The most common type of credit score is the
, which was developed by Fair, Isaac and Company. FICO is not the only credit scoring company, but is the score used most widely. Lenders usually base your interest rate on some variation of a FICO score, which can range from 300 to 850. As with all credit scores, the higher your FICO score, the lower the interest rate lenders will charge you.
While you can obtain a copy of your credit report for free at www.annualcreditreport.com, the score is separate and is not free. You can purchase a copy of your FICO credit score from their website, which is www.myfico.com or purchase credit scores from Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. Note that not every credit bureau uses the same range and formula for calculating a credit score – there are competing credit score “products” on the market. An example is a Vantage Score, developed by Experian. Another key point — getting a copy of your own credit report and credit score does not affect your credit score. Many people are hesitant to obtain their own reports because they fear a negative mark.
The FICO Score in Detail
FICO Scores are calculated from a lot of different credit data in your credit report. This data can be grouped into five categories as outlined to the right. The percentages in the chart reflect how important each of the categories is in determining your FICO score.
Please note that:
•A FICO score takes into consideration all of these categories of information, not just one or two. No one piece of information or factor alone will determine your score.
•Your FICO score only looks at information in your credit report. However, lenders look at many things when making a credit decision including your income, how long you have worked at your present job and the kind of credit you are requesting.
•Your score considers both positive and negative information in your credit report. Late payments will lower your score, but establishing or re- establishing a good pattern of making payments on time will raise your FICO credit score.
Improving a Score
Make Your Payments on Time
The single most important thing you can do to keep your score high, or improve your score, is to make all your payments on time. Payment history is the largest factor that is used to determine your credit score. Payments that are 30 days or more past due will show up on your credit report and negatively impact your score. These negative marks generally stay on your report for seven years.
Keep Your Total Debt Load Manageable
With the second largest factor of your credit score being the total amount you owe, it is important to keep borrowing and total credit usage under control. If you currently have a significant amount of outstanding debt, your priority should be to stop borrowing and work toward lowering the balance. This isn’t always easy, but the only way to improve your overall debt situation is to stop borrowing or using credit cards and continue to make timely payments that reduce your balance.
In addition, you want to consider how much of your available credit is utilized. For example, having many credit cards that are maxed out, or very close to their limits, will negatively impact your score. Two credit cards with a $5,000 limit and a $1,000 balance on each will look much better than a single card with a $2,500 limit and a $2,000 balance.
Maintain Existing Accounts
Length of credit history is another important credit score factor, so it can be to your advantage to keep older accounts which are in good standing open. While you want to keep the total number of accounts manageable, sometimes it can hurt your score more to close an old account than to keep it open.
Be Careful When Opening New Accounts
While new credit is the least important factor in your score, it is still an important issue to consider. When you are shopping for a new loan or credit card, do your shopping in a relatively short amount of time. You don’t want to have your report show that you are constantly looking for new credit. You also don’t want to open credit accounts you don’t intend to use much. It may be tempting to get that additional 10% off when you open that new retail store card, but the little bit of money you save may be insignificant when multiple new accounts actually lower your credit score.