A reader wants to buy a house, but his credit score is "in the toilet."

Question: My credit score stinks. I got a 679, which I hear is really in the toilet. I want to buy a house in the next few years. Will I be able to get a mortgage with that? Can I get a decent rate? I still have a car to pay off, and about $10,000 on several credit cards (six, I think).

What can I do to raise my credit score? Got any tricks? 

I heard a neat one: Report my credit card stolen. They close the account and create a new one. Not sure exactly how this helps, but it’s supposed to. What else can I do?

— Peter in Oklahoma

Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…

Don’t take this the wrong way, Peter, but you’ve just written one of the most depressing letters I’ve received this year. Let me explain why.

First, you want to buy a house but are focused exclusively on your credit score. 

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What you don’t realize, Peter, is that your credit score isn’t just a random number. It’s based on the money you have and the money you spend. So if you’re already struggling with five-figure credit card debt on top of a car loan you don’t see paying off before you by a house, you’re heading for a debt disaster.

Second, you don’t have a grasp on your credit card debt.

You have “about $10,000.” In my experience, such estimates are usually low, because cardholders fail to appreciate just what 16 percent interest (and that’s just the average these days) can do to a monthly balance.

Even worse, you’re not exactly sure how many credit cards you have. You “think” it’s six.

Third, you’re trying to fix your credit score by lying.

Setting aside the ethics of reporting a card stolen when it isn’t, this “trick” won’t significantly help you. In fact, you’re not even sure how it works. (It doubles your “trade lines,” which I won’t bother explaining.)

Even if it does work, “credit age” comprises just 15 percent of your overall credit score. Credit score is based five factors, but “payment history” is 35 percent of it. The next biggest chunk is “level of debt” at 30 percent. So that’s 65 percent combined. Anything else you do is expending a lot of effort for minor results.

If you pay your bills on time and reduce your debt, you’ll be in a much better position to buy a house — and keep it.

By the way, Peter, you’re not too far from your goal if you apply yourself. Your credit score of 679 is only a shade under the national average of 682. That’s considered only “average,” but if you can make some minor changes, such as budgeting and taking these five steps to lowering your credit card debt, you might get that house you wanted, and at the interest rate you want, too.

Have a debt question?

Email your question to editor@debt.com and Howard Dvorkin will review it. Dvorkin is a CPA, chairman of Debt.com, and author of two personal finance books, Credit Hell: How to Dig Yourself Out of Debt and Power Up: Taking Charge of Your Financial Destiny.

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Article last modified on September 7, 2017. Published by Debt.com, LLC .