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A credit score is a number that rates your credit risk at one point in time. It can help creditors determine whether to give you credit, decide the terms you are offered, or the rate you will pay for the loan. Having a high score can benefit you in many ways, including making it easier for you to obtain a loan, rent an apartment, and lower your insurance rate.


If you don't have a credit card and you aren't connected with anyone else's, another way to establish credit is to have an installment loan, though taking out a loan isn't generally recommended unless you actually need one. You may already have one, anyway: Many student loans are installment loans. That's why it's important to pay them on time or to look into alternative solutions if you can't.
Having good credit means that you have built a solid credit history by working hard to keep your accounts in good standing – however, there may be a late payment or two somewhere in your past. Things happen sometimes, but they are nothing you can’t handle. You might have had a collections account reported, but you’ve paid it. And you know you have some extra credit card debt, but you’ve made strides to get it under control.
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Having good credit is important because it determines whether you'll qualify for a loan. And, depending on the interest rate of the loan you qualify for, it could mean the difference between hundreds and even thousands of dollars in savings. A good credit score could also mean that you are able to rent the apartment you want, or even get cell phone service that you need.
While your credit limit might seem like the number not to exceed on your credit card, experts actually recommend that to minimize negative credit impact, you should only be using 30% of your credit allowance. That means if you have a $9,000 credit limit, you should not exceed spending more than $3,000 before making a payment. This might seem a little counterintuitive, but the reality is credit restrictions like this are put in place to protect you. By spending much lower than your credit limit, you decrease your interest payments and ultimately your debt.
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Some of these reasons are relevant all the time; others matter most when you’re planning to apply for a loan. A mistake on your credit report could cost you thousands of dollars in interest over the life of a mortgage, for instance. So try to review your report as regularly as possible, but be extra thorough in the months leading up to a loan or credit card application.
You can request all three reports at once or you can order one report at a time. By requesting the reports separately (for example, one every four months) you can monitor your credit report throughout the year. Once you’ve received your annual free credit report, you can still request additional reports. By law, a credit reporting company can charge no more than $12.00 for a credit report.

One of the provisions of FACTA, passed in 2003 as an amendment to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), was a requirement that each of the three credit reporting agencies provide, upon request, a free credit report every twelve months to every consumer. The goal was to allow consumers a way to ensure their credit information is correct and to guard against identity theft.[2]
At Credit Sesame we believe that credit checks are vital to your financial well being. This is why offering you this free service is an important part of our company. Our patent pending analyses take a look at your credit history and debt situation to advise you on how much you can save on loans, credit card debt, and your home mortgage. Being aware of your credit score will help you understand your financial standing and give you the ability to know what next steps to take to further improve it.

Disclaimer: NerdWallet strives to keep its information accurate and up to date. This information may be different than what you see when you visit a financial institution, service provider or specific product’s site. All financial products, shopping products and services are presented without warranty. When evaluating offers, please review the financial institution’s Terms and Conditions. Pre-qualified offers are not binding. If you find discrepancies with your credit score or information from your credit report, please contact TransUnion® directly.

Even if you feel that you have good credit and are in a good position financially, you should still obtain your individual credit file annually, so you can comb through it and catch any potential problems that the reporting agencies may not have caught regarding identity theft or fraud. Looking for signs of identity theft is just as important as your actual credit report and scores.

After you’ve resolved the negative items on your credit report, work on getting positive information added. Just like late payments severely hurt your credit score, timely payments help your score. If you have some credit cards and loans being reported on time, good. Continue to keep those balances at a reasonable level and make your payments on time.


