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Strengthening your credit file

Your ability to obtain a mortgage, auto loan or credit card depends on your past credit behavior and how lenders score your credit rating. Your financial habits are tracked by creditors, who then report them to the credit bureaus. That credit history is what you see when you get a copy of your credit report.

If you know you have a low score because you have not established a credit history or you have a blemished credit record, you can take a few steps to build it up:

Apply for a department store card or gasoline credit card, which are relatively easy to qualify for, and pay your bills on time.
You can also take out a secured credit card by depositing money with the issuing bank.

If, however, your credit score is low and your debts are out of control, the worst step you can take is to ignore them. The sooner you deal with your credit problems, the more lenient lenders will be and the less painful your exit from debt will be.

Some of the red flags potential lenders look for in your credit report are:

  • late payments
  • recent credit inquiries
  • overextended credit
  • paycheck garnishments
  • liens
  • bankruptcy

Americans are up to their ears in debt, and if they're not careful, it is going to become more and more difficult to strengthen credit files.

Some bad financial habits are relatively easy to stop. Habits such as: Bouncing checks because you don't balance your account, underpaying or making late credit card payments, are simple to fix. But, bad credit habits have major repercussions -- causing divorces, bankruptcies, lost dreams and emotional wreckage.

When it comes to securing a mortgage loan, here are a few simple strategies to strengthening your credit file beforehand.

Double-check the rates and fees you're now paying on your credit cards. The rate may have gone up over the past year if you're carrying a variable-rate card which is tied to some index. The average credit card fixed rate at the start of 2003 was 13.77 percent, and there are better deals that exist.

Also, check to see if the card's annual fee has been raised. The maximum you should pay is $35. Remember: You want to minimize debt because bankers like to see that your total monthly debt does not exceed 36 percent of your gross monthly income, including your house payment.

It's important to know your credit limit, which is based on your income, the amount of your current debt and your credit history. It's not important to carry more than two credit cards. Simply carry the number of cards you need, even though you haven't used up your credit line.

Article continued at http://www.bankrate.com/brm/green/cc/crdt2f.asp

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