A credit score is defined as a numerical rating that determines an individual’s creditworthiness or likelihood that a borrower will pay their debt (loans, credit cards, mortgages, rent, etc.) as agreed. Scores generally range from 300 to 800+, with a higher score indicative of lower lending risk. Credit scoring is used across industries, including qualifications for employment, insurance, and rent, among others.
The credit score was born as a data analytics algorithm in the mid-1950s, going public on the NYSE about three decades later. FICO, which is an acronym of the company’s legal name – Fair Isaac Company, has become the industry standard in the measurement of credit risk.
Think of your credit score much in the way you think about the IRS – as a very real and unavoidable part of life. And like the IRS, consumers will find great benefits (by way of a more level playing field) if they take the time to understand the rules of the game.
Credit Scores Fall Into Five Categories
There are various methodologies for generating a credit score. Two of the more common scores used include FICO and Vantage Score 3.0. Both algorithms create a credit score that falls within a range that generally begins with 300, on the very low side, and maxes out at 900.
In general terms, credit falls into five categories, although depending on the credit reporting agencies’ policies, the dividing lines may differ slightly.
Credit Score Category
|Exceptional||800 – 850||Excellent||781 – 850|
|Very Good||740 – 799||Good||661 – 780|
|Good||670 – 739||Fair||601 – 660|
|Fair||580 – 669||Poor||500 – 600|
|Poor||Scores below 580||Very Poor||300 – 499|
The minor variations in credit categorization only complicate the world of credit scores.
How a Credit Score is Calculated
To understand how to effectively apply credit scoring techniques, it is essential to understand what variables the calculation is based upon. For the most part, credit scoring algorithms use five across-the-board variables to determine the score.
The Five Components of a Credit Score
|Payment History||Reflects 35% of the score|
|Total Amount Owed||Reflects 30% of the score|
|Credit History Length||Reflects 15% of the score|
|Types of Accts.||Reflects 10% of the score|
|New Credit Lines||Reflects 10% of the score|
10 Tips to Learn How to Improve your Credit Score Quickly
A credit report is a collection of consumer data and information that speaks to how a consumer chooses to manage their finances over time. Given that a score is calculated based on the data contained within your credit profile, the most effective way to learn how to improve credit scores is to manage the credit profile’s content.
1. Know What is on Your Current Credit Report
Each of the three major credit repositories is required by law to provide consumers with a free credit report each year. Contact the three major credit reporting agencies for a copy of your free annual credit report using these links –
Alternatively, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) advises that a consumer can request a no-cost credit report from a federally approved provider – annualcreditreport.com.
2. Scan the Credit Report for Common Reporting Mistakes
When received, carefully review the details on the credit report to see if the report contains erroneous information. The most common reporting errors include the following –
- Errors on the Balance Owed
- Incorrect Credit Limits
- Identity Mistakes – including misspelled names, erroneous addresses, or accounts opened fraudulently.
- Errors in Reporting – accounts appearing twice, reported as open when the account has been closed, or inaccurate reporting histories.
Do not be surprised to find an error (or several) because reporting mistakes happens way more often than you may think. For example, in 2020, the Federal Trade Commission received more than two million reports of fraud by consumers. The five top categories contributing to fraud included –
- Internet Service Provision
- Telephone/Mobile Services
The FTC notes that the amount of losses for this 2020 fraud exceeded 3 billion dollars, which represented an 83%+ increase in losses from the previous year – 2019.
3. Make Your Payments When Due
The largest component that contributes to a credit score calculation is your payment history. In other words, do you pay your bills on time – all the time?
If you don’t start paying bills when due and on time, your score will rise organically because you have begun to follow along with the credit scoring rules rather than buck the system.
If you have trouble keeping track of all the various due dates, use one of the many apps or programs designed to set up reminders and alerts. Most banks now have automatic draft services (at no extra cost) to ensure bills are paid as agreed.
4. Be Proactive & Dispute Errors
If you have found inaccurate data on the report you ordered, contact the credit bureau as soon as possible to open a dispute regarding errors. These are the links that offer dispute instructions and protocols –
Although it remains somewhat unfair, consumers are tasked with the responsibility of disproving this mistakenly reported data. If you take this route, request that all promises made by the company be reduced to writing. If they are unwilling, move on to another company or app, or implement one of the suggested strategies.
5. Implement a Payment Strategy
Late payments or those not made at all have the potential to impact a credit score significantly. Generally, late payments remain on a credit report for a minimum of seven years, although as time passes, the impact these delinquencies may have will be reduced.
Here are a few proven techniques that can help lift your credit score.
- Make payments to all outstanding debts on time and as agreed.
- Avoid allowing accounts to be sent to a collection agency/department, if possible. This is because having a few monthly delinquencies will do much less damage than a serious delinquency that hits a collection status.
- Improve how you use credit – this refers to one’s credit utilization. In other words, avoid opening and closing accounts when not necessary, and keep account balances below credit line maximums or limits.
6. Try to Credit Card Balances Low
When consumers near or reach their credit limit, this impacts their credit score negatively. As a rule, the ratio between the amount you owe, and the credit line’s limit is best kept at or below 30%.
7. Use Debt, But Do So Responsibly
Obtaining and judiciously using credit is an important life skill – as long as you spend responsibly and make payments as agreed. It is often beneficial to use credit, even if only to purchase monthly groceries or gas, as this can help increase a credit score compared to someone who chooses not to use or have credit. In other words, someone who does not use credit cannot maintain a preferred credit score as there is no current data being provided.
8. Do Not Open Multiple Credit Lines in a Short Time Period
It always looks risky to a credit decision-maker if a consumer opens multiple accounts quickly. First, is there an unknown financial need this new credit will solve? And, because the average age of credit accounts plays into your credit score, more recent accounts can potentially drag the score down needlessly.
9. Don’t Close All Accounts
If you take on a lot of potential debt at once, your credit will look risky to lenders. Plus, the average age of your accounts will be considered new, which can also negatively impact your credit score.
10. Don’t Give Up. Educate Yourself.
Credit guidance is available on the internet and even locally. An intelligent way to begin is to check out government websites for more in-depth information –
Consumers have the ability to make changes to their credit scores. You are advised to monitor your credit report regularly and learn how to improve your credit score quickly, so it truly reflects your creditworthiness.
Credit scores are dynamic in nature. As data updates, scores chang based on the current information provided. The techniques noted above offer ways to begin to improve your credit score, but for many, the fundamental challenge is remaining patient through the process.
While the big three – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion are best known, there is a fourth credit reporting agency as well – Connect (formerly known as PRBC), which operates a bit differently than the others. Connect offers a free service in which consumers can self-enroll and find ways to report payment histories for non-traditional debt payments.
When a company reviews a credit report that includes a loan request, the credit inquiry is known as a hard inquiry – something that can result in a negative score impact. Underwriters, determining the worthiness of an approval, might view hard inquiries as potential debt that has yet to hit the report.
Conversely, a soft inquiry is when a consumer checks or a promotional offer for credit is generated. These types of inquiries do not impact one’s credit score.
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