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What Is A Credit Score And What Does It Mean?

With the advent of computers, and especially of the Internet, borrowers no longer hear what they sometimes did a generation ago, "Your mortgage approval is being held up because it takes a few weeks to get your out-of-state credit report."

These days, some lenders even boast that they can approve mortgage applications in as little as 15 minutes.

All sorts of programs have been developed to use Internet resources and to replace human decisions with computerized judgments. One widely used aid nowadays is a system of credit scoring. Various factors are evaluated automatically (as they have been for some time by the issuers of credit cards) and the borrower ends up with a numerical score, with 900 the highest possible rating.

The use of such scoring not only shortens the time needed for mortgage approval, but also reduces the lender's cost for the work, which should eventually be reflected in lower application fees. In addition, fair housing experts feel it reduces the danger that a loan officer might be influenced by racial bias.

Critics say that the process doesn't allow for extenuating circumstances, and that applicants who score below 620 may be unfairly refused lending. In most cases, human underwriters review would-be mortgage borrowers who score between 620 and 660 individually. In addition, some mortgage lenders will proceed to offer mortgage loans with higher interest rates to higher-risk and "sub-prime" homebuyers.

There's nothing new about much of the advice on how to keep one's credit score high when anticipating a mortgage application.

"This is no time to go out and buy a car on credit" has always been useful advice. But applicants may not realize their numerical score goes down if they simply apply for new credit cards, run up their present cards, or keep many credit cards on which they don't carry balances. Even unused credit cards will impact a credit score. To get them off the record, anything more than a couple of cards should be cut up and officially returned to the card companies.

As always, the amount of total debt presently carried is of prime importance, whether a human or a computer is making the decision. And as always, the borrower's outstanding judgments will almost certainly need to be paid off before a mortgage loan is granted. Paying them off well in advance, however, can save points on a credit score.

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