Disclaimer: NerdWallet strives to keep its information accurate and up to date. This information may be different than what you see when you visit a financial institution, service provider or specific product’s site. All financial products, shopping products and services are presented without warranty. When evaluating offers, please review the financial institution’s Terms and Conditions. Pre-qualified offers are not binding. If you find discrepancies with your credit score or information from your credit report, please contact TransUnion® directly.
Yet credit tracking companies have deftly maneuvered around those notifications. Freecreditreport.com, perhaps the most well-known of these firms, began offering credit scores for $1 (which it gives to charity) in order to avoid the FTC rule. Consumers who request their score receive a trial subscription to the Experian Credit Tracker service. If they don’t cancel it within seven days, they’re charged $21.95 a month.
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The first step to interpreting a score is to identify the source of the credit score and its use. There are numerous scores based on various scoring models sold to lenders and other users. The most common was created by FICO and is called FICO score. FICO is a publicly traded corporation (under the ticker symbol FICO) that created the best-known and most widely used credit score model in the United States. FICO produces scoring models which are installed at and distributed by the three largest national credit repositories in the U.S (TransUnion, Equifax and Experian) and the two national credit repositories in Canada (TransUnion Canada and Equifax Canada). FICO controls the vast majority of the credit score market in the United States and Canada although there are several other competing players that collectively share a very small percentage of the market.
Think of your credit scores like a report card that you might review at the end of a school term, but instead of letter grades, your activity ends up within a scoring range. However, unlike academic grades, credit scores aren't stored as part of your credit history. Rather, your score is generated each time a lender requests it, according to the credit scoring model of their choice.
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Many people, however, don’t have the time or don’t understand how to make their case, so they look into hiring a credit repair company to dispute errors on their behalf. These companies can charge a fee for their legwork (more on how that works in a minute), but there are times when the extra help can certainly be welcome. (Say you have multiple errors across credit reports or you’ve been the victim of widespread identity theft.)
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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.”
Credit scoring is not limited to banks. Other organizations, such as mobile phone companies, insurance companies, landlords, and government departments employ the same techniques. Digital finance companies such as online lenders also use alternative data sources to calculate the creditworthiness of borrowers. Credit scoring also has much overlap with data mining, which uses many similar techniques. These techniques combine thousands of factors but are similar or identical.

If you find yourself sitting at an excellent credit score range then you are on the range of 750 or above according to the FICO range or an A if you are measuring based on the VantageScore 3.0 range. Getting to this position in the credit scale means that your payment history, credit utilization, credit age, credit mix, and inquiries are at the perfect (or excellent) amount. Having excellent credit opens numerous doors to the top credit card offers, best rates of loans, and other offers offered by lenders. This doesn’t mean that you are ‘done’ building your credit, especially if you are on the low end of excellent. It is recommended to continuously improve your credit.
“Before you do business with any debt relief service, check it out with your state Attorney General and local consumer protection agency. They can tell you if any consumer complaints are on file about the firm you’re considering doing business with. Ask your state Attorney General if the company is required to be licensed to work in your state and, if so, whether it is.” 
Just want to read your credit report without seeing your score? You can do that once a year, completely free, at www.annualcreditreport.com. The nice thing about this government-sanctioned site is that you can request reports from all three bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Because some banks use only one or two of the reports to make lending decisions, it’s always a good idea to make sure all three contain accurate information about your borrowing history.

Step 2: Tell the creditor or other information provider, in writing, that you dispute an item. Include copies (NOT originals) of documents that support your position. Many providers specify an address for disputes. If the provider reports the item to a consumer reporting company, it must include a notice of your dispute. And if the information is found to be inaccurate, the provider may not report it again.

You can get one free credit report each year from each of the three nationwide credit bureaus. The website annualcreditreport.com is your portal to your free reports. (Note: when you leave that website and move to the company website to get your free report, the company will probably try to get you to sign up for costly and unnecessary credit monitoring services.)


Nothing in the scoring models suggest that carrying credit card debt month to month is beneficial. It is totally possible to establish a good credit score by paying off your credit card on time and in full every month. Don’t plan to pay interest — in other words, don’t pay just the minimum payment — to build your credit score. It won’t help with your score, and it will cost you a staggering interest payment.
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Annualcreditreport.com and the nationwide credit reporting companies will not send you an email asking for your personal information. If you get an email, see a pop-up ad, or get a phone call from someone claiming to be from annualcreditreport.com or any of the three nationwide credit reporting companies, do not reply or click on any link in the message. It’s probably a scam. Forward any such email to the FTC at spam@uce.gov.
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