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Understanding Your Credit Score

Your credit report is an important aspect of your life. In addition to affecting you financially, your credit report can impact your education, career, and the interest rates lenders offer you when making major purchase decisions such as buying a home or a car. Your credit report contains a compilation of your payment and account history on all of your credit accounts to judge your credit worthiness. Your credit score is determined by factors including payment history, amounts owed, length of credit history, and frequency of new credit. Credit Scores range from 350-850; the higher the score the better!

Credit score range

730-850 Excellent
700-729 Good
670-699 Fair
585-669 Moderate risk
Below 584 High risk

Credit reporting bureaus

Consumers are entitled to one free credit report from the three major credit reporting bureaus annually:

TransUnion
Consumer Disclosure Center    
800.888.4213
www.Transunion.com

Experian
National Consumer Assistance Center
888.397.3742
www.Experian.com

Equifax
Personal Information Solutions
800.685.1111
www.Equifax.com

Under federal law, you are entitled to a free credit report from each of the three national credit reporting agencies every year. To receive your free annual credit report, you may contact each agency individually or visit www.annualcreditreport.com, the official site to help consumers to obtain their free credit report.

Your free credit report will not include your credit score. An additional fee will be charged to view your credit score.

What your credit report contains

Your credit report is divided sections including personal Information, credit history, public records, and inquiries.  It is important for you to review each section for accuracy and take action on any errors.

Personal information

This section can include multiple spellings of your name or more than one social security number, usually because a creditor incorrectly reported the information. Other information in this section can include your current and previous addresses, date of birth, driver's license number, employer information, and spousal information.

Credit history

This section will include information on all individual accounts, including the name of the creditors and account numbers. The entries in this section can also include:

  • Date account was opened
  • Type of credit involved
  • Names on the account
  • Total amount of loan, credit limit, or highest balance on a credit card
  • Balance still owed
  • Payment history

Public records

This section will include any financially related data such bankruptcies, judgments, and tax liens. Information in this section is considered negative.

Inquiries

This section shows everyone who has requested to see your credit report. "Hard" inquiries are generated when you fill out a credit application, apply for a job, or apply for insurance. "Soft" inquiries are generated when lenders ask the credit bureau for lists of people who fit certain lending criteria so that they can pre-approve them for special offers.

Improving your credit score

Check your credit report annually

View your credit report at least once annually and review all included information to check for inaccuracies.

Correct errors

If you find an error in your report, you will need to report it to the credit bureau. You can do this by filling out the form that is included in your credit report or by filing the dispute online at the credit bureau's website.

Clear up debt

Try to pay off your debt and consolidate your credit cards into one credit account. For every new credit account open you are creating a new line of credit that could impact your score.

Pay your bills on time

One of the key factors to improving your credit score is to pay your bills on time. If you have missed payments, get current and stay current on payments to help improve your credit score.

Pay more than the minimum payment

Most credit cards require only a 2% minimum monthly payment on the outstanding balance. Pay more than minimum, as much as you can afford, and keep the balance as low as possible.

Keep balances low

Keep your balance low in relation to your credit limit. High balances can still have a negative impact even if they aren't "maxed out".

Know your limits

Only charge items that you know you can pay off each month. It is important to remember that credit is not an extension of income.

Don't open many new accounts too quickly

Opening new accounts can lower the average age of your history, which can affect your score if you do not have a larger amount of other credit information.

Learn the legal steps to improving your credit score

The Federal Trade Commission's Building a Better Credit Report has information on correcting errors in your report, tips on dealing with debt, avoiding scams and more.