If you've kept a good score all these years, the last thing you want to do is sink it now when you really need it. Here are four ways to protect your credit right before you buy.
The other challenge is keeping your credit card balances low. To get the highest credit score, you want to keep your use of cards to 10 percent or less of the limit, and use only one or two cards, Ulzheimer says. Pay bills in full, and delay opening any new accounts until after you've closed on your home.
- Put bills and financial papers -- anything with names and account numbers -- in one box, preferably with a lock. Put that box on a high shelf in a closet, marked "family photos" or something bland.
- Pack up decorative items with personal information such as marriage certificates, diplomas and family trees, says Ron Phipps, president of the National Association of Realtors. And don't leave computer passwords taped to your desk.
- Box up small valuables: personal electronics, coins and collectibles, cash, jewelry or other treasures, says Pat Vredevoogd Combs, former president of the National Association of Realtors.
- Another target: prescription drugs. "There shouldn't be any on the premises," Combs says.
- Discuss what strategies your agent will use to safeguard your privacy and your things. Decide what personal information your agent can and can't share. (Buyers don't need to know that you're single and travel often.)
Select an agent licensed by the state and registered with your local board, Combs says. And be realistic: No one can completely control everyone's movements during an open house, she says.
- Deal with one person at the lending company. That way, you minimize the number of people who have access to your paperwork.
- Send papers by fax or snail-mail. Ask that anything with your Social Security number or other vital data not be sent via email.
- Ask to see where and how your information will be secured. "For me, on a desk is not a safe place," Beltran says.
When you make an offer, consider a cashier's check instead of a personal check for the earnest money deposit, says Michael Gilbert, detective with the Montgomery County, Pa., Detective Bureau. That way, you're not sharing your bank account numbers, he says.