Rebuilding Credit to Buy My First Home

(Editor's Note: "Home" is shaped by individual circumstance and generational view. In this three-part series, a free-thinking Millennial (born between the early 1980s and 2000), rebounding Gen-Xer (born from the early 1960s to early 1980s) and determined Boomer (born following WWII through the early 1960s) share stories from the recession that helped define how they live today.)

My Home View: Part 2 of 3

Savvy. Skeptical. Self-reliant.— Pew Research Social & Demographic Trends on Gen-Xers.

In 2008, Terri F. was working as a mortgage underwriter in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, when the housing market crashed Terri, like so many other Gen-Xers, lost her job and struggled to pay her bills.

Her savings depleted, Terri declared bankruptcy in 2010 even though she knew it would be a tough blow to her credit for many years to come. "But in my case, I wanted to put the past behind me and start rebuilding my credit from scratch," she says. "My ultimate goal was homeownership."

Know the Score

Terri understood that she'd be required to wait for a certain number of years before she could apply for a loan backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, but she wanted to be financially ready by that time.

"We advise consumers to start rebuilding right away," says Thomas Nitzsche, senior media relations coordinator at ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions in Atlanta.

As a first step, order your credit report. Every consumer in the U.S. may order a free credit report every 12 months. If there is nothing on your credit report showing current or "favorable," or if you have damaged credit, you should look into opening a secured credit card, low-limit sub-prime credit card, or a credit-builder CD at a local bank or credit union," Nitzsche says. Be sure to select an account that will report to at least one, and ideally all three, credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) as this is critical to rebuilding your score.

By carefully using these products, you can begin to build your credit score. Notes Nitzsche: "A good goal is to have a score over 700."

Dusting Off

Terri landed a new underwriting job in Florida in 2012 and started rebuilding her credit carefully.

She paid her bills on time and, as she neared the end of the waiting period to qualify for a Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac-backed loan, she also saved toward a down payment for a house. That savings was nicely bolstered by a 2013 year-end bonus from her employer.

The timing was perfect to begin home shopping in earnest.

Using the Internet, Terri investigated potential properties, and visited the homes that piqued her interest, including many Fannie Mae-owned properties she'd found on HomePath.com. Homepath.com features a wide selection of homes in neighborhoods across the country—from single-family homes to condominiums and town houses.

Many are move-in ready while some may need light or more extensive renovations. HomePath.com lets visitors enter parameters (like price range and number of bedrooms) to find properties matching their specific needs.

Moving In

In just a few weeks, Terri found the right home for her, a Jacksonville townhome that was freshly painted and "move in" ready. She didn't waste any time: "I put the offer in on a Friday and was accepted on Tuesday," she says, "it was really a simple and fast process."

The townhome is a quick drive from work and is a "great neighborhood," she reports. Once the deal closed, Terri, now 42, and her dog took up immediate residence.

If and when she's ready for a larger home, Terri says she'll definitely use Homepath.com. "It was a struggle to rebuild, but I'm really proud of what I've accomplished."

Stay tuned for next week's My Home View story…

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