A credit score is a three-digit number based on your credit report. A credit report is a complex compilation of your financial history.
Why are these so important? They make a big difference when you're trying to buy a home, a car or applying for a credit card.
Are you thinking about making a big purchase or didn't get the interest rate you were expecting? Or do you just want to make your score the best it can be? You're in the right place!
Knowing what a good score is (and how to improve yours) goes a long way toward getting the amazing interest rates you want and deserve.
Take charge and keep reading!
(Don't know your score? Guesstimate quickly and easily with this credit assessment calculator)
Who's Scoring You
Three major credit bureaus control most of the credit reporting in the United States. These started as regional companies but now provide services around the world.
Equifax: They're the oldest (founded 1899) with roots in the Southeast U.S. and spread across the globe.
Experian: Founded in 1996 and part of the larger information services company Experian plc - a global company based in Dublin, Ireland.
Transunion: Formed in 1968, is based in Chicago and continues to dominate the Midwest.
These companies collect and store your financial information as reported to them by your creditors. Creditors include everyone from credit card companies to utilities and student loan providers. Almost any company that is owed money from customers can report to the bureaus.
While credit bureaus do essentially the same thing, they approach it differently. Think of three pizza restaurants, Buella's, Gino's and Ray's. They all make pizza, but Ray's makes deep dish, Gino's loves New York style and Buella's is strictly vegetarian. They all make pizza, but they use different techniques and ingredients.
In other words, they set their own criteria, ranking scale and scores, just like Equifax, Experian and Transunion.
Credit Score Scales
Each bureau has a slightly different system: Experian: 360 - 840, Equifax: 280 - 850 and Transunion: 300 - 850
The good news? Thanks to the Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO), there is a scoring standard.
Where FICO Fits In
When it comes to getting a loan of almost any type, 90% of all lenders reference your FICO score.
The Fair Isaac Corporation created a standardized set of 5 criteria for measuring credit scores.
Each credit bureau uses this criteria to calculate a FICO score (in addition to their own score). This means a customer will have an Equifax credit score and a FICO score calculated by Equifax.
And yes, scores from Equifax, Experian and Transunion will differ. But only by a little.
Really, it gets better. When lenders pull FICO scores, they see a combination of the three bureaus. This minimizes inconsistencies or errors.
FICO has 4 categories: poor credit, average credit, good credit, and excellent credit and a scale ranging from 300 - 850.
Keep in mind: Lenders look at other factors too. Some lenders will approve people with a 650 FICO score while others may decline someone with a perfect score. If you are not comfortable with the loan offer, search for another one!Find great mortgage resources here.
VantageScore is another scoring system. It's been growing in popularity in recent years - don't be surprised if you run into it.
What Determines Your Score
Five primary factors (and several minor ones) go into making your score.
Payment History - Approximately 35%
This is the biggest one.
Are bills, such as utilities, medical bills, credit cards, loans, etc., paid on time? Late payments over 30, 60, or 90 days can show up on your report. If they aren't paid, they can go to collections. Both hurt your score.
Money Owed - Approximately 30%
How much debt exists compared to income to pay for it? This number shows if a person can safely handle new debt. (It's also known as the debt-to-income ratio.) A high ratio is risky while low debt to income shows that a customer can handle new debt. See the average American debt to income ratio.
Credit History - 15%
How long have credit accounts been open? Consumers who successfully manage credit over a long period of time are considered a safe risk. But someone with little to no experience with making payments on time is not.
Remember: A long credit history is only good if it is not riddled with late payments and overdue fees.
New Credit - 10%
Has any new credit been applied for recently? Applying for several credit offers within a week, a month, or even a year can raise red flags. To a lender, this can be a warning that you are biting off more than you can chew.
Types of Credit - 10%
What kinds of credit do you have? Types of credit include secured loans, like car loans and mortgages, and unsecured loans such as personal loans, credit cards, and student loans. Lenders consider having a variety of credit better that only having one or two types.
Mistakes That Ruin Your Score
All the time and hard work it takes to get that great score can be ruined instantly if you make these mistakes. While common, they should be avoided at all costs.
