First-Time Home Buyer Credit Checklist

Getting a new mortgage for a First-Time Home Buyer can be a little overwhelming with all of the important details, guidelines and potential speed bumps.

Since there are so many rules and steps to follow, here is a simple list of Do’s and Don’ts to keep in mind throughout the mortgage approval process:

DO:

  • Continue working at your current job
  • Stay current on all your accounts
  • Keep making your house or rent payments
  • Keep your insurance payments current
  • Continue to maintain your credit as usual
  • Call us if you have any questions

DON’T

  • Make any major purchases (Car, Boat, Jet Ski, Home Theater…)
  • Apply for new credit
  • Open new credit cards
  • Transfer any balances from one credit or bank acct to another
  • Pay off any charge-off accts or collections
  • Take out furniture loans
  • Close any credit cards
  • Max out your credit cards
  • Consolidate credit debt

Basically, while you are in the process of getting a new mortgage, keep your financial status as stable as possible until the loan is funded and recorded.

Any number of minor changes could easily raise a red flag or cause a negative impact on a credit score that may result in a denied loan.

Most importantly, check with your loan officer on even the simplest questions to make sure your loan approval is successful.

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Ten Things You Can Do To Protect Your Identity

Facts About Identity Theft:

It’s estimated that there were 10 million victims of identity theft in 2008, and 1 in every 10 U.S. consumers have reported having their identity stolen.

The U.S. Department of Justice reported in 2005 that 1.6 million households experienced fraud not related to credit cards (i.e. their bank accounts or debit cards were compromised).

And, the U.S. DOJ also reported that those households with incomes higher than $70,000 were twice as likely to experience identity theft than those with salaries under $50,000.

What Is Identity Theft?

According to the United States Department of Justice, identity theft and identity fraud “are terms used to refer to all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain.”

Such personal information may include your name, address, driver’s license number, Social Security number, date of birth, credit card number or banking information.

Victims of identity theft can spend months trying to restore their good name. And most victims do not realize it has happened until they get denied for a mortgage or a credit card.

Ten Ways to Protect Your Identity:

1.  Dumpster Diving –

Avoid “dumpster diving” by shredding all papers that contain any personal information.

Criminals sift through trash looking for the following:

-Bank Statements
-ATM Receipts
-Canceled Checks
-Credit Card Statements
-Credit Card Purchase Receipts
-Credit Card Solicitations (unopened “pre-approval” solicitations)
-Pay Stubs
-Tax Documents
-Utility Bills
-Expired Identification Cards (Drivers License, Passports…)
-Expired Credit Cards
-Medical Statements
-Insurance Documents

2. Personal Info / Phone Calls -

Never provide personal information, including your Social Security number, passwords or account numbers over the phone or internet if you did not initiate the call.

If you are asked for any type of personal information, before giving any information, ask the caller for their name, telephone number and the organization that they are representing.

You should then call the company using the customer service number the company provides with your account statement. Do NOT call the number you were given by the caller.

To reduce the number of solicitations you receive, you can sign up at the do not call registry:

web: http://www.donotcall.gov
call: (888) 382-1222

3. Look Over Your Shoulder –

Avoid “Skimming and shoulder surfing” (Never let your credit card out of your sight).

Pay with cash. Try never to let your credit card out of your sight to avoid a fraud scheme known as “skimming”.

According to Wikipedia:

“Skimming is the theft of credit card information used in an otherwise legitimate transaction. It is typically an “inside job” by a dishonest employee of a legitimate merchant. The thief can procure a victim’s credit card number using basic methods such as photocopying receipts or more advanced methods such as using a small electronic device (skimmer) to swipe and store hundreds of victims’ credit card numbers.”

Be aware of people “shoulder surfing”. This is when they are looking over your shoulder or standing too close trying to obtain your PIN number when making purchases with your debit card. They may also be listening for your credit card number.

4. Secure Your Mail –

Always mail your outgoing bill payments and checks from the post office or a neighborhood blue postal box and never from home.

Pick up your incoming mail as soon as it is delivered. The longer it sits the better chance a criminal has of stealing it.

