Whether you're hoping to score a mortgage, a home equity loan or an auto loan, getting the thumbs-up from a lender has gotten a lot harder in recent months. Thanks to the ongoing subprime lending mess, lenders have tightened credit standards. Meanwhile, however, interest rates remain relatively low, making this a good time to borrow if you qualify to do so. As of Jan. 3, the
average rate on a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage was 6.07%, according to Freddie Mac ( FRE). In the first of this two-part series, we'll look at some ways to boost your credit score, a key factor in landing a loan. The second part reviews the new tighter requirements for various types of loans. Each of the three major credit bureaus -- Experian , TransUnion and Equifax -- calculate and maintain your credit score, which can range from 300 to 900. The score reflects your payment history, your outstanding debt, the length of your credit history, the number of new credit accounts you hold and the types of credit you use. In general, you need a credit score of 600 or better to qualify for a loan -- and a higher score can save you money. For example, a borrower with a credit score of 760 or more might pay half a percentage point less in interest on a loan than someone with a credit score of 690.