It’s easy to fall in love with the idea of buying a home. You’ve got it all planned out: a five-bedroom home in your favorite neighborhood with a manicured lawn and—why not?—a nice pool.
Well, it may be the middle of winter now (we haven’t even tossed our Christmas trees yet, actually), but you’ve got a lot to do before prime home-shopping season this spring. So if you really want to land that dream home, you’d better get started now!
We’re kicking off our 2016 guide So You Wanna Buy a House? Each week, we’ll show you the next step to prep your finances, save for a down payment, find your dream home, and then finally ace the deal. (We’ll also have a 2016 guide for home sellers kicking off tomorrow.)
Step 1 is to clean up your credit score, also called a FICO score—a simplified calculation of your history of paying back debts and making regular payments on loans. If you’re borrowing money to buy a home (as most do), lenders want to know you’ll pay them back in a timely manner, and a credit score is an easy estimate of those odds.
Here’s your crash course on this all-important little number, and how to whip it into the best home-buying shape possible by spring.
Pull your credit report
There are three major U.S. credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion), and each releases its own credit scores and reports (a more detailed history that’s used to determine your score). Their scores should be roughly equivalent, although they do pull from different sources. For example, Experian considers on-time rent payments while TransUnion has detailed information about previous employers.