-Get a P.O. Box.
-Lock Your Mail Box

Contact your creditors if a bill doesn’t arrive when expected or includes charges you don’t recognize. It may indicate that it was stolen.

5. Read Credit Card Statements -

Review account statements to make sure you recognize the purchases listed before paying the bill.

If your credit card holder offers electronic account access, take advantage and periodically review the activity that is posted to your account.

The quicker you spot any unauthorized activity, the sooner you can notify the creditor.

6. Monitor Credit Report -

Review your credit report at least once a year to look for suspicious activity. If you do spot something, alert your card company or the creditor immediately.

7. Email Links –

Never click on a link provided in an email if you believe it to be fraudulent.

Keep in mind, no financial institution will ask you to verify your information via email.

Criminals may link you to phony “official-looking” web site to confirm your personal information. This is known as “phishing”.

According to Wikipedia:

“Phishing” is the criminally fraudulent process of attempting to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication.

8. Opt Out –

Opt out of credit card solicitations. (Take your name off marketers’ hit lists)

You can opt out of credit card solicitations by calling 1-888-567-8688 to have your name removed from direct marketing lists.

You can do this online at OptOutPrescreen.com, which is the official consumer credit reporting industry opt-out website for the three credit companies:

Experian
Equifax
Trans Union

9. Safeguard Your Social Security Number -

Protect your Social Security number.

Never carry your Social Security card or anything else with your social security number on it in your wallet or purse, along with your driver’s license.

Do not put your Social Security number or driver’s license number on any checks you may write.

Only give out your Social Security number when absolutely necessary.

10. Read Privacy Policies –

Find out what company privacy policies are (know who you are dealing with).

When being asked for your Social Security number or driver’s license number, find out what the company’s privacy policy is.

Inquire as to why it is being asked for.

Ask who has access to your number.

Ask if you can arrange for them not to share your information with anyone else.

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Is There A Rule-of-Thumb Regarding The Number Of Credit Lines To Have Open?

While the actual credit score has a big impact on a loan approval, it’s not the only component of the credit scenario that underwriters consider for a mortgage approval.

Since loan programs, individual lenders and mortgage insurance companies all have their own credit report restrictions, it’s difficult to define a standard Rule-of-Thumb to follow.

However, the number of “Open and Active Trade Lines” seems to be the common denominator in most approvals.

A trade line is basically a credit card, installment loan or other credit liability that is reported to the credit bureaus and displayed on a credit report.

Credit Trade Line / Approval Bullets:

  • Banks usually won’t count a trade line that is less than 12 months old.
  • The minimum number of trade lines most lenders find acceptable is 4 open and active trade lines.
  • Lenders like to see at least one credit line of $5,000, or all credit lines to total $1,000 or more.

Exceptions to Trade Line Rules:

Interestingly enough, a recent list of Mortgage Insurance requirements included a favorable trade line requirement, which read:

Min 3 trade lines @ 12 mo reporting. Cannot be ‘authorized user’

Basically, this means as long as the lender, and the loan program allow for less than 4 trade lines, this mortgage insurance company will accept only 3 trade lines that are in the borrower’s name.

Another exception to this rule is if you have no FICO score, and no negative trade lines.

In this case you may qualify for an “alternative credit” loan. The most common loan of this type is insured by FHA, but there are select programs that are usually targeted to assist people whose culture does not trust or use banks.

Borrowers applying for a non-traditional credit loan will still need to prove they have successfully paid their bills on time for 12 months by clearly documenting at least four creditors.  A verification of rent from a property management company, power, utilities, cell phone… are alternative sources of credit that can be used.

*A letter from a landlord or creditor stating that the bills were paid on time is not acceptable forms of proof.  Lenders will need canceled checks and / or copies of bank statements to start out with.

Since not all companies report to credit bureaus, it’s possible to get a complimentary credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com to verify your total reported trade lines.

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Alternate Sources For Establishing Credit

While the basic Rule-of-Thumb for acceptable credit history is a minimum of four trade lines documented on a credit report, there are alternative methods of building a credit picture that an underwriter can use to make a decision for a loan approval.

