TransUnion, Experian and Equifax aren’t the only credit reporting agencies that track your financial performance. Tens of other companies across the country maintain data on your rent payments, check-writing history and insurance claims. Along with traditional credit data, this alternative information is then factored into the decisions made by financial institutions, landlords, employers and insurers.
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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.
Your credit score and credit report are separate from one another. Your report is your entire credit history of all your installment (loan) and revolving (credit card) accounts. Your credit score on the other hand, is a number calculated from your credit history that shows where you stand in terms of credit health. Even though the two are related, you do have to request them separately.
Just want to read your credit report without seeing your score? You can do that once a year, completely free, at www.annualcreditreport.com. The nice thing about this government-sanctioned site is that you can request reports from all three bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Because some banks use only one or two of the reports to make lending decisions, it’s always a good idea to make sure all three contain accurate information about your borrowing history.
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If you don’t pay a medical bill or a cell phone bill, your account may be referred to a collection agency. Once it is with an agency, they can register that debt with the credit bureau, which can have a big negative impact on your score. Most negative information will stay on your credit bureau for 7 years. Positive information will stay on your credit bureau forever, so long as you keep the account open. If you close an account with positive information, then it will typically stay on your report for about 10 years, until that account completely disappears from your credit bureau and score. If you don’t use your credit card (and therefore no payment is due), your score will not improve. You have to use credit in order to get a good score.
The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 (FACTA) made it possible for you to get a free credit report. Through FACTA you can get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—each year. You should take advantage of this ability by ordering your credit report and using it to monitor your credit history.
With the increase in financial crime, such as identity theft, it's wise to check your credit history at least once a year. You can obtain a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. To order your free annual report, go to annualcreditreport.com, call 877-322-8228, or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, PO Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
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Unfortunately, identity theft is a very real threat to everyone. Even if you don’t keep an eye on your credit reports every other week, that’s OK because monitoring your score can help you make sure your identity isn’t being fraudulently used - a drastic change in your score can indicate that something may be wrong and help you keep track of how your sensitive information is being used.
We know our credit score sets interest rates on what we borrow, sure. But many may not realize that it also affects what card offers you get, what deposit utilities require, what your insurance rate will be, whether you get that rental apartment, or what your installment plan is for a mobile phone. In our society, it’s a three-digit number that can open or shut doors. Not surprisingly, many hyper-competitive consumers obsess over it. And when Americans obsess over something, they start looking for an edge.
You are not entitled to a free credit score annually, but it’s easy to get a free credit score. For example, you can see two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com, along with a personalized action plan for improving your credit. Every credit score is a little different, and even the same credit scoring model may produce a different result if it’s based on a different credit report.
The interpretation of a credit score will vary by lender, industry, and the economy as a whole. While 640 has been a divider between "prime" and "subprime", all considerations about score revolve around the strength of the economy in general and investors' appetites for risk in providing the funding for borrowers in particular when the score is evaluated. In 2010, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) tightened its guidelines regarding credit scores to a small degree, but lenders who have to service and sell the securities packaged for sale into the secondary market largely raised their minimum score to 640 in the absence of strong compensating factors in the borrower's loan profile. In another housing example, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac began charging extra for loans over 75% of the value that have scores below 740. Furthermore, private mortgage insurance companies will not even provide mortgage insurance for borrowers with scores below 660. Therefore, "prime" is a product of the lender's appetite for the risk profile of the borrower at the time that the borrower is asking for the loan.
Accordingly, the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion created the joint venture company Central Source LLC to oversee their compliance with FACTA. Central Source then set up a toll free telephone number, a mailing address and a central website, AnnualCreditReport.com, to process consumer requests. Access to the free report was initially rolled out in stages, based on the consumer’s state of residence. By the end of 2005 all U.S. consumers could use these services to obtain a credit report.
Inquiries note when someone has obtained your credit information. There is nothing that indicates whether you were approved or rejected for credit at that time. Some inquiries can affect your credit scores, but not all of them do. Soft inquiries generally aren’t seen by anyone except the consumer and usually won’t affect your credit scores. Here are some examples.
