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Your credit score determines your eligibility for credit cards, home loans, car loans, student loans, apartment rentals and even certain job positions. It can mean the difference between a reasonable or exorbitant interest rate, and the difference between an affordable or excruciating insurance rate. There are few, if any, 3-digit numbers that hold so much power.
Where can I find my credit score?
Once a year, federal law entitles you to a free credit report from each of the 3 major credit bureaus. If denied credit, you’re eligible for an additional report. To view your free credit report, simply go to AnnualCreditReport.com.
Unfortunately, getting a free credit score is a little more difficult and a bit more costly. You can obtain your credit score from a number of websites, but they all demand a membership fee. However, the fee generally comes with a grace period in which you can avoid paying if you cancel your account.
What is a credit score? And how is it different from a credit report?
Your credit score—also known as a FICO score—is a 3-digit number that summarizes your creditworthiness. Ranging from 300 (worst) to 850 (best), your credit score tells lenders how likely you are to pay back loans. Your primary score is determined by Fair Isaac Corporation (hence “FICO”) and is considered the most accurate assessment. The 3 major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) also issue credit scores that vary slightly from bureau to bureau.
A credit report is an in-depth analysis of your creditworthiness issued by the credit bureaus, a detailed examination of the components that comprise your credit score. You’re entitled to a free report from each of the 3 bureaus once a year—twice if you’re rejected for credit. You should check your credit report regularly and report discrepancies immediately. Mistakes in credit reports happen more often than you might think and can have adverse effects on your credit score. You can view your free credit report (like really, truly, totally, 100% free) at AnnualCreditReport.com.
How is my credit score calculated?
Your credit score is contingent on a number of factors that can be summarized in 5 categories:
- Payment History (35% of your FICO score): Making payments boosts your score. Missing payments destroys it. Recent history has a greater impact.
- Amounts Owed (30% of your FICO score): Debt can hurt your score, though installment loans (like student loans) are actually beneficial if you keep up with payments. Your debt-to-credit-limit ratio is also important. Letting debt come too near your spending limit reflects poorly on your creditworthiness.
- Length of Credit History (15% of your FICO score): The age of your accounts is taken into consideration. Old accounts earn more trust, while new accounts are regarded with suspicion.
- New Credit (10% of your FICO score): This category looks at recent credit acquisitions and inquiries into your credit score. Too many new credit lines or too many inquiries in a short period of time look bad.
- Types of credit used (10% of your FICO score): Different kinds of credit impact your score in different ways. The best way to score points here is to diversify your credit types.
How do I raise my credit score?
Establishing credit is easier than you might think. A good credit score starts with smart spending. More at What’s My Credit Score?