Score One For Credit

Maintaining good credit can affect your lifestyle in many ways. It can enable you to purchase a vehicle, qualify for extended credit, and increase your chances of obtaining a home mortgage loan.

That’s something Vivian Alston, 37, learned two years ago when she began searching for a home for her family. Alston is a medical assistant in Denver and husband Albert, 37, is a manager at a Denver construction company. Early in her search, she found it difficult to qualify for a mortgage because her credit score was 627. “I’ve always had [issues with credit],” Alston admits, “and many realtors wouldn’t help me get a house until two years after I’d cleared my credit.”

Alston thought her credit problems were so severe that she filed bankruptcy in 2002. At the time, she had nearly $17,000 in credit card debt and a $1,200 claim by a former landlord alleging that she’d damaged an apartment she lived in. But that didn’t stop her. Alston discovered Oakland Homes, a Colorado-based builder/realtor that uses a lottery process to place applicants into the homes it builds.

After interviewing with Oakland Homes in July 2003, Alston was again told her credit score didn’t qualify her for a mortgage. She was referred to the Colorado Housing Assistance Corp., an organization that provides down payment and closing costs assistance to people who have difficulty qualifying for a mortgage.

“We sometimes get people who have bad credit or need to improve their credit,” says Michelle Mitchell, president of CHAC. “Experience tells us that if we just send them home and tell them they need to clean up their credit, then it’s a long time before they ever come through again to buy a house because they get discouraged.”

CHAC has a Credit and Savings Club that teaches home buyers how to read a credit report, find and correct errors, close existing accounts, budget, and pay bills on time. Alston joined the club. “After taking the sessions, I got my credit report from three different bureaus,” she says, (For more on credit, see “Perfect Score,” Nov. 2004). Even though she had filed bankruptcy, the reports said she still owed some of the creditors she’d already settled with. Alston wrote letters to correct the inaccurate information and paid off a car loan to strengthen her profile: “Within a couple of months, my credit score went from 627 to 650.”

Her new credit score was high enough to qualify for a $134,000 loan from Irwin Mortgage and a $5,000 down payment assistance loan from CHAC. Alston closed on the home in August 2004. She combined $2,000 of her own savings with an additional $3,000 from Irwin to use for home upgrades. She will repay CHAC $50 a month so others can benefit from their programs. Alston says, “I’ve learned that maintaining good credit can make all the difference in the world.”