“Confused what Credit Score is? We’ll help you answer that question and more. Check this out now!”
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?
You can also watch this video to know more about Credit Score:
“Here is one of the most frequently asked questions in all of personal finance: ‘How do I get out of debt fast?’.. Continue reading and find out how”
Repair Credit Fast
At one level, eliminating debt is simply about following a few steps:
1. Stop going into more debt 2. Spend less than you make 3. Pay off debt with the difference If you follow these steps, eventually you’ll be debt free. The problem is that following these steps isn’t always so easy. And to make matters worse, there is a lot of “help” out there that can make matters worse. From debt consolidation companies to books like Kevin Trudeau’s “Debt Cures” that I wouldn’t recommend to my worst enemy, there are a lot of promises being made that getting out of debt is easy. It’s not.
In fact, tackling your debt may be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. You have to control your emotions, which can play a big part in how we make financial decisions. You have to educate yourself about everything from home loans to credit cards to credit scores. And you have to discipline yourself in the way you manage and spend money. The fact is that controlling your spending and paying off your debt is not an easy thing to do. But the good news is that you can do it. If you want to be debt-free bad enough, you can make it happen.
And to help you reach your goal of being debt-free, I’ve assembled a list of 23 tips and tools. If you know of others, please leave a comment at the bottom of this post.
Get to Know Your Debt The first step in tackling any problem is to fully understand it. When it comes to debt, you should know everything about the terms and conditions of the money you owe. Here are some tips and tools to help you understand your debt.
1. Put Your Debt On Paper: The very first step is make a list of the debts you have. The list should include the following information: The name, address and phone number of the creditor; the outstanding balance; the interest rate; the minimum payment; and any other information you feel is important. Even in the age of computers, I like to write out my debt on paper, at least at first.
2. Take Advantage of Personal Finance Software: By now many people already have and use personal finance software like Quicken or YNAB (You Need a Budget). If so, you can use the tools within the software to record all of the debt you owe and to develop a plan to pay off that debt.
3. Use Free Online Tools: There are many budget tools available online for free. These tools can track your debt and are easy to use. And it’s hard to beat free!
4. Use Free Excel Templates: Microsoft offers free Excel templates that can help you track your debt and a budget. Actually, Microsoft offers free templates for just about everything, including resumes. You can check out the free budget templates here.
5. Involve Others: It’s important that your spouse or significant other is involved in the process. If you don’t see eye-to-eye on finances, it can make getting out of debt even more difficult than it already is. It’s not uncommon for one spouse to take the lead in handling finances, and that’s fine. But you both should be on board, particularly as you develop a plan to tackle the debt.
Create a Plan to Pay Off Your Debt: Having written down all your debts, it’s now time to determine how you will go about paying off these bills. A solid plan should not be complicated. It’s simply your approach to tackling your debt. There is no one single approach; you need to do what works best for you and your family. There are, however, some important considerations and tools that can help you develop an effective debt repayment plan:
6. Debt Repayment Calculator: As a starting point, it’s helpful (and sometimes painful) to see how long it will take you to pay off your debt if you make just the minimum payments. And there is a free debt repayment calculator that is very easy to use. While the plan will involve making extra payments, the starting point is to understand what you are up against making just the minimum payments on your debt, and this calculator will help you do just that.
7. Prepare a Budget: For many, the word “budget” is the dreaded “B” word. But the fact is that you need a budget to control your spending and better manage your money. Remember that it’s the money you don’t spend each month that will go toward paying down your debt.
8. Be Aggressive About Paying Off Debt: Dave Ramsey talks about tackling debt with “gazelle” intensity. It’s about being aggressive in paying off your debt. As you work through your budget, recognize that every dollar counts, and that the more you throw at your debt, the less interest you’ll pay and the faster you’ll get out of debt.
9. Be Realistic About Paying Off Debt: While we all want to get out of debt fast, we do have to be careful not to get too aggressive. Paying off debt is a lot like going on a diet. You can commit to never eating foods that are bad for you, but is that realistic? The thought of never eating ice cream is just too much to bear. The same is true with debt. Yes, sacrifices will have to be made to meet your financial goals, but you need balance in life, including your financial life.
