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Keep the first secured credit card you received, even if you don’t use it later. This card will establish the length of your credit history. Most people choose a no-fee rewards card or a bank credit card as their first credit account, so it doesn’t cost anything to keep the card for the length of your history. You can see a list of good no-fee rewards cards here.
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An airline credit card with an insane rewards program was released recently and you just have to have it. Or, the apartment of your dreams just popped up on Padmapper and you need your name on the call box, like, yesterday. So –– naturally –– you use one of your free annual credit checks through Experian, EXPN, +0.24%   Equifax, EFX, +1.05%   or TransUnion TRU, +0.51%   to check up on things, and suddenly you find yourself in crisis mode: why is my credit score lower than it was last time I checked?
Your credit report includes instructions on how to dispute inaccurate information. In most cases, you have to provide your credit bureau with a written statement regarding the information you are disputing. The credit bureau will then open an investigation with the creditor listed on your report. When the investigation is complete, the credit bureau is required to provide you with a written report of the outcome, as well as an updated copy of your credit report. If the dispute is ruled in your favor, the creditor must provide adjusted information to all three credit bureaus. In cases of identity theft, you should also file a police report.
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.
Anyone who denies you credit, housing, insurance, or a job because of a credit report must give you the name, address, and telephone number of the credit reporting agency (CRA) that provided the report. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you have the right to request a free report within 60 days if a company denies you credit based on the report.
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.

Lenders, such as banks and credit card companies, use credit scores to evaluate the potential risk posed by lending money to consumers and to mitigate losses due to bad debt. Lenders use credit scores to determine who qualifies for a loan, at what interest rate, and what credit limits. Lenders also use credit scores to determine which customers are likely to bring in the most revenue. The use of credit or identity scoring prior to authorizing access or granting credit is an implementation of a trusted system.
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.
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.
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Credit scores are three-digit numbers created using the information in credit reports. That information is used to try to predict how likely you are to pay your bills on time.  While you have only three credit reports (at least from the major, national agencies), there are many different types of credit scores that can be calculated based on your credit information.
Tip: Be cautious of websites that claim to offer free credit reports. Some of these websites will only give you a free report if you buy other products or services. Other websites give you a free report and then bill you for services you have to cancel. To get the free credit report authorized by law, go to AnnualCreditReport.com  or call (877) 322-8228.
There is only one place to get your free, federally mandated credit reports, also called an "educational credit report," which this is AnnualCreditReport.com. You are allowed a free credit report from the three major consumer reporting agencies in the U.S." Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. These sites also offer credit reports, but you have to pay for them. When you go to AnnualCreditReport.com, you are given the option to get all three reports at once or one at a time. Choose to get all three reports at once. Gerri Detweiler, author of the book Stop Debt Collectors, explains that when you apply for a loan you probably won't know which report a lender will use. So if there is a mistake on one, you'll want to know.
Remember when we said credit reports are compiled when requested? That means your credit report includes the latest information reported by your lenders. If your lender hasn’t reported you paid your balance off yet, for example, the last balance reported will show up. It may take up to 30 days for your current balance to be reported. (And by then, it may have changed again.) Also remember that some accounts, like medical bills, are only likely to show up on your credit reports if they have been turned over to collections. Because reporting accounts is voluntary, you may not see all of your loans on your reports or only appear on some reports and not others.
For a FICO® Score to be calculated, your credit report from the bureau for which the score is being calculated must contain enough information - and enough recent information - on which to base a credit score. Generally, that means you must have at least one account that has been open for six months or longer, and at least one account that has been reported to the credit bureau within the last six months.
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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.
You don’t have to earn a perfect credit score of 850 to be considered successful or qualify for the lowest interest on loans. A more optimal credit score to work toward is 760. Anyone with a score of 760 and above will likely get desirable rates offered by lenders. A history of credit, on-time payments and decreasing the amount you owe will help you work toward this goal.
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If you’re the parent of a teenager, you might wonder if now is the right time to help them open a credit card. It can be hard to decide if they’re ready to take on the responsibility that comes with having a credit card since you need to trust that your teen has the restraint to limit spending and pay on time. Generally, we recommend introducing your teen to credit as soon as you can since credit is such a large part of life as an adult — you need credit to take out loans, apply for a mortgage and even make certain purchases. Plus, it’s important for your teenager to learn how to manage credit responsibly so they can build good credit.
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Carrying a balance on your credit cards because you can’t afford to pay off the entire amount is understandable. Carrying a balance in hopes that it will improve your credit score is a huge mistake and one of the biggest credit myths out there. You don’t need to carry a balance to build credit – the balance reported to the credit bureaus is from your last statement, not what is carried over to the next statement.
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Strategies for requesting your free reportsIf you order all of your reports at once, you’ll be able to compare them easily. You will be able to verify information common to all three reports, as well as distinguish the minor differences, such as creditors that report to TransUnion but not Equifax. The downside to this strategy is that you won’t be able to order your free reports again for a full calendar year. If this doesn’t appeal to your sensibilities, you can opt for staggering your requests. One of the advantages to this strategy is that you will be able to track and verify new information being added to your reports, such as new accounts or loans.
Although not every landlord does so, rent can play a role in improving your credit score in some cases. Making sure that you are paying your rent on time every month is just as important as paying any other bill or debt. Not doing so can make it end up as a late payment and impact your credit score negatively. Ask your landlord if they submit to any of the three major bureaus.
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.
Remember, each credit bureau uses a different credit scoring model and your reports may look different. This is because creditors are not required to furnish information to any or all three of the credit bureaus, so you may see one account show up on Equifax that isn’t being reported to either TransUnion or Experian (or any combination). That’s why it’s a good idea to get your annual credit report each year from the credit bureaus so that you can stay on top of what’s reporting.
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