Want to understand how to get approved for a mortgage or auto loan? Or how you can qualify for a credit card and get a lower interest rate? Do you have good payment history already but want to know what else you can do to raise your score? Our credit experts can help. We also offer you personalized product matches based off your credit scores, and give you lots of different options to choose from, so you’re in control!
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.
Lenders need not reveal their credit score head, nor need they reveal the minimum credit score required for the applicant to be accepted. Owing only to this lack of information to the consumer, it is impossible for him or her to know in advance if they will pass a lender's credit scoring requirements. However, it may still be useful for consumers to gauge their chances of being successful with their credit or loan applications by checking their credit score prior to applying.
Credit scores can change once a week for some and not at all for months (or even longer) for others. It usually takes specific changes to your credit information for your score to move, and once these changes occur, it could take some time for your credit report to reflect your new status. Due to this fact, you may want to consider tracking your credit score over longer periods of time. While the fact that your credit score hasn’t moved in a few months might seem concerning, it will likely seem less so in the context of a sixty-point improvement over an entire year.
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.
The Discover it® Secured isn’t like most secured cards — it offers a cashback program and a simple transition to an unsecured card. Starting at eight months from account opening, Discover will conduct automatic monthly account reviews to see if your security deposit can be returned while you still use your card. Unlike most secured cards that lack rewards, this card offers 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, 1% cash back on all your other purchases. And, Discover will match ALL the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically. There’s no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched. This is a great added perk while you work on building credit.
If you reviewed your credit information and discovered that your credit scores aren't quite where you thought they'd be, you're not alone. Since your credit scores use information drawn from your credit report, your credit activity provides a continually-updated basis of data about how responsible you are with the credit you're currently using. At Experian, we provide information that can help you see your credit in new ways and take control of your financial future. You can learn more about:
You've probably seen commercials for a "free credit report" (you may recall that guy playing his guitar in the seafood restaurant lamenting his predicament). Be aware that these companies will give you a free credit report and/or credit score initially, but they will also most likely also ask for your credit card number. If you don't cancel within a certain time, they'll charge you for membership.
A lot of people think that checking their credit score once in a while or just a short period before they apply for credit is enough to get by, and many others don’t even think that far. The truth is that you’re bound to miss a lot if you don’t review at least one of your credit reports on a regular basis. And that’s problematic because what you don’t know about your credit can and will cost you.
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.
All credit scores are a three-digit grade of your financial responsibility based on the data in your credit reports. The most widely used credit scores are FICO scores. There are several different FICO scoring models, with the FICO score 8 being the most common. FICO also offers a number of specialty scores that cater to specific situations. For example, there are FICO auto scores that lenders use when you apply for a car loan.
You are entitled to receive one free credit report every 12 months from each of the nationwide consumer credit reporting companies through this central source. It is entirely your choice whether you order all three credit reports at the same time or order one now and others later. The advantage of ordering all three at the same time is that you can compare them. (However, you will not be eligible for another free credit report from the central source for 12 months.) On the other hand, the advantage of ordering one now and others later (for example, one credit report every four months) is that you can keep track of any changes or new information that may appear on your credit report. Remember, you are entitled to receive one free credit report through the central source every 12 months from each of the nationwide consumer credit reporting companies - Equifax, Experian and TransUnion - so if you order from only one company today you can still order from the other two companies at a later date.
Regardless of the reason for the less-than-stellar score, you’ll have a harder time finding a lender willing to service a loan, especially if the low credit score is a result of slow payments. You’ll represent a higher risk of default to a lender and may therefore be required to secure the loan with a down payment or with tangible personal property (otherwise known as “collateral”) before a loan offer will be extended.
