August 17, 2016
Your credit score can be the key to financial success, which means it’s important to understand what it is and how to improve it. While your credit score may seem random, it’s actually pretty straight forward: it’s just a number (typically from 300 to 850) that gives an at-a-glance overview of your financial repayment history. The higher the score—the better the interest rates that will be offered.
What Is a Credit Score?
Many financial institutions use FICO, which is a specific way of calculating your credit score. FICO determines your credit score like so:
- 35% based on payment history, such as whether you typically pay bills on time
- 30% based on how much you owe, with more debt getting a lower score
- 15% based on the length of your credit history, with a longer history being better
- 10% based on your credit mix. For example, having multiple types of credit, like credit cards and loans
- 10% based on new credit, meaning whether you’ve recently applied for new credit—which could mean you’re getting into more debt
This score can be part of how a financial institution determines whether to give you a credit card or a loan (as well as what rates to offer), so it’s important to make sure your credit report is accurate.
How Do I Check My Credit Score?
PenFed offers eligible members a free look at their credit score and FICO lets you estimate your score for free (though getting an exact score will cost you). If your score is under 600, you’re likely considered a credit risk and could have trouble obtaining loans or credit cards with low interest rates or obtaining any type of credit.
How Can I Fix a Low Credit Score?
While there’s no quick fix for a low credit score, knowing what makes up your score is the first step on the road to improving it. If you’re payment is late or missing, set up reminders or automatic payments to help pay on time. If you’re in debt, work out a plan with your creditor to pay down the balance. A bill consolidation loan can help simplify by replacing multiple payments to different creditors into one payment to one creditor. When you payoff revolving debt there is a strong likelihood that your credit score will increase. It is important to know that should your revolving debt grow after it is initially paid off your credit score may decrease.
While none of this will fix your score immediately (information typically stays on your report for seven to 10 years), it will help you on the road to recovery.
Credit Scores Come From Credit Reports
You could easily think that credit score and credit report mean the same thing—after all, they’re both ways of looking at your financial repayment history. However, your score is simply a number that represents the information on your credit report. The report itself is a long list of loans, bills, payments, and more—all reported to the credit bureau by whomever those debts are owed to.
What If My Credit Report Is Inaccurate?
If your credit score is low but you know you pay your bills on time and you have limited debt, there could be an inaccuracy on your credit report that’s impacting your credit score. This is why it is important to check your credit report regularly to ensure the accuracy of the reported information.
There are three major credit bureaus in the United States: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
While each bureau should have the same information, in some cases information may not be sent to all bureaus, resulting in discrepancies that can change your score. You may also find erroneous or out of date information on your report—or worse, see that someone has stolen your identity and is using your name to open accounts. Either way, your credit score could be ruined through no fault of your own.
Get a Free Copy of Your Credit Report
To find out whether your credit report is accurate, you’ll want to request a copy from one or all of the credit bureaus. Federal law requires the credit bureaus to give you a free copy once a year, and you can request your report—or reports, if you want more than one, from AnnualCreditReport.com.
How to Dispute Inaccurate Credit Information
If you see something on your credit report that’s not accurate, the credit bureau is required to remove it. To dispute the information, you have to inform the bureau in writing. Include a clear list of every inaccurate item and attach copies of supporting documents. To make it easy, the FTC has a sample dispute letter you can use. The financial institution must investigate within 30 days and will respond in writing with a free copy of your credit report if your dispute resulted in any changes.
But even if the credit bureau corrects your report, there’s one more step: contacting the company that reported the information. You’ll want to write them, include a clear list of any inaccurate information along with copies of supporting documents. Again, the FTC has a sample letter for you to use.
The company is required to let the credit bureaus know of your dispute and request that the information be removed if it’s found to be inaccurate.