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An airline credit card with an insane rewards program was released recently and you just have to have it. Or, the apartment of your dreams just popped up on Padmapper and you need your name on the call box, like, yesterday. So –– naturally –– you use one of your free annual credit checks through Experian, EXPN, +0.24%   Equifax, EFX, +1.05%   or TransUnion TRU, +0.51%   to check up on things, and suddenly you find yourself in crisis mode: why is my credit score lower than it was last time I checked?

Gina, the most important thing you can do is pay your bills on time consistently – and even then, it takes time. Another important factor is your credit utilization, which is the amount of credit you are using compared to how much you have available. For example, using $10,000 of credit when you have $50,000 available is better than using $25,000 of credit when you have $50,000 available. Here are more tips: How to improve your credit score.
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.
In this part of your credit report, you’ll find bankruptcies, judgments, tax liens and/or collection accounts. One of the most important things to check here is that the dates listed are correct since they may directly affect how long these items will affect your credit. Collection accounts can be reported seven years plus 180 days from the date you first fell behind with the original creditor; bankruptcies may be reported for 10 years from the filing date (seven years in the case of Chapter 13); paid judgments may appear for seven years from the date the judgment was entered by the court; and paid tax liens may be reported for seven years from the date they were entered. (Still confused? You can find a full list of how long things stay on your credit report.)
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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.
The two biggest factors in your score are payment history and credit utilization (how much of your available credit you're using). That’s why they come first in this list of ways to boost your credit: Pay all your bills, not just credit cards, on time. You don't want late payments or worse, a debt collection or legal judgment against you, on your credit reports. Keep the balance on each credit card at 30% of your available credit or lower. Keep accounts open and active if possible; that will help your length of payment history and credit utilization. Avoid opening too many new accounts at once; new accounts lower your average account age. Check your credit report and dispute any errors you find. It pays to monitor your score over time. Always check the same score — otherwise, it's like trying to monitor your weight on different scales — and use the methods outlined above to build whichever score you track. And like weight, your score may fluctuate. As long as you keep it in a healthy range, those variations won't have a major impact on your financial well-being.
Inquiries note when someone has obtained your credit information. There is nothing that indicates whether you were approved or rejected for credit at that time. Some inquiries can affect your credit scores, but not all of them do. Soft inquiries generally aren’t seen by anyone except the consumer and usually won’t affect your credit scores. Here are some examples.
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Credit.com pulls your credit information every 14 days from Experian, one of the three major credit bureaus. We also pull your Vantage 3.0 score and when you sign up, you have the option of purchasing your FICO score and all three credit reports from Experian, Trans Union, and Equifax (but you are entitled to a free report once a year through annualcreditreport.com).
Not paying your bills on time can make your debt end up in collections. For example, if you become delinquent on a debt, whether it is a medical bill or credit card bill, this type of debt can end up at a collections agency who will then try to recover that lost debt. Checking your credit score for free with Credit Sesame to see your credit standing and whether you have anything negative on your report.

“Consumers participating in this process have greater control and transparency over the financial information that is being shared with a credit grantor,” Shellenberger clarified when asked about privacy and security concerns. “The consumer has direct access to this data and therefore knows exactly what is being shared.” Finicity, Experian and FICO have also set up extensive information security measures and protections to keep users’ data safe, he added.
Industry consolidation has whittled what used to be scores of local and regional credit bureaus down to the three that we know of today: Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. There was a day when you actually had a local credit bureau that would sell your credit file to lenders in your geographic locale. Over the past several decades the “big three” gobbled up these smaller credit bureaus in an effort to become truly “national” in their coverage. What this means is that if you lived in Miami all your life and then moved to Anchorage that your credit report would still follow you despite all of your credit having been issued when you lived in south Florida. The benefit of these national credit bureaus is that you won’t lose any of your solid credit management history simply because you’ve moved to another part of the country. Likewise, moving to another part of the country will not rid you of any negative credit reporting challenges that you may have faced in the past.
You can check your TransUnion credit score for free right here on WalletHub, where your score is updated on a daily basis. Checking your credit score as put forward by one credit bureau should be enough. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found a 90% correlation among a selection of the most common credit-score models. So, it doesn’t really matter which one you check, as long as it’s free and from a reputable source. Remember that you're entitled by law to your three credit scores for free each year at annualcreditreport.com
As mentioned earlier, closing an account, whether done by you or your credit card provider, could negatively impact your score. Unless you dramatically reduce your spending, closing a card (and saying goodbye to that credit limit) will probably increase your credit utilization rate. It could also lower your average age of accounts when the card falls off your credit report.
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.
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Are you saying you are an authorized user (not sure what you mean by “secondary”)? If you were an authorized user, all you need do is call the credit card issuer and ask to be removed from the card. If you mean you were a joint user or co-signer, then you may be responsible for the debt. If you were an authorized user and have yourself removed from the account, your credit score should return to its earlier levels.

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The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 (FACTA) made it possible for you to get a free credit report. Through FACTA you can get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—each year. You should take advantage of this ability by ordering your credit report and using it to monitor your credit history.
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, a consumer is entitled to a free credit report (but not a free credit score) within 60 days of any adverse action (e.g., being denied credit, or receiving substandard credit terms from a lender) taken as a result of their credit score. Under the Wall Street reform bill passed on July 22, 2010, a consumer is entitled to receive a free credit score if they are denied a loan or insurance due to their credit score.[28]
Consumers who visit these free credit report sites will now be greeted with a large notice at the top of the page informing them they can receive a free credit report from annualcreditreport.com. The link is required to be clickable, so that customers can easily visit the site without having to type anything into their web browser. The notice should read as follows, or similar:

When you sign up for your free Credit.com account, you get your credit report card that tells you how you’re doing in the major areas of your credit score. Your Vantage score, like your FICO score, is a joint venture of the big three credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. The Vantage and FICO scoring models are the scores that most lenders use to evaluate you when you apply for a new credit card, a mortgage, and other types of accounts.
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