Chua learned about credit the hard way. He ruined his score by running up debt in college. He read up on how to fix it, went on internet forums, and eventually got his credit into good shape—then he landed a job at consumer credit firm Credit Karma. Even with all that effort, though, the big reason for his success was simple: He didn’t miss a payment for seven years. He also used at most 5 percent of his credit limit, since scores can be hurt by high “utilization rates.”
With the increase in financial crime, such as identity theft, it's wise to check your credit history at least once a year. You can obtain a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. To order your free annual report, go to annualcreditreport.com, call 877-322-8228, or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, PO Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
is 20%, which is good. However, closing one of the cards would put your credit utilization rate at 40%, which will negatively affect your score. Your credit score is one number that can cost or save you a lot of money in your lifetime. An excellent score can land you low interest rates, meaning you will pay less for any line of credit you take out. But it's up to you, the borrower, to make sure your credit remains strong so you can have access to more opportunities to borrow if you need to.
Watch out for the upsell! The legislation only requires the credit bureaus to provide a free copy of your credit report, not a free copy of your credit score. The credit bureaus are more than happy to give you a copy of your credit score if you are willing to pay for it. TransUnion owns the company TrueCredit, and you have the option of purchasing your credit score for $5.95. I checked my score about a year ago, and haven’t had any major changes in credit, so I declined – I’m only interested in my credit report at this time.
Reputable credit counseling organizations can advise you on managing your money and debts, help you develop a budget, and offer free educational materials and workshops. Their counselors are certified and trained in the areas of consumer credit, money and debt management, and budgeting. Counselors discuss your entire financial situation with you, and can help you develop a personalized plan to solve your money problems. An initial counseling session typically lasts an hour, with an offer of follow-up sessions.
While the Savings Secured Visa Platinum Card from State Department Federal CU has a slightly higher security deposit at $250, it does have one of the lowest APRs of a secured card at 13.99% Variable. This may come in handy if you find yourself carrying a balance month to month — but we strongly encourage you to pay each bill on time and in full to avoid interest charges. This card is available to everyone regardless of residence by joining the American Consumer Council for free during the application process.
You're entitled to one free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies. Order online from annualcreditreport.com, the only authorized website for free credit reports, or call 1-877-322-8228. You will need to provide your name, address, social security number, and date of birth to verify your identity.
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From initial reports, it appears that the UltraFICO Score will primarily be offered as a second-chance score. For example, “One use case is that a lender would invite a consumer who is in the process of applying for credit to participate in the UltraFICO scoring process,” said David Shellenberger, senior director of scores and predictive analytics at FICO.
We always hear that it’s good to diversify. Your credit is no different. The mix of accounts you have—your student loans, auto loans, mortgages, and revolving credit cards make up 10% of your credit score. Creditors like to see this mix because it shows them you’re capable of handling all types of accounts. Want to see where you’re at? Your free credit report card will show you. See it now »
If you’re thinking about filing for bankruptcy, be aware that bankruptcy laws require that you get credit counseling from a government-approved organization within six months before you file for bankruptcy relief. You can find a state-by-state list of government-approved organizations at www.usdoj.gov/ust, the website of the U.S. Trustee Program. That’s the organization within the U.S. Department of Justice that supervises bankruptcy cases and trustees. Be wary of credit counseling organizations that say they are government-approved, but don’t appear on the list of approved organizations.
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All those credit cards from college that initially hurt Chua, for example, helped him down the line. That’s because he never cut them up, creating a longer credit history and a higher average age across his accounts. Both of those numbers feed into the 15 percent or so of a FICO score based on the length of your credit history. A virtuous cycle develops when you have good credit, says Chua. More companies offer you credit, which raises your total credit limit, which means you can make bigger transactions but still use the same percentage of your total credit.
Remember, there are lots of reasons why your credit may be in rough shape. Most are related to your spending habits. So, for instance, if you missed a few payments or your debt levels are too high (think over 30% of your total available credit limits), disputing errors won’t help your case — you’ll have to make some changes to improve your credit scores. And you may have to wait a bit to see an uptick.