For potential home buyers with little or no credit history, keeping records for 12 months of paying bills on time is essential for mortgage loan approval. In fact, loan officers will appreciate receiving proof that you have paid a variety of accounts regularly and on time. Even if you do not have a credit history, or your credit report isn’t as good as it could be, this may enable you to get a mortgage.

The industry term for this is “thin credit.”

Some loan types, namely FHA and USDA, will accept alternative credit sources in order to establish proof of financial responsibility.

Alternative credit is unreported to the bureaus, but will still be verified and can be instrumental in a home loan approval.

Those with thin credit don’t usually have bad credit, but have just not had an opportunity to build enough traditional credit, such as bank/store credit cards, auto loans, etc.

Alternative Sources for Building Credit:

  • Rental History – Canceled checks and letter from property management company
  • Medical Bills – 12 months of statements from medical billing company showing paid as agreed
  • Utilities – power, gas, water, cable, cell phone
  • Auto Insurance
  • Health / Life Insurance – as long as it’s not auto-deducted from pay check

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Top 8 Things To Ask Your Lender During The Application Process

Knowing what questions to ask your lender during or before the loan application process is essential for making your mortgage approval process as smooth as possible.

Many borrowers fail to ask the right questions during the mortgage pre-qualification process and end up getting frustrated or hurt because their expectations were not met.

Here are the top eight questions and explanations to make sure you are fully prepared when taking your next mortgage loan application:

1. What documents will I need to have on hand in order to receive a full mortgage approval?

An experienced mortgage professional will be able to uncover any potential underwriting challenges up-front by simply asking the right questions during the initial application and interview process.

Residence history, marital status, credit obligations, down payment seasoning, income and employment verifications are a few examples of topics that can lead to stacks of documentation required by an underwriter for a full approval.

There is nothing worse than getting close to funding on a new home just to find out that your lender needs to verify something you weren’t prepared for.

2. How long will the whole process take?

Between processing, underwriting, title search, appraisal and other verification processes, there are obviously many factors to consider in the overall time line, which is why communication is essential.

As long as all of the documents and questions are addressed ahead of time, your loan officer should be able to give you a fair estimate of the total amount of time it will take to close on your mortgage.

The main reason this question is important to ask up-front is because it will help you determine whether or not the loan officer is more interested in telling you what you want to hear vs setting realistic expectations.

You should also inquire about anything specific that the loan officer thinks may hold up your file from closing on time.

3. Are my taxes and insurance included in the payment?

This answer to this question affects how much your total monthly payment will be and the total amount you’ll have to bring to closing.

If you include your taxes and insurance in your payment, you will have a higher monthly payment to the lender but then you also won’t have to worry about coming up with large sums of cash to pay the taxes when they are due.

4. Will my payment increase at any point after closing?

Most borrowers today choose fixed interest rate loans, which basically means the loan payment will never increase over the life of the loan.

However, if your taxes and insurance are included in your payment, you should anticipate that your total payment will change over time due to changes in your homeowner’s insurance premiums and property taxes.

5. How do I lock in my interest rate?

It’s good to know what the terms are and what the process is of locking in your interest rate.

Establishing whether or not you have the final word on locking in a specific interest rate at any given moment of time will alleviate the chance of someone else making the wrong decision on your behalf.

Most loan officers pay close attention to market conditions for their clients, but this should be clearly understood and agreed upon at the beginning of the relationship, especially since rates tend to move several times a day.

6. How long will my rate be locked?

Mortgage rates are typically priced with a 30 day lock, but you may choose to hold off temporarily if you’re purchasing a foreclosure or short sale.

The way the lock term affects your pricing is as follows: The shorter the lock period, the lower the interest rate, and the longer the lock period the higher the interest rate.

7. How does credit score affect my interest rate?

This is an important question to get specific answers on, especially if there have been any recent changes to your credit scenario.

There are a few key factors that can influence a slight fluctuation in your credit score, so be sure to fill your loan officer in on anything you can think of that may have been tied to your credit.

8. How much will I need for closing?

*The 2010 Good Faith Estimate will essentially only reflect what the maximum fees are, but will not tell you how much you need to bring to closing.

Ask your Loan Officer to estimate how much money you should budget for so that you are prepared at the time of closing.