10. Order Your Debt: With your budget in place and an understanding of how much extra money you can put towards debt, it’s now time to map out a specific plan. The question is this–which debt will you put your extra money toward first? The first thing is not to get too hung up on this question. Depending on your situation, one approach may be better than another, but if you consistently pay down your debt without incurring more debt, you’ll make great progress regardless of which debt you pay first. That said, here are the top three approaches to deciding how to tackle your debt:
Highest Interest Rate First: With this approach, you put all the extra cash you have on the debt that has the highest interest rate. This approach will result in the lowest interest charges and the fastest debt repayment possible.
Smallest Balance First: This is the Dave Ramsey approach. He suggests targeting the debt with the smallest balance first. While that debt may not have the highest interest rate, the theory is to get one debt paid off as fast as possible. The rationale is twofold. First, paying off a debt gives you a feeling of accomplishment, which may be just the motivation you need to keep on track. Second, by paying of a debt completely, you free up the cash that was needed to make monthly payments to that bill. While you are likely to put that cash to the next debt, in an emergency, you could use it for other purposes. In other words, by paying the smallest debt first, you free up cashflow.
Non-Revolving Debt First: While many talk about the two approaches above, few look at the type of debt when deciding which one to pay first. Recall that revolving debt, like credit cards, allows you to borrow again after you’ve paid down the debt. Non-revolving debt, like a car or school loan, does not permit you to borrow again as you pay down the debt. With a car loan, once the debt is paid, the loan is gone. With a credit card, once the debt is paid, the card is still there to use again if you so chose. For this reason, I’ll often focus on non-revolving debt first. Why? Because I can’t go out and charge up the debt again once it’s paid. This is purely a pyschological issue, but an important one, particularly if you fear you may lack some discipline once some of your debt is paid off.
11. Don’t Forget Your Emergency Fund: An emergency fund is a really important part of a debt elimination program. While you may be tempted to put 100% of your extra cash toward debt, keeping at least some of it aside for emergencies will help break the reliance many have on credit. When the car needs new tires, it’s better to turn to the emergency fund than it is the Visa credit card. I’ll also add that while you can use a high yield savings account for your emergency fund, a short term, high yield CD may be the better bet. Whle most CDs do charge a penalty if funds are withdrawn before the end of the term, that penalty can help keep you from accessing the funds for anything other than a true emergency. In addition, there are short-term CDs available with 3 or even 1-month terms.
Another way to get out of debt fast is to improve your credit score. When many people think of credit reports and credit scores, they see them as important if you want to apply for a loan. And of course they are important when you apply for a loan. But your credit report and score are also absolutely critical to getting rid of debt. With a good credit score, you qualify for lower interest rates that can help bring down your total interest charges. With bad credit, you’re stuck paying double digit rates. So let’s look at some tips and tools that can help you:
12. Understand the Importance of Your Credit Score: As noted above, your credit score is an important tool in getting out of debt as quickly as possible. To underscore this, check out these stats from myfico.com for individuals with a FICO score of 660 (fair credit) versus 760 (excellent credit):
Mortgage: The average interest on a home loan today is about 4.766% for excellent credit, but 5.379% for fair credit.
Car Loan: With a credit score of 760, you can expect a car loan interest rate of about 6.3%. With a score of 660, the rate increases to about 9.8%.
Home Equity: Excellent credit can expect a rate of around 8% or lower, while fair credit borrowers will pay as much as 11% or higher.
In short, your credit score matters.
13. Get your Free Credit Report: The starting point is to get your free credit report and check it for errors.
14. Get your Free Credit Score: Next you should get your free FICO score. You can’t get this from annualcreditreport.com, but there are several sources that offer your real FICO score in exchange for signing up for a free trial of a credit watch program. You can always cancel before the end of the free trial if you don’t want to keep the service.
15. Pay Your Bills on Time: There are a number of factors that go into a credit score, but one of the most important is paying your bills on time. Do whatever is necessary not to forget a payment, and make sure you make the payment far enough in advance of the due date so that there is no chance it will be late.
16. Don’t Close Accounts: As a general rule, don’t close credit card and other revolving accounts. One of the factors in determining credit score is the amount of debt you have in comparison to the amount of available credit. The greater the available credit, the better. You can always cut up some of your cards if you don’t want to risk using them, but don’t cancel them. Here are some other tips to improving your credit score.
