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Some 200 million U.S. consumers have FICO credit scores, while just under 3 million, or about 1.4 percent, have perfect 850s. That’s according to Fair Isaac Corp., the company behind the 28-year-old scoring model used by lenders to predict whether you will pay back a loan. But over the years the number has become much more than that—it’s now an American totem of success or failure, hope or despair, security or risk. While there are competing models, almost anyone with a credit card knows that a number typically ranging between 300 and 850 holds huge sway over their financial life.
How it works: A student credit card is the same as a regular credit card but typically has a lower credit limit. The lower limit is due to the smaller income students have compared with adults. Your teen can use their student card just like you’d use your card. However, student cards tend to have higher interest rates than non-student cards — making it all the more important for your teen to pay on time and in full each month.
FICO does offer a package called Score Watch, which is basically a 30-day free trial. When you sign up for Score Watch, you get a free FICO score and credit report. You will eventually be charged if you don't cancel, however, FICO will continuously remind you over the course of the 30 days that your free subscription is running out, so hopefully you won't end up forgetting.
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.
Each of the credit bureaus hard codes their credit reporting systems to look for the “purge from” dates. As these dates hit their 7 or 10 year anniversary they will no longer be reported. Unless you believe that an account is being reported past those time limits, there is no need to remind the credit bureaus that an item is to be removed. It is done automatically. Still, it’s a good idea to check your free credit report each year to make sure that is the case.
Your credit report card is a simple breakdown of what’s on your credit reports, so it’s not as difficult to read as the full version. However, you are entitled to one free annual credit report and you can get the full versions of your Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion reports by going to annualcreditreport.com. You can also get your FICO score from myfico.com.
Chua learned about credit the hard way. He ruined his score by running up debt in college. He read up on how to fix it, went on internet forums, and eventually got his credit into good shape—then he landed a job at consumer credit firm Credit Karma. Even with all that effort, though, the big reason for his success was simple: He didn’t miss a payment for seven years. He also used at most 5 percent of his credit limit, since scores can be hurt by high “utilization rates.”
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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.
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Generally, negative credit records, such as collection accounts, bankruptcies and late payments, will remain on your credit reports for seven to ten- years. Paying off the account sooner doesn't mean it’s deleted from your credit report, but listed as “paid.” Of course, it’s smart to pay your debts, but expect the major change in your report to come after negative records expire.
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.