Mierzwinski says that another option to consider is a credit freeze. A freeze would allow you to restrict access to your credit report. Thanks to the recently approved federal banking deregulation law, the three major credit reporting agencies will soon allow you to freeze your credit for free. This law pre-empts states from passing stronger credit freeze laws on their own, though, he says.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the three credit reporting bureaus to supply consumers with a free credit report once per year. Federal law also entitles consumers to receive free credit reports if any company has taken adverse action against them. This includes denial of credit, insurance or employment as well as reports from collection agencies or judgments, but consumers must request the report within 60 days from the date the adverse action occurred. In addition, consumers who are on welfare, people who are unemployed and plan to look for a job within 60 days, and victims of identity theft are also entitled to a free credit report from each of the reporting agencies.
FICO, myFICO, Score Watch, The score lenders use, and The Score That Matters are trademarks or registered trademarks of Fair Isaac Corporation. Equifax Credit Report is a trademark of Equifax, Inc. and its affiliated companies. Many factors affect your FICO Score and the interest rates you may receive. Fair Isaac is not a credit repair organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. Fair Isaac does not provide "credit repair" services or advice or assistance regarding "rebuilding" or "improving" your credit record, credit history or credit rating. FTC's website on credit.
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.
Still, if you don’t recognize the name of a company listed on your credit reports, it’s worth investigating. After all, inquiries or accounts with companies you don’t recognize can be an early indication of identity theft. Full contact information for each company should be listed on your credit report so that you can contact them directly. If not, ask the CRA for that information.
Some of these reasons are relevant all the time; others matter most when you’re planning to apply for a loan. A mistake on your credit report could cost you thousands of dollars in interest over the life of a mortgage, for instance. So try to review your report as regularly as possible, but be extra thorough in the months leading up to a loan or credit card application.
Following are questions we frequently hear about credit reports and credit scores. In order to find out which of these problems may affect your credit, we recommend you get your free credit reports at least once a year, as well as monitor your credit score for free at Credit.com. You will get a complete explanation of the factors affecting your score, as well as an action plan for better credit.
You should also consider your level of comfort with sharing your financial account information. The UltraFICO is a positive use of such data, Wu said, but other potential applications could be worrying, such as debt collectors accessing this data. And last year’s Equifax data breach proves that consumers should be concerned with how credit reporting agencies collect, store and use personal data.
Sweden has a system for credit scoring that aims to find people with a history of neglect to pay bills or, most commonly, taxes. Anyone who does not pay their debts on time, and fails to make payments after a reminder, will have their case forwarded to the Swedish Enforcement Authority which is a national authority for collecting debts. The mere appearance of a company, or government office, as a debtor to this authority will result in a record among private credit bureaus; however, this does not apply to individuals as debtors. This record is called a Betalningsanmärkning (non-payment record) and by law can be stored for three years for an individual and five years for a company. This kind of nonpayment record will make it very difficult to get a loan, rent an apartment, get telephone subscriptions, rent a car or get a job where you handle cash. The banks, also use income and asset figures in connection with loan assessments.
Introducing your teenager to credit as soon as possible is a great way to get them prepared for all the future credit products they’re bound to encounter in life. Practicing responsible credit behavior with a credit card or even as an authorized user can help your teen establish credit, which is necessary for taking out student loans, mortgages and other credit products. Plus, having a good credit score is key to getting the best rates and terms for credit products.
A big reason for this is that American consumer finances are generally in good shape. While the overall level of household debt has returned to its pre-recession peak, it remains low when compared with income, says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. Debt service—principal and interest payments as a percent of income—is at an all-time low, helped by mortgage refinancing over the past decade.
Pick 3 months during the year you intend to review your report. Let’s say January, May, and September for example. One day each of those months, go to annualcreditreport.com and choose one agency to pull a report from. So in January, you could pull your TransUnion report; in May you could pull your Experian report; and in September you could pull your Equifax report.
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.
A: Under federal law, you’re entitled to a free report if a company takes adverse action against you, such as denying your application for credit, insurance, or employment, and you ask for your report within 60 days of receiving notice of the action. The notice will give you the name, address, and phone number of the credit reporting company. You’re also entitled to one free report a year if you’re unemployed and plan to look for a job within 60 days; if you’re on welfare; or if your report is inaccurate because of fraud, including identity theft. Otherwise, a credit reporting company may charge you a reasonable amount for another copy of your report within a 12-month period.