Get the Lowest Interest Rates Possible on Your Debt: While you are working to improve your credit, it’s important to be on the lookout for ways to reduce the interest rate on your debt. Whether the debt is a home loan, car loan, credit card or some other debt, getting the lowest possible interest rate will help speed up the time it takes to eliminate your debt. Here are some tips and tools to help you lower your rates:
17. Refinance Your Mortgage: The general rule is that you should refinance if you can lower your interest rate by 1%. While that’s a good starting point, it is important to also consider how long you plan to stay in the home and whether you need to convert from an adjustable rate mortgage to a safer fixed rate loan. Interest rates are still at historic lows, and it is easy to compare mortgage rates online.
18. Negotiate Lower Interest on Home Equity Lines of Credit: If you have a home equity line of credit, compare your interest rate with current market rates. If you think you can do better, step one is to call the mortgage company and request a lower rate. We did this successfully with our home equity line of credit. While there are no guarantees, it can’t hurt to try.
19. Lower the Interest on Credit Cards: Because interest rates on credit cards have risen so much in the last year, getting a lower rate on credit card debt can save a lot on interest payments. If you have a good credit score, you can qualify for a low interest credit cardwith rates in the 8% to 12% range. You can also take advantage of zero percent balance transfer offers.
20. Be Careful with Debt Consolidation: While it is important to take advantage of the lowest interest rates possible, the one area where you want to be really careful is with debt consolidation companies. While they may promise you low rates and a single payment, the number of consumer complaints about such companies is exploding. As an alternative, you can consolidate debts on your own through sites like Prosper that offer reasonable rates.
Spend Less and Make More: As I said at the start of this article, one important aspect of getting out of debt is spending less and making more. While these topics are the subject of entire books, here are a few resources to get you started:
21. Painless Money Saving Tips: There are countless ways to save money without sacrificing your standard of living. From canceling cable to greening your home, you’ll find plenty of ideas on how to knock hundreds of dollars (or more) off your monthly budget.
22. A Must-Read Book: If I had to pick one personal finance book to read, it would be Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence . This book puts money in perspective and was for me a real source of motivation to get out of debt.
23. Earn Extra Income: Any extra income goes a long way to getting out of debt. I’ve learned this firsthand from the money I’ve made blogging, all of which either goes to charity or paying off debt. If an extra few hundred dollars a month can help you get of debt faster.
I thought that it had some great points worth noting, so I’m posting it here and adding some thoughts to it.
A major league pitcher dreams of throwing a perfect game. High schoolers eying the Ivy League study furiously in hopes of earning 2400 on the SAT. Meanwhile, Chris Peplinski is pursuing his own brand of flawlessness: an 850 credit score.
The 37-year-old stay-at-home dad from Rogers, Ark., has already nabbed 813 on the FICO scale, the credit scoring system most lenders use in sizing up potential borrowers.
That ranks him above more than 82% of Americans and comes with a big payoff: It entitles him to ultralow rates on loans, saving him tens of thousands of bucks over a lifetime.
[***A lot of people don’t seem to see the point in having good credit until they go to buy a car or a home and can’t qualify for what they want. The point here is that one of, if not the most important reason, to get and maintain good credit is all of the money you’ll save over the long haul.***]
Nevertheless, Peplinski won’t be satisfied until he hits the maximum: 850. Why? “Your credit score tells a lot about you,” Peplinski explains. “A high score means you’re responsible and in control of your life. You’re trustworthy.”
To reach his goal, Peplinski voraciously reads up on every element that goes into a FICO score, checks his number every three months, and tweaks his behavior to eke out every possible additional point.
Two years ago, he took out a car loan even though he and his wife, Chrissy, had the cash to buy their wheels outright. He figured that adding to his mix of credit might boost his score.
In spite of Chris’s best efforts, landing an 850 may be a quixotic goal — only about 0.5% of Americans manage it, FICO reports. “The 850 score is kind of like a unicorn,” says John Ulzheimer, a credit scoring expert with Credit.com who used to work for FICO. “Everybody talks about it, but nobody’s seen it.”
The reality is that you don’t need to catch the unicorn to catch the best rates. But adopting some of the habits of Peplinski and other members of the 800 club can help you improve your own score.
[***This is an excellent point. To have good credit you don’t need an 850 credit score. Typically anything over a 720 is considered “A” credit and will get you the best rates and terms available. And whether you fix your credit yourself or you have a credit repair company do it, its very achievable to have a credit score of 720 or higher.***]
And that can translate into real money: On a $300,000 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, the most credit-worthy borrowers will pay $14,200 less than those one tier below, $25,600 less than those two tiers below.
