If you are planning on applying for a mortgage or purchasing a new home it is best that you begin to prepare at least three months in advance. The better prepared you are the better mortgage and interest rate you will receive.
First, make sure your credit history is being reported accurately. Don't be fooled or ripped off by companies that will charge you a lot of money and promise to remove negative credit from your report. You cannot remove accurately reported information. But, you can make sure what is there is correct. And there are ways to improve your score. The section on credit repair goes into greater detail and will show you how to do this. Remember, You can do it yourself.
The money you are going to use for your down payment and closing cost typically have to be sourced and seasoned for three months. If you already have your money in an institution (bank, CD, 401k,) you are ok. However, if you have $20,000 under your mattress and intend to buy a house with it today, you would be turned down. Lenders must see that you have had the money for three months, they must see where it came from. So, put the money in the bank and leave it there for three months. Some loan programs will allow a gift. (FHA and a few non-conforming lenders) However, even the gift must be sourced and seasoned in some cases. The are a few programs that do not source and season funds but the interest rate is considerably higher.
If you are renting your home or apartment, ALWAYS pay by check. It is the only way you have proof that you paid on time. Some loan programs require twelve months cancelled checks! I have seen people turned down because they can't produce 12 cancelled checks. Money orders usually will not work. And of course, Always pay on time.
The same applies here as rent payments, ALWAYS pay by check. If a lender miss-reports your payment history, cancelled checks are the only way to correct it. Or if your mortgage is with a private party the cancelled checks will be mandatory.
Calculate your debt to income. If it is a little high, pay off some of your smaller bills. Installment loans are not counted if you owe less than 9 payments. Revolving accounts (department stores) must actually be closed or the minimum payment will be used to calculate your DTI even if you have a 0 balance. Lenders don't like to see a lot of revolving accounts. Get rid of them. It will also increase your credit score.
You will be required to bring to your broker the following documents. They cannot even start your loan without them and they must see the originals so don't bother making copies, your loan officer will do that for you. Don't leave the originals with them. You will need to collect: 3 months bank statements, all pages, all accounts. Last 2 years W2's and or complete tax returns if you are self employed or paid on commission. One full month of pay stubs from your job. Divorce papers. Bankruptcy papers. 12 months cancelled checks if your rent/mortgage is paid to a private party. There may be other documentation requirements depending on the type of loan and your situation.
Change Jobs. Open any new accounts. Be late on any payment. Have any NSF checks show up on your bank statements.
Make your mortgage payment on time! ... No matter what your loan officer tells you, or when you think your new loan is going to close, MAKE THAT PAYMENT. Anything can happen. If your loan is delayed, and your payment shows up late not only will your credit suffer, but you may no longer qualify for the new loan.