Q: I bought a house with my wife 6 months ago. The only problem is the loan is only in my wife’s name and my father’s name. In essence he co-signed for it. I am not on the loan.

We put down $10,000, our mortgage balance is $180,000, and our interest rate is 6.75 percent. We have made all the payments on time.

Our lender just called me and said that we could refinance. It won’t cost anything and it will lower our interest rate to 6 percent. We would like to do that. However I would like to take my father’s name off and put my name on the loan.

The problem is my bad credit history. In fact I know I have one collection agency out there trying to collect on an old cell bill which I feel I do not owe. The collection agency wants over $2,000, which I think is crazy.

I make over $100,000 a year, and my wife stays home with our son, who has a medical condition. I would like to keep my wife’s name on the mortgage for the tax deduction, but also would like to put my name on it.

A: You need to talk to a couple of different reputable mortgage lenders about what they can do for you given your situation.

The first thing to do is to pull a copy of your credit history and credit score. You can do this at MyFico.com. See what you’re facing. If the only problem with your credit score is this phone bill that you don’t owe, then get yourself up to speed on the Fair Credit Reporting act and the Fair Debt Collection Act at the Federal Trade Commission’s website (FTC.gov).

You can demand that this collection agency prove that you owe this bill. If they cannot prove it, they must stop hounding you. If they prove that you do owe the bill, then you should pay it and move on.

Check out what other errors and inconsistencies are being reported and spend the next six months trying to improve your score until it is at least in the mid 600s. I’d really like to see you get your score to 700 because that will give you the most options. The way you can boost your score is by disputing errors and getting them taken off your credit history, paying all your bills on time, and paying off any credit card debt you may have.

But even with a score in the 600s, you may be able to refinance your loan and take your father-in-law off the mortgage. Take your current credit history and credit score with you when you go in for your mortgage consultation. Ask the lender what he or she can do for you with the credit history and score you currently have.

Don’t allow the lenders to pull their own copies of your credit history and score because that can drive down the score if you don’t actually refinance right away.

With some hard work, I can’t see why you won’t be able to make this happen over the next six months.

Feb. 7, 2005.