Your credit—including ensuring credit reports are correct, knowing your credit score, and acting to improve it—is among the most confusing topics related to personal finance. Yet it’s extremely important—particularly if you’re planning to buy a house, and especially if you’re a first-time buyer. Your credit score is one of the first things a lender will look at when you apply for a mortgage.
To cut through all that confusion, here are five tips you can act on right now to identify and address any problems with your credit:
- Check your credit reports for free once a year through the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Why all three? Because the information in each bureau’s report can differ. If one or all reports include mistakes, your credit score may be negatively affected, and you may need to address the errors before going house-shopping.
- Be strategic with credit card use: the percentage of your credit limit that you use every month can affect your score. Make sure your balance doesn’t come too close to your limit.
- The simplest and most important tip? Pay off your balance each month. To maintain a healthy score, pay it off before the due date. Anything after 30 days post due date can spell very bad news for your score.
- Be consistent: good credit behavior over the long term will keep your score high.
- Don’t take on more credit. If you apply for several different credit cards, you’re sending a message that you may have maxed out your other accounts.