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Credit Scores and Reports, Mortgage Rates

Your credit report is separate from your credit score, though the score is developed from the report. In addition to viewing credit reports from the three major reporting bureaus, you also should obtain your FICO score. Your score is like a report card. Fair Isaac & Co. (the FICO score keeper) assigns you a number based on the information in your credit report. Since there are three credit-reporting bureaus, you have three FICO scores. Here are the scoring factors:

Credit Checklist

  • Payment history — Have you paid your bills on time?
  • Amounts owed — What is your overall debt?
  • Length of credit history — How long have you been borrowing money? Lenders like to see a long credit history.
  • New credit — Have you applied for new credit?
  • Types of credit used — Lenders like to see all kinds of credit types: bank cards, car loans, student loans, and more.

What's an A+?

The FICO scores range from 350 to 850; an 850 is the Holy Grail of credit scores and 723 is the median score in the U.S., but you can expect good mortgage interest rates at the 720 to 760 level and up.

For anecdotal evidence of your good credit standing, if you notice you are receiving a lot of zero percent credit card or lines of credit offers, you are probably in pretty good shape.

Homebuyers who pursue an FHA loan, one of the most common loan types for first-time purchasers, can usually secure a loan if their credit is 630 or over.

If you are applying for a "stated income" loan, whereby you forego providing income verification to the lender, the lender will be looking for a minimum FICO score of 680 or higher. Banks don't like to assume all the risk, so your good credit history is key.

Seventy to 80 percent of mortgage lenders use FICO as their means of determining your interest rate and the types of loan you qualify for; as interest rates creep up, this difference can be significant.

Free Reports

The good news is that your credit report is easy to get. A federal regulation that went into effect in September 2005 gives consumers access to one free credit report per year from each of the three reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. The online report is generated after you answer a series of security questions and only takes about 10 minutes to complete.

Your FICO score is in easy reach as well at Each FICO score costs approximately $15, but this expense may save you thousands over the life of your mortgage if you end up with a lower interest rate.

What's a Good Credit Score?

How do you know what a good score is and what a bad score is? Well, that's sort of a gray area since different scores are calculated in different ways; different creditors use different scores, and no one knows exactly how they are calculated since those formulas are proprietary to the companies using them. Scores may range from around 300 to 900 with the average credit score in America being at about 740. Here is an approximate range of how credit scores are judged:

Excellent credit = 720 and above

Good credit = 660 to 719

Fair credit = 620 to 659

Poor/bad credit = 619 and below

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