Most people know that our credit reports have a lot of information about our borrowing history. How credit worthy we are — how likely we are to pay off our debts (on time or not) — is also looked at as an indicator of how people are likely to behave in other areas. Employers rely on credit reports to see if we’ll be good employees. Landlords pull credit reports to see if we’ll be reliable tenants. Auto insurers rely on credit information when deciding what sort of an insurance risk we are. But for years there’s been a piece of the credit report the average consumer has been unable to see.
YOUR CREDIT SCORE
It’s called a credit risk score — and if you have a credit rating you have one. The scores range from 300 to 850, with a higher score being better than a lower one. Fair Isaac, which is the country’s pre-eminent producer of credit scores, takes information from your credit report, gives different weights to different pieces of that information and how long ago those things occurred, and comes up with a number for you. Then when a lender is trying to decide whether or not to give you a mortgage, for example, or what rate of interest to charge on your loan, the score is one important factor they consider when making a decision.
DO MOST LENDERS USE THESE SCORES?
We know that over 75 percent of home loans are decided with help from — as they’re called in the industry — FICO (Fair Isaac and Co.) risk scores, and that if you take the 100 largest financial institutions in the country, 70 percent use FICO scores. So they’re definitely a big player in the marketplace.
HOW DO MOST PEOPLE DO?
Not as badly as you might think, considering that bankruptcies are in the headlines so often these days. With the scale ranging from 300 to 850, the average score is about 720.
Below that, you may have problems borrowing. Twenty percent of people score below 620, for example. Since that population includes about half of all people who default on their mortgages, lenders are very wary of extending them credit. The next 20 percent of people score between 620 and 690. A score in this range may not stop you from getting credit, but Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (buyers of mortgages for the secondary market) suggest that lenders probe for more information to understand why there’s been a problem before they agree to make a loan. On the high end, anything above 780 is considered elite. Only about one to two percent of consumers score in the 800s.
There are a few factors that make a big difference in your score — let’s talk about them and how you can make changes in them to improve your score:
-Your bill-paying record (This accounts for 35 percent of your score). We all know to pay bills on time. If you always have, you’ve done well in this category. If you slip up here and there, it can hurt your score a fair amount. The more recent the slip up, the more it hurts your score. And, as in all of these categories, a pattern of bad behavior is worse than one mistake. A string of 30-day late payments is worse than one 60-day late. (The way credit scoring works is to compare your habits to those other individuals who have proven to act in a positive or negative way overall. But there are different groups of patterns, so a seasoned user won’t be compared to a new user.)
-How much you owe now (30 percent). The scoring companies look at how much you owe relative to how much credit you have available on your credit cards. The closer you are to maxing-out your cards, the lower you’ll score in this area. But owing nothing doesn’t prove your ability to handle credit — owing a little bit is better. For example, being at 80 percent of your limit would be viewed as very high and a negative; 60 percent in most cases is detrimental enough. Having your balances at 20 to 30 percent of your maximum is just fine.
-How long you’ve managed credit (15 percent). This one is interesting. When people are trying to get their credit cards under control, one of the things they do — indeed that we advise them to do — is to make sure they don’t have too many tempting cards in their wallet. But when it comes to your credit score, you may not want to cut up that one card you’ve had the longest. Then the credit scoring companies lose the ability to see just how long you’ve been managing credit. It may be better to keep that old card even if it’s at a high interest rate, use it once a year and pay it off completely rather than cutting it up.
-Mix of credit (10 percent): It’s good to show that you can manage different kinds of credit. So having an installment loan (on a home or a car) as well as having a revolving credit account (credit card) is a positive.
-Pursuit of new credit (10 percent): The media often exaggerate how much searching for new credit can hurt you. That’s because, a few years ago, the scorer’s methodology was changed to reflect the idea that it was OK — indeed smart — to be shopping around for a loan. So all of your inquiries into a mortgage over a 30-day period now count as one. That said, if you have real credit problems and you’re constantly shopping around for new cards or loans, it’s going to hurt your score. Moderation is key. If you’re out looking for credit every month, it’s a minus. Less frequently than that, you’ll probably be okay.
Now that you have this information, you can use it to your benefit. When you get your report, you can take it and use it to talk to lenders in a preliminary way. You could talk to a mortgage broker and say, “This is my score. How easy will it be for me to get a mortgage?” If you buy the FICO score, you’ll also get a guide explaining how the scores work and the top four factors that contributed to deciding your score. Then, if you need to, you can work on your score before you apply for credit. Give yourself a good six months to get it in shape.
If you go on the Web and search on “free credit score,” what you’ll come up with are a number of mortgage lenders and banks who are willing to give it to you. In some cases, you have to actually apply for a loan. There are other scores that aren’t FICO scores (even the ones that are legitimate don’t have FICO’s database). In other cases, providing them with your e-mail address and phone number (so that they can market to you later, one assumes) seems to be sufficient. So if you’re willing to give up some personal information, you can get your score for no money. Or you can pay the $13. (Even if you’re not up for checking your score, you should check your credit report about once a year. If there are problems, you should check all three of the credit bureaus.
All articles are copyrighted by Thrifty Times, 2004 - 2011. You may not reproduce or share or repost without express written permission from the Thrifty Times except to quote up to 60 words of an article with a link back to this site. For more information contact us at email@example.com or Thrifty Times, 2616 Cynwyd Avenue, Broomall, PA 19008.
Disclaimer - Articles are intended for personal information. Not intended to be financial, tax or legal advice. All financial plans as well as financial decisions, tax decisions and legal decisions should be made carefully and with the advice of a professional.