This is the biggest and most common error. Forgetting to pay a bill, whether it's a loan payment or a utility bill, harms your credit. Many companies offer grace periods before reporting to the bureaus. Just remember, payments over 30 days can be reported.
Credit Improvement Tip- Always make mortgage payments on time - even if other bills will be late. Missing even one can hurt your score and the likelihood of qualifying for the best mortgage loans.
Maxing Out Credit Cards
Maxing out your credit card is always a bad idea. It shows lenders that you're more likely to spend above your means, go over limits, and start missing payments.
Always Applying For More Credit
Resist the temptation to save 15% by filling out a credit application at Macy's!
Adding credit on top of credit, especially in a short amount of time, indicates to lenders that you're in over your head.
Defaulting, Foreclosure, or Bankruptcy
Defaulting on loans, foreclosure, and/or bankruptcy are traumatic events that indicate financial turmoil. While unavoidable is some cases, these result in lower credit scores, often for many years in the future.
Now for the fun stuff - here's what having a good score can do!
What a Good Score Does for You
A high credit score not only makes you an attractive customer, it helps you save money!
Here are just a few of the rewards:
Lower Interest Loans and APRs
This is one of the best benefits. Why? Getting the best interest rates means saving hundreds or thousands of dollars over the lifetime of a loan.
Fewer down payments
In many cases, Low or no down payments are offered. These offers scream "$0 Down For Those With Excellent Credit!"
Sounds great! But this perk can be tricky.
Remember - down payments usually makes sense because they lower the amount borrowed.
Looking to rent or sign-up for a new service (like a gym or cell phone plan)? Having great credit can make this quick and painless, and may even save trees by reducing paperwork!
Better Insurance Rates
Insurance companies love making money. When your score is good, insurers believe you are a good risk. To them, you're a better driver and less likely to take chances (like running stop signs, driving fast, etc.) That means premium amounts are lower.
How To Make Your Score Great
Improving your credit score takes time, but it's achievable.
The key? Here's how:
Check Your Credit Report Often
According to the 2015 Chase Slate Credit Survey, 39% of Americans do not know their credit score. Many have never even seen their report. Here's how not to be one of them:
- Get a copy of your credit report (Contact information provided below)
- Look for any mistakes or inaccurate information.
- Investigate mystery accounts or old debts.
- Write the credit reporting agency to get them removed.
The last thing you want is a faulty credit report.Credit monitoring services, like the one we offer, help too. Take a look for yourself.
Set Up Automatic Bill Pay
This one's great for anyone who has trouble remembering due dates. Next time you receive a bill in the mail, call that company's customer service to set it up. Just think, no more late payments!
Pay Off Debt
Have too much debt? You're not alone. According to the U.S. Census, in 2015, the average American had $15,355 in credit card debt.Resolve to pay off your debt. You can do it!
Credit Improvement Tip- Stop using those credit cards! Once the balances are down, only charge what you can pay off every month.
Take Out a Secured Loan
Have little to no credit history? This one is for you.
Save $1,000 and get a loan for $500. Then use the loan or secured card as if it were cash. Pay back the loan with automatic payments using the other $500. Yes, you'll pay some interest, but when you have next to nothing on a credit report, this can be an investment in your future.
(Looking for more ways to improve your score? Here are 6 additional ones.)
Three main credit bureaus determine your credit score, but their information is not perfect. It's only as good as the reports they receive. Some lenders (you probably suspected this) charge more than they should - because they can. Knowing how your score is calculated and what mistakes to avoid keeps you ahead of the game. A good score provides a wealth of benefits, including low APR's, quick approvals and more.
Have some more tips or something else to add? Please do so in the comment section - we'd love to hear from you!
Credit Bureau Contact Information for reporting disputes
- Mail: Equifax Information Services, LLC. P.O. Box 740256 Atlanta, GA 30348
- Phone: 866-349-5191
5 Keys to Building a Credit History
We all come from our own circumstances, and when it comes to building a credit history, that tends to make a difference.
For example: if you’re young, or you’ve just recently arrived in the United States from someplace else, establishing the kind of credit history that will allow you to rent an apartment, finance a car, or successfully apply for a job can be tough…
You need a good credit history to qualify for almost everything.
To help ensure that your credit history ends up where it should, have a look at the following tips for building one the right way — and then enjoy the benefits that a strong report and score can bring to you.
