You’ve decided to take the plunge and review your credit reports. (Good call. Credit impacts so many aspects of our lives. It’s important to know where you stand.) The first part — getting your free credit report — should be easy. Just hop over to AnnualCreditReport.com and request them online, by telephone or by mail. Once you have them, the fun begins. You get to read and try to understand all the information the three major credit bureaus have compiled about you. That may seem daunting at first. After all, most reports consist of pages and pages of information. But there are ways to keep your eyes from crossing.
In the United States, the median generic FICO score was 723 in 2006 and 711 in 2011. The performance definition of the FICO risk score (its stated design objective) is to predict the likelihood that a consumer will go 90 days past due or worse in the subsequent 24 months after the score has been calculated. The higher the consumer's score, the less likely he or she will go 90 days past due in the subsequent 24 months after the score has been calculated. Because different lending uses (mortgage, automobile, credit card) have different parameters, FICO algorithms are adjusted according to the predictability of that use. For this reason, a person might have a higher credit score for a revolving credit card debt when compared to a mortgage credit score taken at the same point in time.
There are three major credit agencies that provide consumer credit information (including credit scores) to the majority of interested parties: Equifax, Experian, and Transunion. Each reporting agency collects information about your credit history from a variety of sources, including lenders, landlords, and employers, as well as other sources. These includes public records, current and past loans, your payment history, and other data. They then rate your performance using a proprietary scoring system to come up with a credit score.
Score providers, such as the three major credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion -- and companies like FICO use different types of credit scoring models and may use different information to calculate credit scores. Credit scores provided by the three major credit bureaus will also vary because some lenders may report information to all three, two or one, or none at all. And lenders and creditors may use additional information, other than credit scores, to decide whether to grant you credit.
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.
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.
This part of your credit score will look at how much debt you have. Your credit report uses your statement balance. So, even if you pay your credit card statement in full every month (never pay any interest), it would still show as debt on your credit report, because it uses your statement balance. This part of your score will look at a few elements:
Watch out for the upsell! The legislation only requires the credit bureaus to provide a free copy of your credit report, not a free copy of your credit score. The credit bureaus are more than happy to give you a copy of your credit score if you are willing to pay for it. TransUnion owns the company TrueCredit, and you have the option of purchasing your credit score for $5.95. I checked my score about a year ago, and haven’t had any major changes in credit, so I declined – I’m only interested in my credit report at this time.
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2. First Premier – The bank claims to want to offer people a second chance when it comes to their finances, but its fee structure and fine print prove the exact opposite. First Premier charges you a $95 processing fee just to apply for a credit card. Then it levies a $75 annual fee on the credit cards and most cards only come with a $300 limit. You’re paying $170 for a $300 credit line! The APR is a painful 36%. In year two the annual fee reduces to $45, but then you’re charged a monthly servicing fee of $6.25. And to top it all off, you’ll be charged a 25% fee if your credit limit is increased. Stay away from this card! Use the $170 it would take to open the card and get a secured card instead.
When visitors sign up, they’re often enrolled, unwittingly, in a credit monitoring service that charges a monthly fee. In 2010, the Federal Trade Commission attempted to clamp down on this practice. It required “free” sites to provide a warning that, under federal law, the only authorized source for no-cost credit reports (though not free credit scores) is www.annualcreditreport.com.
Improvement Requires Reflection: Reviewing your credit report will give you much-needed perspective, making it easier to determine what you’re doing right (g., on-time monthly payments) as well as which areas of your financial performance need improvement (e.g., high credit utilization). Both the good and the bad will inevitably affect your credit score, but they have to hit your credit report first, and they’ll be easier to diagnose when they’re there. WalletHub makes things easy on you by grading each component of your credit, telling you exactly where you’re excelling and lacking.
An award-winning writer, editor and content strategist, Bob Musinski focuses on trends and issues related to credit cards and loans for U.S. News. He also has written dozens of stories for publications such as AAP News, Naperville Magazine and Natural Products Insider. He worked as an editor and reporter for three daily newspapers and an international wire service, where he covered events such as the World Series and Super Bowl and earned a national writing award from the Associated Press. His experience also includes planning and writing annual reports; strategizing, editing and writing for blogs; speechwriting; and strategic messaging development.