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The best way to jump on an opportunity is to be prepared for it when it happens. If you’re hoping to buy a home, either your first one or a “move-up”, it pays to have a plan long before you start shopping.

Here are three steps that will put you in a good position to act whenever the next federal tax credit or state incentive for home-buyers is announced:

  1. Pay off your credit cards. Your banker will look at your debt-to-income ratio before deciding whether to approve you for a mortgage loan. The less debt you carry,on credit cards, bank loans, car loans, etc., the more mortgage you can qualify for. Stop charging stuff you don’t absolutely need, and get your balances to or near zero.
  2. Save some money. If you stop charging unnecessary purchases, you’ll have less to pay off and fewer monthly payments to make on your credit cards. That means you’ll have more money to tuck away. Do it. You’ll probably have to make a down payment on your house of 20 percent of the buying price, so if you’re buying a $200,000 home, you’ll have to put $40,000 down. Having cash for your down payment will make a good impression on your lender.
  3. Get pre-qualified for your mortgage before you start house hunting. Doing this will help you in two ways;  First, you’ll know how much you can pay for a house, so you won’t waste your time falling in love with a house that’s way out of your financial reach. Second, few sellers will agree to do business with you until you’ve been pre-qualified for the loan. It used to be the other way around: You’d pick out your house and then go get a loan for it. Now, financing is harder to come by.

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