The biggest and most important loan most of us will ever apply for is a mortgage, or home loan. It’s the toughest to get approved for, and the interest rate you qualify for can literally make a difference of thousands of dollars per year in payments. If you’re thinking of applying for a mortgage in the near future, it’s in your best interest to get your credit score as high as possible before filling out the paperwork. Here are 3 steps to help you do that.

Pay down your credit cards to only 15% of your limit.
Mortgage lenders take a careful look at how you use credit and how much of your limit you use. If they see that you’re close to maxing out on one of your cards, this will ding your chances for being approved. Your goal is to get both your individual card balances and your total credit usage to under 15% of your limit. If you have one credit card with a very high balance and one with a low balance, you may want to think about consolidating them so the overall debt-to-credit ratio comes down.

If you have negative items on your credit report, ask for a goodwill adjustment.
Before your begin the mortgage application process, go in and review your credit report with a fine-toothed comb. Look for any negative items–late payments, accounts in collections–and determine the creditor for each item in question. Next, reach out to each of those creditors with what’s called a goodwill letter. This is essentially a chance for you to explain what happened, tell them the reason for the negative item on the report, and make your case for forgiveness. Let them know you’re applying for a mortgage, and you’re asking for the item to be forgiven from your credit report. It sounds crazy, but this is a standard procedure in the preparation process to apply for a mortgage. Word to the wise–this process can take several months, so make sure you get a jump on it.

3. Don’t open any new loan accounts or apply for any new cards.

This includes both “bad credit”, like store credit cards, and “good credit”, like a car loan. When you’re in the process of applying for a mortgage, you want to show the lender that you aren’t taking on any additional debt or seeking out new lines of credit to cover expenses. The goal is to be as financially solvent as possible. Once you’ve closed on your home, you’re once again free to open accounts as you like.