[***Here’s a great specific example of how much money you can save and have to use in other areas of your life, just by spending a few hundreds dollars to get your credit fixed, if it needs it.***]
FICO, the Minneapolis company that produces the scoring model, divulges the five factors that determine your magic number — your payment history, the amount you owe on credit lines and loans, the length of your credit history, how much new credit you’ve applied for, and the types of accounts you’ve had — plus what percentage of your score each factor represents.
But as for exactly how many points you’ll gain or lose for, say, taking on a mortgage, being late on a bill, or charging credit cards up to the max? That’s proprietary information: “It’s a black box,” says FICO spokesman Craig Watts.
Mystery feeds obsession. Much the way fans of TV’s Lost met up online to postulate theories on the show’s ending, some credit score aficionados passionately debate their hypotheses on message boards like the FICO Forums at myfico.com. Others use themselves as guinea pigs to discover which moves will nudge a score up or down.
While most people could tell you their number only from the last time they got a loan — if at all — true FICO fiends know their score as well as they know their spouse.
Of the score strivers MONEY interviewed, most check their score obsessively, at least every few months — at a cost of $50 or more a year. They also fixate on their credit reports, upon which the scores are based.
[***Don’t worry, you don’t have to be this interested and involved in your credit to have a great credit score. Its actually not that hard to get and keep great credit.***]
Leland Lim, a 41-year-old doctor from the Bay Area, is vigilant about scanning these for errors that might drag down his number. “It took me three years to get a derogatory entry on one of them corrected,” says Lim, who now earns an 806.
As for what makes an 800-plus score, these self-made experts basically say the same thing FICO does: Payment history is the single most important factor.
[***Bingo! Pay your bills on time. Do this with every bill, every month and you’re most of the way there to keeping a great credit score.***]
“I have this fetish about paying bills as soon as they come in the house,” says Dick Husemann, 66, a retired Air Force officer from Wilmington, N.C. He and his wife, Brenda, 69, attribute their high scores — matching 818s — to the fact that they’ve never missed a credit payment.
The Husemanns also never charge more than 10% of their credit limit. They’re not alone in that; most score enthusiasts aim to keep a low “utilization ratio,” or the amount they owe compared with the amount of credit available to them. FICO verifies that a low ratio can help your score.
Chris Peplinski used his knowledge of this principle to help his wife boost her number. When they met seven years ago, Chrissy’s credit cards were maxed out and her score was a low 466. (Today he jokes: “I tell people when they’re dating someone new, ask about your date’s credit score!”)
Chris helped her get on a repayment plan. A sales manager for General Mills, Chrissy now has tons of available credit she’s not using and a score of 786. Chris occasionally applies for additional credit cards to goose the couple’s credit lines further, even though he knows the FICO model will ding his score in the short term for opening a new account.
That kind of gamesmanship is all part of the quest for 850. With lenders now routinely closing inactive accounts, Lim rotates all his credit cards into circulation so that he’ll continue to have a lot of available credit to figure into his utilization ratio.
[***This is a very good point. With the economy being what it is, many lenders are pulling back the lines of credit to consumers. So, it’s a great idea to regularly use your cards in order to keep them active. The key here is to use them, but pay them down each month so that the balances stay low.***]
But because his charges also affect that ratio, a few months before applying for a loan, he stops using the cards or pays them off before the statement is generated. That way, he says, “my score jumps a bit” — just in time for the lender to see.
The 800 club members are also conscious of their mix of credit.
Lim became interested in the scoring process two years ago while refinancing a home-equity loan into a home-equity line of credit. Having heard that revolving debt could affect a score more than an installment loan, he studied up.
His research revealed that HELOCs are not considered revolving debt in the FICO model. (The scoring firm confirms.) And remember that car loan Peplinski took out even though he didn’t have to? He did it because FICO favors those with a variety of credit types, such as mortgage, credit cards, and auto loans.
“I probably paid $100 in interest,” he says. “But it was worth it because we raised our credit scores by 15 points.”
[***If you don’t even know what your credit looks like or what your scores are, then I suggest you get a copy from all three credit bureaus and see what your situation is. Check out annualcreditreport.com. If you haven’t looked at your reports in a year or more, then you can get them for free.***]
[***If you know your credit needs work, then I suggest you either fix it yourself with the help of a credit repair software like Credit Repair Magic or get a credit repair company, like Sky Blue Credit Repair, to do it for you. Either way, get it fixed. It’ll save you thousands of dollars and make you life much easier when you do need credit.***]