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Bad credit? Put off buying home until you clean it up
Also, Hilton joins Countrywide for a bonus program

If you have bad credit but still want to buy a house, you have more choices than were formerly available to people with financial problems. But the cost of getting a house may be way too high.

Consider the potential home buyer who goes to a lender and gets a $120,000 mortgage at the best rate available, currently about 7 percent. The monthly payment would be $831.But those who have a lot of black marks on their record won't be able to get that 7 percent rate right away. They will be sloughed off into the so-called sub-prime lending department. If someone offers you a sub-prime loan, it means you will be paying more -- usually a lot more -- for the privilege of buying a house.

That $120,000 mortgage at 11 percent would require a much steeper monthly payment -- $1,190 -- and at 13 percent it would be a breathtaking $1,382.

Supposing you could afford those kinds of payments, should you do it? Probably not, if you think you can clear up your credit record in the next few years and have a decent place to live in the meantime. Why pay the lender all that interest money when you could be saving it instead for a sizable down payment?

Buy a house and get bonus miles? It's certainly a different idea.

Countrywide Home Loans (800-774-3068) has teamed up with Hilton hotels to offer bonus miles to home buyers. You get 2,500 bonus points for each $10,000 financed by Countrywide to buy a house or to refinance.

The Hilton bonus points can be used for both travel and hotel stays at Hilton and Conrad International Hotels. For information on the bonus program or to enroll, call Hilton at 800-hiltons.

"When buying a house, people often find that there is little money left in the piggy bank for vacations," said Jeffrey Diskin, CEO of Hilton HHonors Worldwide. "This arrangement allows Hilton HHonors members to use their home loan to earn points toward free travel."

Lots of people are buying their first homes this spring, which has led Ace Hardware Corp. to focus on the down side of homeownership -- repairs. The company recommends you have the following on hand once you're in the house: hammer, drill, screwdrivers, adjustable wrench, screws and nails, tape measure, saw and flashlight.

The American Society of Home Inspectors offers tips on the problems its inspectors might find in a trip around the outside of the house. If you're a seller, or even a homeowner, you can use the list to make sure your own property is in good repair.

Potential problems include:

Surrounding ground or patio pitching toward the house.

Windows with a southern exposure that may have paint or glazing problems from sun exposure; north-facing windows that might show signs of rot or mildew.

Drainage systems, such as broken gutters and misdirected down spouts, which could lead to water damage.

On the roof: Missing shingles or improperly installed or worn flashing; shingles that are broken, loose or curled; tree branches touching the roof or hanging over the house.

Pamela Reeves writes this column weekly for Scripps Howard News Service.