Credit information is valuable to hackers looking to open accounts in someone else’s name. If you don’t need to access your credit report yourself in the near future, one action you can take to avoid this is a credit freeze. Not everyone is aware that any consumer is allowed to freeze their own credit reports, and potentially their dependents’ credit reports. And it’s now easier than ever, since it recently became free to do, as opposed to incurring a fee.
The process doesn’t take long to do, and is easy to reverse if needed. Any of the major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union — must freeze your credit if requested within one business day. Unfreezing your credit if necessary only takes up to an hour, but you’ll need to contact all three major credit bureaus rather than just one.
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Buying a home can be a stressful process, especially if it’s your first time. But there are several things you should consider beforehand to make sure you know what you’re getting into. If you come up with a solid plan, you won’t be as nervous when it comes time to make an offer.
The first thing you should do is check your credit score. If your credit score is below 620, private loans may be more difficult to acquire or come with high interest rates. Having poor credit may not be a good thing, but at least by knowing your credit score, you know you’ll be looking at a government-backed loan. If your credit score is good, you’ll have more options.
Examine your long-term budget closely. Keep records of income and expenses, and gather together your financial documents, such as pay stubs and tax returns. Not only will this help you personally understand your budget, some of these documents are used by lenders for prequalification or preapproval. Prequalifications estimate your ability to pay to give a solid idea of what range of prices you can probably afford. Preapproval is the next step, after you’re more sure of an area and timeframe in which you want to buy. Once you know what your options are, you need to research all of them. If you can, go to multiple lenders and shop around for the best interest rates. Be sure to ask questions.
Even if you get a preapproval, that doesn’t mean you can immediately breathe a sigh of relief. Preapproval is based on your current levels of income and expenditure. Lenders will be consistently re-checking these until the loan closes. If you make any sudden financial moves, they will know, and your credit score will suffer. Not to mention you may not actually be able to afford the house you plan to buy if you suddenly lose your income due to quitting your job, or drop a bunch of money on new furniture. If you are considering something major, call your lender and discuss it with them, before you decide to do it.
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If you’re looking to buy a house, unless you intend to pay cash, you’re going to need to get a loan. One obstacle to getting a loan is having a low credit score — if lenders don’t trust that you’ll be able to pay them back, they won’t want to give you a loan. Even if they are willing to lend you money, they will do so at a higher interest rate. Your credit score ranges from 300 to 850, with 800 or above being considered excellent credit, though most people have a credit score between 600 and 750. If you want to know your credit score, or check for errors or fraud, you are entitled to one free annual credit report on AnnualCreditReport.com from each of Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
The easiest way to ensure that your credit score doesn’t drop is to make bill payments on time. You may think that as long as the payment gets made, it doesn’t matter if it took a bit longer to get the money to them. That’s not the case, as payments made 30 days late or more can stay on your credit report for up to 7 years. If you are allowed a minimum payment, such as on credit card bills, even making the minimum payment on time is better than waiting until you have the full amount. If you do find yourself in debt, paying down existing debt will also increase your credit score. One thing that you may not realize affects your credit score is the timing of applying for cards. If you apply for several credit cards in a short time period, it looks like you’re wanting a large amount of cash very soon, and may not have the money to pay back loans.
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Record-high unemployment since the Great Depression is worrying for people looking to buy a home. And it’s true that it’s very difficult to buy a home while unemployed, since lenders are are looking for stable income. Unemployment income is considered temporary income, which lenders aren’t going to look at. Even once you find a job again, lenders typically want two years of continuous employment. Gaps in employment older than two years don’t impact your chances of lending negatively, though, so that won’t be a concern in a long run.
Another problem is that lack of income could put a strain on your credit score. While you will eventually become employed again, changes to your credit score can be much harder to erase. In order to maximize your chances of getting a loan in the future, you should do as much as you can, starting now, to keep your credit score intact. Always make minimum payments if possible. Ask your landlord and credit companies about other payment plans, deferment, or forbearance. Cut back on unnecessary spending. The good news is that even if your credit score does take a dive, once you’ve settled the debts and start to rebuild your credit, it shouldn’t take too long to get your credit score back up — roughly six months to year, meaning you may have already recovered your credit before lenders will consider your employment to be stable.
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Any time your credit report is reviewed, a credit inquiry is automatically added to your report. Your personal credit report lists all these inquiries for two years. There are two main types of credit inquiries: a hard inquiry, also called a hard pull, and a soft inquiry or soft pull. There are also personal credit inquiries.
Applying for credit or doing something that requires a credit check, such as applying for phone service, renting, or possibly taking a job, triggers a hard pull. Establishing business credit for the first time will do this. A hard inquiry reduces your credit score by up to five points, albeit usually for a short time. Sometimes multiple inquiries within a short period, such as looking for the best rates for auto insurance or a mortgage over 30 days, counts as only a single hard inquiry. Be cautious about multiple hard pulls in a short time, though. Lenders can see hard inquiries on your report and tend to interpret this behavior as high risk.
When you receive a pre-approved credit offer, chances are there was a soft inquiry on your credit report. Businesses use these to know your credit score for promotional information, as do banks and lenders to review your account to see if you qualify for new offers. These usually happen without your knowledge, though you can see them on your personal credit score. Fortunately, others cannot see them and they have no effect on your credit score. In addition, although applying for rent usually triggers a hard pull, renters can sometimes request a soft pull themselves to be sent to their landlord to avoid a hard pull. You can call us for more information about requesting a soft pull as a renter.
A personal credit inquiry is how you see all the information about your credit report. Your credit score and all inquiries, hard and soft, are visible to you at any time, and you can request your report for free once per 12 months at https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action. This is a good idea before applying for credit and also periodically to make sure it’s accurate and up to date. Visit the credit reporting agency’s website if you encounter an error.