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FICO Scores: Are They So Important for Getting a Mortgage?

by Joy Cagil

During the last few decades, we moved many times from place to place, buying and selling houses and other property. To my knowledge, not even the most respectable bank that carried our mortgage ever had anything to do with any FICO score. I first heard "FICO score" mentioned, about six or seven years ago, when one of my children worked for a mortgage company, and I found out from him that FICO score has been around since the 1950s, after Fair, Isaac and Co. (therefore the acronym FICO) developed a certain method to determine the credit risks of borrowers.

FICO scores range from 300 to 850, the higher the better. The majority of scores are in the levels of 600-700. The desirable ones are 720 and higher. FICO scores are designed to measure the risk of delinquency by considering several past and present issues, such as the length of credit history, punctuality of payment, current debt including tax liens and money owed as a result of a court judgment, recent searches by the consumer to obtain credit, and the amount of credit received up to date. The exact formula for obtaining the FICO scores, however, is held secret and--it beats me, but--this conduct is accepted by the Federal Trade Commission.

Three nationwide companies, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, use the FICO scores for credit reporting. All three of these companies are required by law to provide the consumer--you--with a free credit report every twelve months.

You might ask: "If we have the FICO scores, then why do we have a credit report? Aren't FICO scores enough?" A credit report is more than a FICO score. A credit report gives extra information on you, as to where you live and have lived, whether you had a run-in with the law, and if you were sued or filed for bankruptcy. The FICO score, as a general rule, is attached to the end of a credit report.

Your credit report is important. The information in it has to be up to date and correct, because it will be used not only for the purchases you make, but also when you are applying for a job. You need to get your credit score and take measures if the information in it is not correct or has become stale. Consumer reporting companies are required by law to correct anything wrong or inconsistent after they investigate your claims.

To obtain your free credit report, you might consider writing to each one of the three companies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) and getting a separate credit report from each one. Don't be surprised if you find small differences among these reports because each company does its own calculating in its own way. Getting all three reports is especially necessary if you find something inconsistent in your credit history and you need to correct it with all three of them.

If you feel your credit history is good, the best way to get your free credit report is getting a form from Annual Credit Report Request Service (http://ftc.gov/credit), and filling and sending it to P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281; or if you wish, you can get it online from annualcreditreport.com.

Do not, at any time, believe in the companies or online sites that promise to get you your free credit report. Most of them eventually ask for fees and start charging your credit cards, because you have accepted their services and they have your data in their hands.

Does every lender pay attention to the FICO score? Luckily, not all; although most may. In the beginning, FICO scores had little or nothing to do with mortgage lending. About five or six years ago, however, mortgage lenders realized that there was a certain connection between the negligent behaviors of borrowers and their credit scores.

After a couple of years of heavily relying on the FICO scores, mortgage companies are beginning to change their attitudes on the subject again. Lenders like Fannie Mae and some private mortgage companies do their own investigations as well as taking into account your credit report as a whole.

A few tips before applying for a mortgage:

* Do not leave or change your job, especially if you have worked there for some time and you are not replacing it with a more secure and better paying job.

* Make sure your credit cards are not charged to the max.

* Do not ever be late in paying your existing mortgage. At least, don't be late for more than a month.

* Discuss and bargain with small lenders (Dept. Stores etc.), businesses, and collection agencies to remove any late payments.

* If you have a federal student loan, seek to remove "default" or "collection" labels from the loan's history.

* Get into the habit of paying your bills on time.

About the Author

Joy Cagil is an author on a site for Writers (http://www.Writing.Com/) Her education is in foreign languages and linguistics. In her background are varied subjects such as psychology, mental health, and visual arts. She has been taking courses on money and finance matters during the last couple of years. Her portfolio can be found at http://www.Writing.Com/authors/joycag

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