Many people with bad credit wonder how long it will take to get a FICO score that will allow them to get a mortgage, or refinance to a better mortgage. What if you pay all of your bills on time for the next 6 months? What if you close a couple of accounts? What if you paid an extra $100 a month on your credit card accounts for the next three months? What if you pull the president of FICO from a burning building (answer: nothing!)? Conversely, what if you're a bit short this month? How much will missing a payment hurt? Wouldn't it be awesome if there was a way to give various scenarios a 'trial run," and see how they'd affect your score? Well, there is.

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It's called Score Power, and it's a product put out by Equifax credit bureau and FICO -- the folks who created the most widely-used credit scoring model. For those with bad credit and a goal of buying a house, it may well be worth the $48 to get your three scores and the Score Power credit simulator.

The section entitled "How Lenders See You" provides a lot of good information for someone planning on getting a mortgage. It shows where you are compared with other consumers, what delinquency rates are for someone in your score range, and what interest rate you could expect to pay on a car loan, mortgage, or home equity loan. In addition, this section tells you in plain English, exactly what is helping your score (for example, accounts paid on time, few new accounts, and not seeking new credit), and what is hurting your score (for example, short credit history and no recent activity). This would tell you that you could improve your score over time by using your credit a little each month, continuing to pay on time, and not increasing your balances.

Score Power can give you an idea of how long you have to keep your nose clean, credit-wise, to get your credit scores high enough to get a lender to approve your mortgage application. And if you have friends or family with mortgage credit problems? The tool can be given as a gift.