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Credit Scoring

Defining Your Credit Score

Whether you realize it or not, most of your credit purchases are reported to three national recording agencies that use a computer model produced by Fair, Isaac & Co. (FICO) to calculate your credit score. Your credit score is a simple numeric overview of your borrowing and payment history. Lenders and property owners check your credit score to weigh your credit worthiness. Your credit score can determine whether you are able to obtain financing and what level of interest or fees you will pay for the privilege.

When renting an apartment, your credit score can determine the amount of security deposit you will have to pay or even if the community will rent to you in the first place.

The Factors That Affect Your Credit Score

While we don't know exactly how the national bureaus calculate your final credit score, we are aware of some factors that can positively or negatively affect your credit rating.

  • Delinquent Payments - Late payments, collections and bankruptcy will damage your credit score.
  • Debt Burden - Carrying balances at or near your credit limit can indicate an over-reliance on credit. Maintaining manageable balances on two cards is preferable to running one up to the limit.
  • Length of Term - The length of time you've had and used a credit account responsibly makes a positive impact on your history.
  • Recent Report Activity - A sudden increase in requests for your credit score can raise warning flags with the rating bureaus.
  • Credit Type - Especially when you have a limited credit history, certain types of credit or lenders can negatively affect your score.

How to Decipher Your Credit Score

Credit scores are given numerical values ranging from 300 to 900 with the median falling somewhere around 750. Credit scoring operates on the theory that people with low credit scores are more likely to default on their debts. Qualifying for a loan or credit card becomes more difficult as your credit score dips. There are three national credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Not all lenders report to all three. The three bureaus compute individual scores and they most often fall within a few points of one another. Occasionally, however, you may have one score that is different by 100 points or more from the other two. To be on the safe side, most lenders use the middle score.

How to Get Your Credit Score

The big three credit reporting agencies have traditionally made it difficult for consumers to see their credit scores. That trend seems to be reversing. Fair Isaac in conjunction with Equifax now offers access to your FICO score for a fee. Visit http://www.equifax.com for more information. Experian and TransUnion also offer credit score products. While they can give you a general idea of your credit worthiness, they are based on proprietary formulas and are not true FICO scores. Depending on your state laws, your lender may be required to disclose your credit score when you apply for financing.

Improving Your Credit Score

A few steps to take that will improve your credit rating:
  • Pay bills on or before the due date.
  • Stay well within your credit limits.
  • Avoid applying for credit you don't need or won't use.
  • Keep and use the same accounts for a long period of time.
  • Only choose reputable lenders.
Lastly, if you order your credit report and see inaccurate information, there are steps you can take to remedy the situation. See the article on Rebuilding Your Credit for more information.