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Comparing mortgage offers helps you find the lowest possible rate, which can ultimately save you thousands in interest. If you’re not careful about how you comparison-shop, though, you could unnecessarily hurt your credit score, which can make it harder to qualify for the best rate.
With a bit of planning, this doesn’t have to be the case. Here’s how to shop for a mortgage without hurting your credit.
1. Shop around within a short timeframe
When you’re ready to get preapproved for a mortgage and want to compare offers from multiple lenders, aim to do it within a 45-day time frame. That’s because in this window, all of the credit inquiries different lenders make appear as one inquiry on your credit report. While your score might be affected by the single inquiry, it won’t be impacted as much as multiple inquiries on your report.
That being said, it can be a good idea to get prequalified well before this time frame so that you have more time to compare rates and fees.
2. Get prequalified
Getting prequalified for a mortgage — some lenders call this a rate check — can be a smart strategy if you’re concerned about damaging your credit score as you comparison-shop.
To prequalify you for a loan, lenders check your credit report, but conduct a “soft” inquiry, or soft pull, in which they prescreen your report without it affecting your score. A “hard” credit inquiry, in contrast — which happens when you get preapproved or formally apply for a loan — can adversely impact your score. Prequalification allows you to shop around and compare rates without this risk.
Keep in mind: While getting prequalified can help minimize damage to your score, it is no substitute for getting preapproved when the time comes. In today’s seriously competitive seller’s market, a preapproval is necessary to prove to sellers you’ll be able to get financing if your offer is accepted.
3. Hold off on applying for new credit
If you’re also considering opening a new credit card or taking out a personal loan while you shop for a mortgage, be aware: Multiple inquiries for different types of credit can negatively impact your credit score, hindering your efforts to obtain a competitive mortgage rate.
If possible, wait until you officially close on your mortgage before applying for additional forms of credit.
4. Check your credit report
Whenever you apply for a loan, knowing where you stand credit-wise is important. If you check your credit report well in advance of comparison-shopping for a mortgage, you can take proactive steps to improve it if needed — or fix any errors — putting you in the best position to get the lowest rate without accumulating unnecessary inquiries on your report.
You can get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies each year at AnnualCreditReport.com. Don’t worry — checking your credit report won’t affect your score.
5. Pay down debt
If your credit score could use improvement, one of the best ways to raise it is to pay down your debt, like credit card balances. If doable, pay off a credit card balance in full — bonus points for keeping the balance as low as possible moving forward.
Paying down your debt has a double benefit: Less debt lowers your debt-to-income ratio, which can help you qualify for a bigger mortgage or one with better terms.
Protecting your credit score is important, even if you’re not shopping for a mortgage. Once you’re approved for a home loan and moving through the closing process, continue to maintain your score by refraining from applying for other types of credit, and continuing to pay down balances when possible.