Your earnest money deposit, appraisal fees and seller contributions may factor into this final number as well, so it helps to have a clear picture to avoid any last-minute panic attacks.

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Now that you have the background to these eight important questions, you should feel more confident about finding a mortgage company that can serve your personal needs and unique scenario.

Remember, the more you understand about the entire loan process, the better your experience will be.

Most frustration that is experienced during the home buying and approval process is largely due to unclear expectations.

You can never ask too many questions…

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Related Articles – Mortgage Approval Process:

Ten Credit Do’s and Don’ts To Bear In Mind Prior To Getting Your Mortgage Loan

How can a fully approved loan get denied for funding after the borrower has signed loan docs?

Simple, the underwriter pulls an updated credit report to verify that there hasn’t been any new activity since original approval was issued, and the new findings kill the loan.

This generally won’t happen in a 30 day time-frame, but borrowers should anticipate a new credit report being pulled if the time from an original credit report to funding is more than 60 days.

Purchase transactions involving short sales or foreclosures tend to drag on for several months, so this approval / denial scenario is common.

It’s An Ugly Cycle:

  1. First-Time Home Buyer receives an approval
  2. Thinks everything is OK
  3. Makes a credit impacting decision (new car, furniture, run up credit card balance)
  4. Funder pulls new credit report and denies the loan

In the hopes of stemming the senseless slaughter of perfectly acceptable approvals, we’ve developed a “Ten credit do’s and don’ts” list to help ensure a smoother loan process.

These tips don’t encompass everything a borrower can do prior to and after the Pre-Approval process, however they’re a good representation of the things most likely to help and hurt an approval.

Ten Credit Do’s and Don’ts:

DO continue making your mortgage or rent payments

Remember, you’re trying to buy or refinance your home – one of the first things a lender looks for is responsible payment patterns on your current housing situation.

Even if you plan on closing in the middle of the month, or if you’ve already given notice, continue paying that rent until you’ve signed your final loan documents.

It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

DO stay current on all accounts

Much like the first item, the same goes for your other types of accounts (student loans, credit cards, etc).

Nothing can derail a loan approval faster than a late payment coming in the middle of the loan process.

DON’T make a major purchase (car, boat, big-screen TV, etc…)

This one gets borrowers in trouble more than any other item.

A simple tip: wait until the loan is closed before buying that new car, boat, or TV.

DON’T buy any furniture

This is similar to the previous, but deserves it’s own category as it gets many borrowers in trouble (especially First-Time Home Buyers).

Remember, you’ll have plenty of time to decorate your new home (or spend on your line of credit) AFTER the loan closes.

DON’T open a new credit card

Opening a new credit card dings your credit by adding an additional inquiry to your score, and it may change the mix of credit types within your report (i.e. credit cards, student loans, etc).

Both of these can have a negative impact on your score, and could result in a denial if things are already tight.

DON’T close any credit card accounts

The reverse of the previous item is also true. Closing accounts can have a negative impact on your score (for one – it decreases your capacity which accounts for 30% of your score).

DON’T open a new cell phone account

Cell phone companies pull your credit when you open a new account. If you’re on the border credit-wise, that inquiry could drop your score enough to impact your rate or cause a denial.

DON’T consolidate your debt onto 1 or 2 cards

We’ve already established that additional credit inquiries will hurt your score, but consolidating your credit will also diminish your capacity (the amount of credit you have available), resulting in another hit to your credit.

DON’T pay off collections

Sometimes a lender will require you to pay of a collection prior to closing your loan; other times they will not.

The best rule of thumb is to only pay off collections if absolutely necessary to ensure a loan approval. Otherwise, needlessly paying off collections could have a negative impact on your score.

Consult your loan professional prior to paying off any accounts.

DON’T take out a new loan

This goes for car loans, student loans, additional credit cards, lines of credit, and any other type of loan.

Taking out a new loan can have a negative impact on your credit, but also looks bad to underwriters and investors alike.

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Follow these Do’s and Don’ts for a smoother mortgage approval and funding process.

Just remember the simple tip: wait until AFTER the loan closes for any major purchases, loans, consolidations, and new accounts.

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