How much does bad credit cost when you get a mortgage? You probably have an idea. A closer look may motivate you to pay a little more attention to getting your obligations taken care of on time.

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According to Freddie Mac, the average mortgage size in 2008 was $167,960. A homeowner with that mortgage and a 520 credit score will pay $185,302 more in interest charges over the life of a 30-year mortgage than a borrower with the same mortgage and a credit score of 720, according to a formula devised by Consumer Credit Counseling Service. That works out to an extra $516 a month.

You'd like to have that extra cash for something more fun than paying for old bad habits, wouldn't you? Well, you could. Consumer Credit Counseling's calculation assumes that bad credit is forever. But there's no reason to stick with a bad credit mortgage any longer than you need to. In a year or two, you could have a good credit score and refinance. Use that extra cash to get rid of more debt, and you could be on your way to exceptional financial health.

Credit scores can be improved five ways:

Payment history is 35% of your score. Pay everything on time for the next six months and see what happens.

Amounts owed equals 30% of your score. Ideally, you want to have access to a fair amount of credit (without being silly) but you should use it sparingly. So improving this part means putting the credit cards on ice and paying down your balances. Again, just try it for six months and see what it gets you.

Length of credit history is 15% of your score. Don't close accounts that you have had for a long time. Keep them open even if you don't use them.

Getting new credit hits 10% of your score. Lay off opening new accounts for a while.

Types of credit is 10% of your score. A mortgage, a car payment, two or three national credit cards--that's a good mix. Thirty department store credit cards is not. Installment and mortgage debt is weighted more heavily, that is, granted more importance, than revolving credit.

You can request a free copy of your report online at For a nominal fee, you can also get your scores. Keep your nose clean, then check again six to twelve months from now. Your progress should be all the motivation you need.