Not knowing your credit score could cost you a difference in percentage points.     Once you know your credit score, you can work to improve it to get the best possible rate.

Follow the 9 tips below, from mother-daughter real estate team, Christine Van Tuyl and Margaret La Grange of Prudential Realty in Coronado, California:

Review your credit report yearly.    It’s not uncommon to find errors on your credit report.   How does it happen?     It can be a simple mix up.   Someone with bad credit might have a name or Social Security number that’s a little too similar to yours.   The result?   You become the unfortunate beneficiary of a less than favorable credit blemish by virtue of clerical error.     How will you know this if you don’t review your credit report?   There is really no reason not to run an annual credit report:   They are free, courtesy of the three credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

Repair credit report errors.   So, you’ve ordered a credit report and discover there is no record of your mortgage settlement from 2003.   Dispute it.   Directly contact the credit bureau who ran the report.   You can check the web sites of the three major credit bureaus to get information on how disputes are handled.   Law requires credit bureaus to investigate any disputes-usually within 30 days of your request.   Take the time and clear your name.

Pay your bills on time.     Does 35% sound like a lot to you?   That’s the portion of your credit report adversely affected by late payments.   Maybe you simply need to negotiate a different payment schedule with your creditor.     Let’s say that one of your credit card bills is due on the 23rd of the month rather than on the 1st, which is when you’re accustomed to paying your other bills in one fell swoop.   Negotiate to have a due date of the 1st of the month to make life easier.   Automatic payment withdrawal is another alternative to bill-paying tedium (provided you keep good records and have the funds on hand).

Increase the length of your credit history.     This accounts for about 15% of your credit score.   In this case, old is better than new.     So, don’t cancel that old Citibank account you opened at age 21 when you are now age 36.   You will cancel out more than just a card but a 15-year bill payment history with Citibank.     The reverse is also potentially damaging:     To open up several new credit accounts this year.     You have no history with Neiman Marcus, but you do have 15 solid years with Citibank.

Keep balances low.   Aim to keep your credit card balance below 25% of your available credit line.   This accounts for about 30% of your total credit score.

Keep new requests to a minimum.   Doing so will add 10% to your credit score.

Are you paying off a collection account?   Good for you.   Just know that it will remain on your credit report for seven years.

Pay off debt rather than move it around.   The grass might be perfectly green where your debt presently sits.    Pay down your revolving credit.   Did you know that owing the same amount with fewer open accounts could actually lower your credit score?

Don’t fall for credit report scams.   Don’t pay to have someone else remove potentially damaging credit information from your file.   If they don’t hold up their end, that information will come back to haunt you in two or three months.    That’s a surprise you can do without.

So, make it an annual ritual and run your free credit reports from the three major bureaus.

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