Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Home Loans: Should Tom, Dick and Harry Pull Your Credit?

There’s much confusion these days about how often or when you should allow your credit to be pulled. Here’s a little background info on when it’s ok to say yes….

The fact of the matter is that today when you are investigating home financing, the big question on everyone’s lips is, “What’s your credit score?” Many people are clueless as to what their credit score is. Pricing and product availability are hugely driven by credit scores in the mortgage industry. The difference between a 620 credit score and a 720 score means a world of difference to your wallet. However, when it comes to lending money for a home loan, there is a point when a lender must make a credit inquiry.

What is a credit inquiry? It’s when a lender or another entity you are asking to extend you credit requests a tri-merge credit reporting agency to assess and report your credit scores. At the back of the report, there is a list of what organizations you have given permission (or not) to pull your credit recently. And, too many credit inquiries can affect your credit score negatively. However, not all inquiries will do so, just ones that are a result of you applying for new credit. For example, if you apply for a mortgage, car loan or credit card, these are the types of inquiries, when you agree to them, which can affect your FICO credit score. The term FICO stands for Fair Isaac & Co. Credit, the entity that developed this scoring method for determining if you’ll actually repay your debt. However, some inquiries don’t affect your FICO credit score, like a future employer doing a background check on your credit.

So, if you want to apply for a mortgage, and compare different lenders, are you asking for trouble by allowing every Tom, Dick and Harry to pull your credit (or Tammy, Diane and Helen for that matter)? Well, yes and no. It depends. The scoring engine will typically ignore all mortgage or auto inquiries made in the 30 days prior to your most recent scoring. So, you need to make a decision within 30 days if you plan to do major rate shopping. And if the scoring engine finds mortgage or auto inquiries older than 30 days, it groups those inquiries into a typical shopping period as well. So, yes you can shop, just do so wisely.

I advise you to let one lender pull your credit; they can tell you what your score is, and then you can inform other lenders what your score is for the purpose of comparing loans. You can also ask what your debt to income ratio is. With that information, a lender should be able to give you a Good Faith Estimate and Truth in Lending that’s pretty spot on. If they say they can’t do so without pulling a credit report, then move on. A lender should be able to give you an estimate if you know the answers to the right questions. And since it’s an estimate, if you give the wrong information, be aware that all bets are off. As long as you are aware that what you are quoted is based on the information you’ve given(as yet unverified), the lender should be able to give you information that allows you to choose them from other considerations. When you’ve made the final choice, the lender will then have to pull your credit to move forward if they have not done so already.

So, be a smart shopper. But don’t be careless with your information. It could hurt you if you don’t share it wisely.

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