Typically, a person with a low credit score is in this position because they lack structure in his or her life. There are, of course, cases where unplanned health or employment complications are to blame, but for the most part, these are individuals who lack the discipline to pay their bills on time or curb their spending.
This is your opportunity to be the “knight in shining armor” that provides them with a simple roadmap to get back on track. Let’s take a look at some examples that can help to quickly improve less-than-perfect credit scores for the potential homebuyer:
Let’s say we have a borrower with a credit score of 664. She has a concentration of credit card debt on one card; let’s say $17,000 on a card with a $20,000 limit. At the same time, she has four or five additional credit cards, all with a zero balance. I would advise the borrower to distribute the debt over a number of her cards. Remember, a borrower’s credit to debt ratio represents 30% of his or her overall score. By simply changing the ratio of available credit to debt, the borrower in this example could possibly increase her credit score to something closer to 700, saving thousands of dollars on her mortgage.
Another thing to take into consideration in a case like this is what percentage each of the five factors measure in the resulting credit score. Let’s say we have a borrower with a “credit high” (the maximum debt allowance on all cards, combined) of $20,000. He has one card that is used for business purposes that is pushing the limit. I would advise the client to get two new cards and, once again, spread the debt out over all of his cards, leaving at least 30% available credit on each card. This will positively affect his overall score, based on the five elements of the FICO scoring model.
Conversely, the borrower should be advised not to close any existing credit card accounts, even if they are at a zero balance. Some people think they are doing themselves a favor by having fewer cards, but they lose out on the credit history factor. Even if the borrower does not have a good rate on an old credit card, they are rewarded for having the long-term credit history, and from time to time they should make a small purchase to keep the account in an active status.
These are just a few examples of what borrowers can do to improve their credit scores when they consider buying a home. If they are disappointed by the fact that they cannot get the most desirable loan up front, I would continue to monitor rates and their specific loan scenarios on an ongoing basis and advise them when they will have a chance to turn this situation around. The new mortgage debt will temporarily drop the score, but once the first payment registers as “paid,” the score will begin to go up again and eventually present the opportunity to refinance at a lower rate.