Two companies dominate credit scoring in the U.S.: FICO® and VantageScore®. They calculate scores from information in your credit reports, which list your credit activity as compiled by the three major credit reporting agencies: Experian®, Equifax® and TransUnion®. If you have a good VantageScore®, you're likely to have a good FICO® Score, because both consider the same factors: Payment history: your record of on-time payments and any "derogatory" marks, such as late payments, accounts sent to collections or judgments against you. Credit utilization: balances you owe and how much of your available credit you're using. Age of credit history: how long you've been borrowing money. Applications: whether you've applied for a lot of credit recently. Type of credit: how many and what kinds of credit accounts you have, such as credit cards, installment debt (such as mortgage and car loans) or a mix. A credit score doesn't consider your income, savings or job security. That's why lenders also may consider what you owe alongside what you earn and assets you have accumulated.
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The three major CRAs are private, for-profit companies and they don’t share information with each other. That means there can be a mistake on one report but not another. This is why it’s important to review all of them for any errors (more on disputes in a minute). Meaning, when you monitor one report, you need to take a look at the other two as well.
Your score is essentially a 3-digit summary of your credit health. A lender or credit card provider who looks at your credit score will be able to determine right away if you’re a borrower who can be trusted to pay back the money they lend you. Credit scores are calculated from the information in your credit report, a file containing all of your credit and financial activity over the months and years. Lenders will want to know you credit report and score to determine your ability to hold a loan.
Be punished for missed payments: Not all late payments are created equally. If you are fewer than 30 days late, your missed payment will likely not be reported to the bureau (although you still will be subject to late fees and potential risk-based re-pricing, which can be very expensive). Once you are 30 days late, you will be reported to the credit bureau. The longer you go without paying, the bigger the impact on your score, ie: 60 days late is worse than 30 days late. A single missed payment (of 30 days or more) can still have a big impact on your score. It can take anywhere from 60 to 110 points off your score.
Your credit report and score play a big role in determining your ability to receive a loan, the interest rate you will pay, your ability to rent a house/apartment, buy a cellphone plan, and possibly even get a job or security clearance. The need is there, but what many of these companies don’t want you to know is that you can get a copy of your credit report for free through AnnualCreditReport.com.
Under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) the credit bureaus may not discriminate under any factors such as race, color, religion, sex, age, or national origin. Although they can ask you for most or all of this information in the process of applying for credit they may not use it to determine whether to give you the credit or the terms under which it is given.
In order to investigate this concern, the consumer group World Privacy Forum has made two studies regarding AnnualCreditReport.com. Their July 2005 study found that there were 233 domains with names very similar to AnnualCreditReport.com, of which 112 routed users to a variety of unintended destinations, including for-fee services, "link farms" and pornographic sites. The report concluded that the credit reporting agencies and the Federal Trade Commission needed to do more to rein in and shut down impostor sites. A follow-up study from RentPrep found that of the original 112 routed links, only six currently remain. 
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.
help guard against identity theft. That’s when someone uses your personal information — like your name, your Social Security number, or your credit card number — to commit fraud. Identity thieves may use your information to open a new credit card account in your name. Then, when they don’t pay the bills, the delinquent account is reported on your credit report. Inaccurate information like that could affect your ability to get credit, insurance, or even a job.