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?
When you are doing a credit check yourself pulling your annual free credit report you are performing a soft credit inquiry. This type of action does not impact your credit at all. On the other hand if you are applying for a loan, a credit card, or a mortgage, that will be counted as a hard credit inquiry and will slightly decrease your credit score.
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.
Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to get a free credit report these days. But we could all stand to make some improvements in terms of how often we check and what we do with the information. So WalletHub convened a panel of personal finance experts for some tips and insights. Below, you can see who they are, what we asked them and how they recommend getting more from your free credit reports.
When you order by phone or mail, you will receive your annual credit report via mail within two to three weeks. When you order online, you should be able to access it immediately. You must order your real annual credit report using one of the methods listed above, not directly from the credit bureaus or through any other websites. Note that all the credit bureaus have some type of credit card deal, but all require a credit card and will enroll you in a subscription service that you must remember to cancel in order to avoid monthly charges.
You don’t have to earn a perfect credit score of 850 to be considered successful or qualify for the lowest interest on loans. A more optimal credit score to work toward is 760. Anyone with a score of 760 and above will likely get desirable rates offered by lenders. A history of credit, on-time payments and decreasing the amount you owe will help you work toward this goal.
Your payment history comprises the bulk of what calculates your credit score (35%), so staying on time with your credit card, mortgage, auto or student loan bills is imperative to keep your credit score high. Too many late or non-payments can do the worst damage to your score, since it tells lenders that you’re an irresponsible borrower and credit risk.
Remember, each credit bureau uses a different credit scoring model and your reports may look different. This is because creditors are not required to furnish information to any or all three of the credit bureaus, so you may see one account show up on Equifax that isn’t being reported to either TransUnion or Experian (or any combination). That’s why it’s a good idea to get your annual credit report each year from the credit bureaus so that you can stay on top of what’s reporting.
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