Numbers matter in our finances, but some are more meaningful than others. Just ask any lender. Your hobbies or pleasant disposition do not figure in its loan decision. Numbers do. Here are a few of the key numbers lenders look at:

FICO score

A score of 760 or better puts you in the top consumer category, likely granting you the lowest rates for loans. Consider a 30-year mortgage on a $500,000 house, for instance: Getting a 4 percent interest rate instead of 4.5 will save you over $50,000 over the life of the loan.

Even if your credit is not pristine, at least make sure the trend is improving.


It matters greatly how much credit you have available right now. For example, if your credit card limit is $10,000, and you have used up $2,000, your remaining capacity is $8,000. Make sure you have plenty of capacity left, and are not continually bumping up against the ceiling. Use all your credit lines every once in a while or lenders might yank them.

Debt-to-income ratio

If more than 42 percent of total adjusted gross income is earmarked for paying off debt like car loans and mortgages, that could get you in real trouble. The lower that ratio, the better. This may be difficult in high-cost housing areas like San Francisco or New York City. Exceed 42 percent, and "hawkish" lenders may deny a new loan.

Liquidity ratio

For companies, this means the ability to meet short-term liabilities with short-term assets. For individuals, it is a fancy way of referring to your emergency fund: whether your cash on hand is enough to cover monthly bills. It is critical to aim for three to six months' worth of savings to handle any bills that come along.

Net worth

Net worth is your total assets minus your total liabilities: the equity in your house, plus your savings, investment portfolios and any other assets such as cars, minus what you owe on them. Net worth is one of the best ways to keep score even though it can be affected by stock market gyrations, for instance.