient time (five business days is a good guideline) to deliver your mail. Late payments may mean late fees, higher interest, and/or a negative mark on your credit report.

Never send cash. Open a checking account if you don't have one, or spring for a money order and keep your receipt. Finally don’t forget to tell your creditors your new address when you move.

If you are worried about making payments, make a list of your debts and when the payments are due. Contact your lenders immediately if you think you will have trouble meeting the monthly payments to arrange a payment schedule.

Taking money from your retirement account or tapping the cash value of your life insurance policy to pay bills or living expenses may have serious implications you haven't considered, so try to get advice from an expert before you take any major financial actions.

Credit cards can be invaluable in a crisis, since they allow you to charge items and pay them off over time. But they can also be dangerous if you aren't careful and charge more than you can afford. If you do use credit cards, choose those with the lowest interest rates and pay them back as soon as you can to cut your costs.

Fixing Credit Report Errors

You have the right, under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, to dispute the completeness and accuracy of information in your credit file. When a credit reporting agency receives a dispute, it must reinvestigate and record the current status of the disputed items within a "reasonable period of time," unless it believes the dispute is "frivolous or irrelevant." If the credit reporting agency cannot verify a disputed item, it must delete it. If your report contains erroneous information, the credit reporting agency must correct it. If an item is incomplete, the credit reporting agency must complete it.

For example, if your file shows that you were late in making payments on accounts, but fails to show that you are no longer delinquent, the credit reporting agency must show that your payments are now current. If your file shows an account that belongs to another person, the credit reporting agency would have to delete it. Also, at your request, the credit reporting agency must send a notice of correction to any report recipient who has checked your file in the past six months.

For items in your credit profile which you feel deserve further explanation (such as an account that was paid late due to the loss of job, military call-up, or unexpected medical bills), you can send a brief statement to the appropriate credit reporting agency. The information will be placed in your credit profile and will be disclosed each time it is accessed.

Steps To Take After Being Denied A Mortgage Loan

It's never fun to be turned down for a loan, but before you think you won't be able to get credit anywhere, there are some steps you can take.

Lenders are required by a federal law, The Equal Credit Opportunity Act, to tell you in writing when you've been turned down for credit. Two important pieces of information must be included in the letter you receive when you are denied credit:

  • The specific reasons why you were denied credit (or information on how to obtain those reasons)
  • If a credit report was used in making that decision, the name and address of the credit reporting agency that supplied it.

If you don't understand the reasons given for turning down your application, ask for more information. Sometimes it can be hard to determine exactly why your application was not approved, because these decisions involve a lot of different factors. Don't be shy about asking, though, since the information you receive may help you improve your credit so you can qualify in the future.

You may be denied credit for various reasons, including not meeting the creditor's minimum income requirement or not being at your address or job for the required amount of time.

If your loan application was rejected because of insufficient income to afford the house you want or you have insufficient funds for closing costs and a down payment, you could consider loan programs for low- to moderate-income borrowers with lower down payment requirements, such as an FHA loan or VA loan.

If you requested the loan amount which is larger than 95 percent of the appraised property value, the chances are that loan will be denied. In this situation:

You can try re-negotiate with the seller for the purchase price to lower the loan amount
Make an additional down payment to cover the difference between the appraised value and purchase price

  • If you think the appraiser undervalued the property suggest that the lender re-examine the appraisal
  • If your loan is turned down because of a poor credit report, you are entitled to a free copy of that report. You must request it within 60 days, so don't wait to order it. Read your report carefully to make sure it is accurate and complete.

Once you have a copy of your credit report, you should check for errors and fix any errors by disputing them with the credit report agency. If you believe that mistakes on your report led to the rejection of your application, you can ask the credit bureau to send a corrected copy to the lender. Follow up with the lender to find out if your application can be reevaluated.

Finally, you can try again. All lenders have different approval standards. Just because you didn’t get a loan from one financial institution doesn't mean you can't get one somewhere else. Try again with another company. Just don't apply for more than four or five loans in a six-month period.

Credit Reporting Agencies

Credit Reporting Agencies collect information about you and your credit history from public records, your creditors and other reliable sources. These agencies make your credit history available to your current and prospective creditors and employers as allowed by law. Credit agencies do not grant or deny credit.

The credit reporting agencies are:

PO Box 105873
Atlanta, GA 30348

PO Box 2002
Allen, TX 75013
Consumer Credit Questions
888-EXPERIAN (888-397-3742)

PO Box 390
Springfield, PA 19064
(800) 916-8800
(800) 851-2674