Your
credit score can have a major impact on your life. Not only do creditors
typically check your score when deciding whether to approve your loan
application and what interest rate to charge you if you are approved, but
landlords, insurance companies, and even employers often check it as well.
Having a good score can help you achieve your goals quickly and at the lowest
possible cost.

What
is a credit score?

Your credit score is a mathematical assessment of the likelihood you will repay
what you borrow. It is based on the information in your credit report, which
tracks your credit-related activity. Types of credit include credit cards,
store cards, personal loans, car loans, mortgages, student loans, and lines of
credit.

For
each account, your report shows who it is with, your payment history, the
initial amount borrowed (for loans) or credit limit (for revolving credit), the
current amount owed, and when it was opened/taken out. Your report also shows
if you have experienced any credit-related legal actions, such as a judgment,
foreclosure, bankruptcy, or repossession, and who has pulled your report
(called an inquiry).

There
are three major credit bureaus that compile and maintain credit reports:
Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Theoretically, all three of your reports
should be the same, but it is not uncommon for creditors to report to only one
or two of the bureaus.

FICO
score

The most commonly used scoring model is issued by the Fair Isaac Corporation.
Called a FICO score, it ranges from 300 to 850, with a higher score being
indicative of less risk.

Generally,
those with a higher score are more easily granted credit and get a better
interest rate. A score of 700 and above is typically considered good, while 800
and above is excellent. However, most scores fall between 600 – 750, according
to Experian.

If
your score falls below 600, you will probably have a hard time getting a
mortgage (many lenders require you to have at least a 620 or higher). To get
the best interest rate, you usually need at least a 740.

The
following are the factors that are used to calculate your FICO score:

  • Payment history (35%): Making your payments on time boosts your score. Conversely, if you make a late payment, your score will take a hit.
  • Amounts owed (30%): Carrying large balances on revolving debt, like credit cards, particularly if those balances are close to the credit limits, will lower your score.
  • Length of credit history (15%): The longer you have had your accounts, the better.
  • New credit (10%): This factor looks at the number and proportion of recently opened accounts and the number of inquiries.
  • Types of credit used (10%): Having a variety of accounts, such as credit cards, retail accounts, and loans, boosts your score.

Since
your Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion credit reports do not necessarily
contain the same information, your FICO score from each bureau may be
different. When you apply for credit, the creditor may only check one of your
scores or check all three and average them or take the lowest or middle score.

Improving
your score
 
Following these habits can boost your score:

  • Always pay on time: Your payment history makes up the largest chunk of your credit score, so making your payments on time is extremely important.
  • Pay down existing debt: Even if you have never missed a payment, a large debt load will lower your score. Explore ways you can lower your interest rates and free up cash to make more than the minimum payments.
  • Avoid taking on additional debt: Besides paying down existing debt, try to not take on more debt in the future. For revolving credit, ideally you should not charge more than you can pay off in full the next month, but at the very least, try to keep the balance well under half of the credit limit.
  • Check your report for errors (and report them): Many reports contain score-lowering errors, so make sure to check your credit report from the three bureaus at least annually. You can get a free copy of your report once a year from the Annual Credit Report Request Service.
  • Keep your old accounts: A long credit history with the same accounts indicates stability.
  • Limit balance transfers: While transferring balances to “teaser rate” cards can be a way to efficiently get out of debt, it can also have a detrimental effect on your credit score. The accounts will be new and likely have balances close to the limit to maximize the advantage of the low rate – two factors that lower your score.
  • Avoid excess credit applications: When you apply for credit, your score decreases just a bit. If you do it frequently, a creditor may see it as a sign that you need to rely on credit to pay your obligations.
  • Be patient: It may feel like credit mistakes can haunt you forever but remember that your payment history from the past two years is much more important than what happened before that. Also keep in mind that most negative information is removed from your report after seven years.

Obtaining your score
When you apply for credit, the creditor may provide you with your score at no cost. Otherwise, if you want to see your score, you typically have to pay for it. There are a variety of services that sell different types of credit scores, so when you are purchasing your score, it is extremely important to pay attention to what exactly you are getting.

Checking
your credit score can be helpful if you are planning to get a mortgage or car
loan soon and want to have an idea if you will get approved or qualify for the
best interest rate. Otherwise, you may just want to stick with checking your credit
report, which is available for free. Remember, your score is based on the
information that is in your report.

Annual Credit Report Request Service
www.annualcreditreport.com
(877) 322-8228

You can learn more about understanding your credit score by signing up for a free seminar with Balance.

 

 

 

© This content is provided by our partners at BALANCE.