You will note that all of these companies offer a free credit score and a copy of your credit report. However, receiving your credit score requires you to sign up for a free trial period for each respective company’s credit score monitoring service, generally ranging from $10-$15 per month. The free trial period ranges from 7 – 30 days, which is plenty of time to sign up for the service, get a free copy of your credit score, and cancel the service if you do not wish to continue monitoring your score.
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It used to be that your credit score was a big mystery, or you had to pay to see it. Now credit card companies can’t wait to show you your score, for free. But those three-digit numbers you get every month aren’t necessarily the ones lenders use. In reality, you have dozens of scores, some based on previous versions of FICO scoring models and others developed by the three big credit bureaus. And your score will vary by the lender’s industry—mortgage, auto loan, credit card, and telecom services.
If your credit score is between 750 and 800, you have a long and distinguished credit history that shows a responsible payment history and the ability to handle multiple types of credit responsibly. As a matter of fact, for the most part, you are regarded in the same standard as borrowers with excellent credit history, with the exception that you may have a higher debt-to-income ratio.
While your credit limit might seem like the number not to exceed on your credit card, experts actually recommend that to minimize negative credit impact, you should only be using 30% of your credit allowance. That means if you have a $9,000 credit limit, you should not exceed spending more than $3,000 before making a payment. This might seem a little counterintuitive, but the reality is credit restrictions like this are put in place to protect you. By spending much lower than your credit limit, you decrease your interest payments and ultimately your debt.
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.
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.
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.
Look for information that appears outdated or inaccurate. A financial institution may not have reported a payment correctly, for example, or it may have confused you with someone else who has a similar name. You should also look for accounts that you don't recognize. This could be a sign that your identity has been stolen. In that case, you should contact the credit bureau and financial institution immediately to alert them of the problem. Then place a fraud alert on your account so future creditors know to be extra cautious when opening new lines of credit in your name.
Credit reports include personal information such as current and previous addresses, Social Security numbers and employment history. These reports also include a credit history summary such as the number and type of accounts that are past due or in good standing, and detailed account information related to high balances, credit limits and the date accounts were opened. Credit reports list credit inquiries and details of accounts turned over to credit agencies such as information about liens and wage garnishments. Generally, credit reports retain negative information for seven years, while bankruptcy filings typically stay on credit reports for about 10 years.
It’s a good idea to look into inquiries from companies whose names you don’t recognize. While it’s possible they could be from companies you’ve done business with (if they report under a different company name, for example), they could also indicate fraud like identity theft, which we mentioned can bring down your credit scores. You’ll want to dispute any errors you discover as soon as you can to avoid further damage. Not sure where to start? You can learn more about disputing an error on your credit report by reading this primer.
While late credit card and mortgage payments are also starting to tick up, Zandi believes those measures “are simply returning to historical norms.” Looser underwriting and hard-hit consumers in energy patches like Texas and the Dakotas are driving some of that. But there’s a third possible explanation: The weakening predictive power of credit scores as consumers learn how to game the system.
2. Tell the creditor or other information provider in writing that you dispute an item. Many providers specify an address for disputes. If the provider reports the item to a credit reporting company, it must include a notice of your dispute. And if you are correct — that is, if the information is found to be inaccurate — the information provider may not report it again.