Credit Lines: Number and Length of Time Open
from an email:
On a related note, I hope you might have some advice for us. My husband and I just sold our condo. But we are NOT buying at the moment. Instead we are renting. (Not sure where we are going to be 6 months out and buying does not sound like a good idea until we are settled again.) So we are spending a small part of the profit off the sale on retiring the only credit card debt we still have and putting the rest in a money market to earn interest until we can use it as a down payment on our next house.
However, with no credit card debt and no mortgage (and one car loan that will be paid off in about a year) I am afraid that by the time we buy a house, we won't be considered good credit risks because of not having loans we are paying on.
We DO have a credit card that we put some charges on and pay off every month. Is that enough? Or is there something else we should be doing now to make sure we remain credit-worthy for a mortgage loan?
We will be renting an apartment. Does that show up on the credit report?
In general you want to have two open lines of credit to have a credit score. This doesn't mean that you necessarily have to have a balance on either of those lines of credit.
What you're doing seems fine and like a good idea. It's a rough market; I probably wouldn't buy right now unless I knew I was going to stay (or keep it) five years or more. In general, rent does not show up on a mortgage provider's credit report. It probably will not count as an open line of credit.
The card you use, which I gather is what you use to maintain credit, needs to be an actual credit card, which appears to be the case. If it is a debit card, it doesn't count as a line of credit to determine whether you have two open lines of credit or not. If it is indeed a credit card, you've got one existing line of credit that you've had for a while. Keep it open, keep paying it off every month. This helps your credit score even if you never carry a balance.
However, instead of closing the (other) credit card you have a balance on, may I suggest that you simply pay it off but keep it open? Unless it has a yearly charge just for having it, it costs you nothing to keep it in your safe at home. This gives you one open line of credit, and because you've had it for a while, this is better than a new line of credit (length of possession of open lines is one factor determining credit scores, and over five years is best). You might want to use it once per six months or so just so they don't think you've canceled. As long as it's a regular credit card where if you pay it off within the grace period there is no interest charge, and that's your second open line of credit.
You also currently have a installment payment operative, which is fine as long as you keep paying it on time. Depending upon how much you're getting in interest on the money market, it may behoove you to ask for a payoff. If the money market is getting two percent taxable and you're paying five on the installment debt (not tax deductible), you may wish to consider paying it off. On the other hand, if either of the two above cards is a debit card, this is your second line of credit, so keep it open long enough to get something else.
I live in San Diego, which has several big credit unions, and I've had good experiences having my clients apply for credit cards with most of them (they're also a decent source for second mortgages and home equity lines of credit - that's where they're set up to compete best - but first mortgages I can usually beat them blindfolded, because it's not where they're set up to shine). There are also any number of available offers on the internet, but check out the fine print carefully. Credit Unions may not be absolutely the best credit cards available, but they tend to be shorter on the Gotcha! provisions.
(Internet searches for credit unions in Los Angeles turn up fifty or more; in the Bay area a similar number. You need to do your due diligence and you may not be eligible to join most, but I've found it worth doing as opposed to doing business with the major banks and credit card companies that advertise like mad. The money to advertise doesn't come from nowhere.)
This should help you make informed choices as to what to do given your current situation to maintain two open lines of credit and a good credit score. Please let me know if this does not answer all of your questions or if you have any further questions.
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