1. Open bank accounts.
Open a checking account and practice using a debit card, says Kimberly Rotter, a debt-management expert for manilla.com and a personal-finance writer. “Open a savings account and make a commitment to add to it every month, at whatever level you can afford, even if it’s just a few dollars. Don’t miss a payment. If you’re coming here from a cash economy, these two tools will become your financial foundation in the U.S. And establishing a relationship with a bank or credit union is the first step toward more complex financial transactions like obtaining a credit card or a loan.”
2. Use a business credit card (wisely).
Business credit cards can provide new entrepreneurs — whether young or recently arrived — with a way to build positive credit histories, says Rohit Arora, CEO of Biz2Credit.com. Arora moved from India to the U.S., in 2003. “Open a card in the business name, and pay it off promptly in full every month,” he says. “Check your business credit reports periodically to make sure there are no discrepancies.”
3. Pre-pay bills.
4. Get help early on.
“Don’t try to learn by osmosis,” says Rotter. “Your bank or credit union will have some free education, either online or in person, and if you don't understand English, go into a branch and talk to the manager about getting help in your language. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling also offers free and low-cost financial education. Some larger employers provide free guidance as part of the Employee Assistance Program, and some community colleges offer free personal finance courses.”
5. Be Patient.
“Building great credit takes time, for everyone,” Rotter says. “A decent score can take two years to build, and a great score even longer. Part of your credit score is based on the average age of your accounts, so being new [to the credit-building process or] to the U.S. is, in itself, a mark against you. The most important thing is to pay your bills on time and avoid debt. The score will come.”
Why Credit Scores Reign Supreme in Today's Economic Climate
Credit scores are king now more than ever. Everyone from mortgage lenders to auto finance companies and even employers increasingly rely on these three-digit scores to determine who gets loan money and at what interest rate. A good score helps you get the best rates, while a bad credit score could keep you from buying that dream home or financing the new car you want.
Increasingly, even employers are looking at credit scores when they evaluate job applicants. Recent surveys show that employers consider credit scores when deciding which job applicants are right for their open positions. Many people do not like this, considering credit scores have nothing to do with how potential employees will perform on the job. However, the truth is that credit scores will continue to remain important for a long time.
How Credit Scores Work
It is critical for your financial well-being to understand how credit scores work and ways you can boost your score if yours is low.
In general, FICO credit scores – the most common type of score that lenders use – range between 300 to 850. The majority of consumers have credit scores that range from 600 to 799, with few at the top or bottom of the scale.
What the Scores Mean
A score of 720 or higher is generally needed for a mortgage, auto or personal loan that has the most interest rates. Scores in the 700 to 719 range are considered very good and generally bring low interest rates while scores of 675 to 699 are considered average. While average scores qualify for most loans higher interest rates offset some of the extra risk that lenders take.
Subprime borrowers have scores in the 620 to 674 range, and although they still qualify for most loans, the interest rates are higher. Of course, it’s better than having a credit score of 560-619, which is considered risky. Risky borrowers have trouble convincing lenders to give them a loan.
Those with scores under 560 have work to do. Few, if any, conventional lenders will pass out loan money to them.
The Importance of Credit Scores
For those looking to purchase a house, the credit score is especially important. If the score is in the 520 to 620 range, only specialized lenders (subprime lenders) will qualify the borrower. These lenders often excessive interest rates, but they do allow people to have access to the money needed for a mortgage.
Scores between 620 to 650 qualify for mortgage loans from most lenders but these lenders charge higher rates and fees because the default risk is higher. Those with scores of 650 to 720 will easily qualify for loans and usually pay reasonable interest rates.
Those with scores above 720 will not only qualify for all loan products, they’ll pay the least amount to borrow this money. Lenders consider them to be low credit risks. Because of this, they charge them low interest rates.
Two Steps to Boost Scores
If you want to boost your credit scores, take two main steps: Pay all your bills on time and reduce your revolving credit card debt. Doing these two things will slowly but steadily improved your credit scores. There is no way to boost your scores overnight; companies that say they can are lying. But with patience and perseverance, you can transform yourself from a credit risk to a safe bet in the eyes of lenders.