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There are a lot of myths out there about credit scoring – hopefully we can help you understand FICO scoring, so you can take action to build your score. There are five major components FICO uses to determine a credit score. Fortunately, understanding the secret sauce can help you build a strong score and healthy credit report. Both a 700+ score and healthy credit report will help keep the rest of your financial life cheaper by enabling you to get lower interest rates on loans and approved for top-tier financial products.
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If you are applying for a mortgage to buy a new home or you want to lease a new car, the lender who is providing you the loan will then pull your credit report in order to determine if you are eligible for a loan, also known as your creditworthiness. Other times a credit report will be pulled is when you are planning on renting an apartment or if you just want to browse your current credit standing yourself.

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You will note that all of these companies offer a free credit score and a copy of your credit report. However, receiving your credit score requires you to sign up for a free trial period for each respective company’s credit score monitoring service, generally ranging from $10-$15 per month. The free trial period ranges from 7 – 30 days, which is plenty of time to sign up for the service, get a free copy of your credit score, and cancel the service if you do not wish to continue monitoring your score.
FICO scores are used by many mortgage lenders that use a risk-based system to determine the possibility that the borrower may default on financial obligations to the mortgage lender. For most mortgages originated in the United States, three credit scores are obtained on a consumer: a Beacon 5.0 score (Beacon is a trademark of FICO) which is calculated from the consumer's Equifax credit history, a FICO Model II score, which is calculated from the consumer's Experian credit history, and a Classic04 score, which is calculated from the consumer's Trans Union history.
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Introducing your teenager to credit as soon as possible is a great way to get them prepared for all the future credit products they’re bound to encounter in life. Practicing responsible credit behavior with a credit card or even as an authorized user can help your teen establish credit, which is necessary for taking out student loans, mortgages and other credit products. Plus, having a good credit score is key to getting the best rates and terms for credit products.
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It's rare that a free credit score truly has no strings attached. In the best-case scenario, you get added to the company's mailing list and have to manually unsubscribe if you don't want to be. Worst-case scenario, you enter your credit card and get automatically enrolled in credit monitoring services. This will show up as a recurring monthly charge on your credit card until you cancel it. However, there's usually a small window -- seven or 14 days -- after you get your free credit score in which you can cancel your subscription without being charged for credit monitoring.


If you don’t pay a medical bill or a cell phone bill, your account may be referred to a collection agency. Once it is with an agency, they can register that debt with the credit bureau, which can have a big negative impact on your score. Most negative information will stay on your credit bureau for 7 years. Positive information will stay on your credit bureau forever, so long as you keep the account open. If you close an account with positive information, then it will typically stay on your report for about 10 years, until that account completely disappears from your credit bureau and score. If you don’t use your credit card (and therefore no payment is due), your score will not improve. You have to use credit in order to get a good score.
Your debts and collections will remain on your credit report. Most items ranging from bankruptcies to collections will remain on your credit report for 7 years. It impacts different credit scores differently as well. For example, if you are looking at your FICO score, then the age of the bad debt or collections account will have less impact the older it is, compared to other credit scores who do not take that into account. Bankruptcies can vary as well, where Chapter 10 remains for 7 years, Chapter 7 will remain on your credit report for 10 years.
Each credit bureau calculates your scores differently. Experian uses the FICO Score 8, which ranges from 300 to 850. Equifax calculates your credit score on a range from 280-850 while TransUnion, rather than using a FICO model, uses the VantageScore 3.0 which also ranges from 300-850. The higher your score, the better offers and interest rates you’re eligible for.
If you’re the parent of a teenager, you might wonder if now is the right time to help them open a credit card. It can be hard to decide if they’re ready to take on the responsibility that comes with having a credit card since you need to trust that your teen has the restraint to limit spending and pay on time. Generally, we recommend introducing your teen to credit as soon as you can since credit is such a large part of life as an adult — you need credit to take out loans, apply for a mortgage and even make certain purchases. Plus, it’s important for your teenager to learn how to manage credit responsibly so they can build good credit.
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Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you are legally entitled to at least one report every 12 months from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and Transunion. In addition, the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends that you check your credit report at least once a year to prevent identity theft and ensure your information is accurately reported to the credit bureaus.
Filing a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy is common among those who cannot handle their debt and need a way out. The way this impacts your credit score really depends on how your score was when you applied for bankruptcy, it will affect different ranges differently. If you had a good standing, your score will dip quite a bit, while on the other hand if you already had fair or bad credit, the dip won’t be as significant.
Transitioning from a secured to an unsecured credit card: The transition from an unsecured card to a secured card is fairly simple for the cards mentioned below, with many conducting periodic reviews of your account to evaluate if you can move to an unsecured card. And, when you’re transitioned to an unsecured card, you’ll receive your security deposit back. Another way to be refunded the deposit is by paying off any balances and closing the card — though we don’t recommend closing the account since that jeopardizes your credit score.
The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is responsible for encouraging the accuracy, fairness, and privacy of all data that is held by the credit reporting bureaus in the United States. Some of the major rights under the FCRA include you being told when information in your current file is used against you, what data is held in your file, request your credit score, dispute inaccurate or incomplete data, and the reporting agency must correct or delete the data that is not accurate or complete.
How it works: You can add your teen as an authorized user to your account by logging in to your online account or calling the number on the back of your card. The information required typically includes their name, birthday and SSN. After adding your teen as an authorized user, they will receive their own card that is linked to your account. They can use their card to make purchases just like you would.
However, there is a big myth that you have to borrow money and pay interest to get a good score. That is completely false! So long as you use your credit card (it can even be a small $1 charge) and then pay that statement balance in full, your score will benefit. You do not need to pay interest on a credit card to improve your score. Remember: your goal is to have as much positive information as possible, with very little negative information. That means you should be as focused on adding positive information to your credit report as you are at avoiding negative information.
The AnnualCreditReport.com website was set up to comply with the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act), legislation that requires the credit bureaus to provide consumers with a copy of their credit report once per year. It is the only official site to get a free copy of your credit report from the three major credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.
All credit scores are a three-digit grade of your financial responsibility based on the data in your credit reports. The most widely used credit scores are FICO scores. There are several different FICO scoring models, with the FICO score 8 being the most common. FICO also offers a number of specialty scores that cater to specific situations. For example, there are FICO auto scores that lenders use when you apply for a car loan.

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When you sign up with NerdWallet, you get access to your TransUnion credit report. It's updated weekly, and you can check it whenever you want. You also are entitled to a free report every 12 months direct from each of the three big credit bureaus (the other two are Experian and Equifax) by using AnnualCreditReport.com. Because credit reports update far more frequently than once a year, it’s smart to monitor them at least monthly.
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Be patient – After reviewing your reason codes you may realize that a plan to rebuild your scores may take longer than you’d like. A low score caused by delinquencies will take time to rebuild because delinquencies stay on your credit files for years. However, as these delinquencies age, their impact on your scores will lessen and your scores will increase as long as you now manage your credit well and pay accounts on time.

You can definitely build your credit from scratch by working to improve the factors that go into your score — except for the length of credit history. It’s impossible to travel back in time to open a credit account, so improving this factor just takes patience. Luckily, the length of your credit history isn’t the most important thing that determines your score.


Credit reporting companies must investigate the items in question — usually within 30 days — unless they consider your dispute frivolous. They also must forward all the relevant data you provide about the inaccuracy to the organization that provided the information. After the information provider receives notice of a dispute from the credit reporting company, it must investigate, review the relevant information, and report the results back to the credit reporting company. If the information provider finds the disputed information is inaccurate, it must notify all three nationwide credit reporting companies so they can correct the information in your file.
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