Your credit score measures your risk of paying late or defaulting on a loan. Lenders use credit scores along with the rest of your loan information to measure your likelihood of paying back the debt on time. Credit scores allow mortgage companies to use software programs called automated underwriting systems, or AUS, to determine if the amount of risk is acceptable for the loan program requested.
The three major credit bureaus are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Lenders are encouraged to report loans and payment history to the credit bureaus on a monthly basis. When companies need to examine a potential borrower's payment history, they buy a credit report using the borrower's name, address and Social Security number. Each credit bureau calculates the credit score differently. This is why the exact same information can be on all three credit reports and they all report a different credit score.
Factors that Affect Credit Scores
Many factors affect your credit score. Making your payments on time every month is one important factor. Payments made more than 30 days late will lower your credit score. Collections, judgments, tax liens, bankruptcy and foreclosure can have devastating effects on your credit score. Each time you authorize someone to look at your credit that can lower your credit score as well.
Raising Your Credit Score
One misconception is the belief that paying off credit cards will raise your credit score. The credit bureaus want to see your ability to manage ongoing credit without missing payments or using the entire credit line. Pay down your credit cards so the balances are between 30 to 45 percent of the total available credit line. The older the credit line, the better. If you close a credit card, close the newest ones first and keep the older ones.
Finding the Middle Score
Mortgage lenders require access to all three credit bureaus for each borrower. They use the mid-credit score. If your three scores were 780, 776 and 790 they would use the middle of the three scores, in this case 780. They would not average the scores by adding the three numbers together and dividing the sum by three.
Minimum Credit Score Requirement
In January 2010, the Federal Housing Authority, or FHA, began requiring a minimum 580 credit score for any FHA loan with less than a 10 percent down payment or equity if the loan is a refinance. Conventional loans require a minimum credit score of 620. Lenders are allowed to require their own minimum credit score requirements beyond what the mortgage investors and insurers require. Having the required score does not guarantee loan approval; it is only one factor that lenders consider when approving a loan.
Consumer Federation of America: Your Credit Scores
Credit Report.com: Credit Scores
Consumer Credit Help: Do They Add All Three Credit Score Points Together?