The actual number of points that an inquiry is worth is a closely guarded secret. However, it’s safe to say that only those who are “excessively” shopping for credit will be seriously damaging their scores. The moral of this story is to shop and apply for credit only when you need it and, optimally, only after you have gotten your credit and scores in good order.
Developing your credit score comes naturally as a result of building your credit history. You’ve heard the saying “if you build it they will come?” It applies to credit scoring as well. If you build your credit history then your score will come shortly after followed by more creditors that will want your business. The credit scoring models are looking for two things before they will “score” your credit files: age and activity. For some credit score models, you must have at least one account that is greater than 3 to 6 months old and at least one account that has been reported to the credit bureaus within the last 6 to 12 months. The same account can qualify you for a score. So, a credit report with one account open for 9 months that has reported to the credit bureaus within the past 30 days will qualify for a score. Once you’ve built a score, the challenge is to maximize it.
Thanks to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, the three major credit reporting companies are required to supply a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months, if you request it. The companies – TransUnion, Experian and Equifax – compile information on your bill-paying history, public records related to debt (such as bankruptcy) and inquiries about your credit.
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.
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.
Get a free copy of your credit report every four months. You can receive a free copy of your credit report from each bureau every 12 months. Since there are three bureaus, you can stagger your requests to receive a report every four months so you have better access to recent information. It’s easy to keep track of which bureau you use and when you need to request another free report – just set up calendar reminders on Google Calendar, MS Outlook, or another calendar system.
Your credit reports are broken into several different parts, and you’ll want to review each one carefully for errors and omissions regarding all of your key identifying information. This information includes your name, current and former addresses, your employer (if it’s available), credit card and loan payments, inquiries, collection records and public records such as bankruptcy filings and tax liens.
A: A credit reporting company can report most accurate negative information for seven years and bankruptcy information for 10 years. There is no time limit on reporting information about criminal convictions; information reported in response to your application for a job that pays more than $75,000 a year; and information reported because you’ve applied for more than $150,000 worth of credit or life insurance. Information about a lawsuit or an unpaid judgment against you can be reported for seven years or until the statute of limitations runs out, whichever is longer.
Trying to get approved for that new car you’ve been eyeing? What about a home loan? Or even just a credit card? Every time you apply for new credit this shows up as an inquiry, which makes up 10% of your score, and can cause it to go down. Applying for credit too frequently is a red flag to creditors. If you want to keep track of how often you’re applying for credit, or want to make sure you haven’t been a victim of identity theft, we can help. See it now »
Gerri Detweiler, education director for Nav, which helps business owners manage credit, says, "In this day and age, with so many reports of data breaches and identity thefts, if you aren't checking your credit, you're neglecting one of the key parts of your financial profile. You're almost opening yourself up for potential problems if you don't check, such as identity theft or mistakes that can end up being very expensive."
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.