Credit Scores & Reports
When it comes to managing your credit, it is important to keep track of both your credit score and credit report. Your credit report tracks your credit history, while your credit score is a calculation and prediction of your credit risk for lenders.
Your credit score is a number that will range from 300 to 850. A low score tells lenders you would be a high risk, poor choice for giving credit. This number is based on a formula that uses your credit history, the types of credit you have, and your current debt. There are different scoring formulas, but the most common is the FICO scoring formula.
FICO scores are calculated from the following:
- Payment history. Tracks the number of on-time and over-due payments.
- Amount owed. People with maxed out credit are considered high risk.
- Length of credit history. Longer credit histories are considered low-risk.
- New credit. The amount of applications for loans, credit cards, and other debt.
- Types of credit. Tracks the number of fixed credit (installment loans) and revolving credit (credit cards) accounts. A couple of sources of each are expected.
Your credit score determines your eligibility for types of credit, amounts of credit, and interest rates. For example, a person with a low credit score might only be able to receive a credit card with low limits and high interest rates and could be turned down for other credit and loan applications (such as auto loans and mortgages).
Improving Your Score
You have no control over some aspects of your credit score (such as a short credit history). However there are some aspects you can control. Use these tips to raise your score.
- Pay your bills on time. If possible, pay more than the minimum payment.
- Pay past-due payments.
- Keep low balances. Try to keep your credit use to less than 50% of your available credit (debt to limit ratio).
- Do not apply for multiple sources of credit in a short time. Limit your requests for new credit or expanded credit limits.
Credit reports let you see your credit history. Keeping track of your credit report lets you see problems and take care of them before you apply for credit. It also lets you see if there are mistakes or inaccuracies you need to correct.
You have three different credit reports, one with each of the following credit bureaus:
The content of each credit report will depend on which agency your lenders report to. The outline of your credit report, however, will be the same:
- Identifying information. Addresses, date of birth, telephone numbers, driver’s license number, employer's name, and spouse's name.
- Public record. Financial related judgments and court proceedings, bankruptcies, tax liens.
- Credit history. Creditors and accounts, names on the account, status, amounts owed and payment history, and loan totals and credit limits.
- Inquiries. A list of who has requested your credit report. Divided among hard inquires (those initiated through credit applications) and soft inquiries (from current creditors monitoring activity or companies wanting to send promotional information).
Getting Your Credit Report
Every 12 months, you can request free copies of your credit report from all three agencies. You can get your reports through mail, telephone, or the government-authorized website annualcreditreport.com. This website is the only official website for free consumer credit reports.
You may also receive a free credit report if you have been refused credit in the past 60 days.
When you receive you free credit report, you will not receive your actual credit score. This can be accessed for a small fee. Make sure your report is accurate before you pay for your score.
Correcting Inaccurate Information
Under the law, you have the right to correct errors on your credit report. Credit reports commonly have errors. The credit bureau will remove any errors your creditor admits are there.
Billing errors include the following:
- Something you did not purchase.
- Something not correctly identified or listed for a different amount.
- Something you did not accept or receive on delivery.
- Mathematical errors.
- Bills not to your current address if you told the creditor about your address change at least 20 days before the end of the billing period.
Any errors must be investigated by the credit bureau with the creditor. If you disagree with the findings, you can file a statement in your report that tells your side. Future reports to creditors must include this statement (or a summary of the statement).
Once you write about a possible error, creditors must not give out information that would hurt your credit score until the issue is resolved.
To view a sample credit report, request for an additional credit report, dispute letter, credit complaint form, and form letter, see YOU and YOUR CREDIT: Credit Reports (103KB pdf).
Fixing Bad Credit
Bad credit can follow you for years, so if you find yourself in financial trouble, try to keep a clean credit report and not hurt your credit score.
- Get a copy of your credit report.
- Contact lenders to renegotiate payment plans.
- Pay your bills on time.
- Limit the amount of outstanding debt.
- If you are unable to make payments, or need to dispute a charge, contact your creditor immediately.
For severe financial problems, contact a personal credit counseling organization, such as Consumer Credit Counseling Services (1-886-889-9347). Be wary of credit repair scams.
For more information on managing your credit, visit your local Extension agent.