Knowing what your credit report means is critical to your business and personal life.
BY J.D. Roth | July 26, 2011
How does your credit score rank?
Excellent: 730 to 850
Great: 700 to 729
Good: 670 to 699
Average: 585 to 669
Bad: 300 to 584
Do you know your credit score? When was the last time you checked your credit report? Your credit history plays a key role in your financial future, yet most people are blissfully ignorant of how credit scores work–and how to improve them.
Companies like Fair Isaac use secret formulas to crunch data from your credit report, comparing it to millions of other people. Such formulas spit out a single number that helps banks and credit card companies decide how much to lend you and at what terms. This number is your credit score (the most common, from Fair Isaac, is called a FICO score).
Where to go for your score:
AnnualCreditReport is the only government approved way to get a free annual look at your credit report.
myFICO is the official site of the company that developed FICO scores. You can pay a $20 fee to see your credit score, or you can gain access to it by signing up for one of their services.
Credit Karma lets you see your TransUnion credit score for free.
Quizzle gives you free access to your Experian credit score.
Credit gives you a quick, free snapshot of your credit health with its Credit Report Card; it doesn’t provide an actual credit score, but instead grades different aspects of your credit profile.
“A good credit score can make a big difference in a small-business owner’s life,” says Liz Weston, author of Your Credit Score, Your Money & What’s at Stake. She notes that while there are lots of different credit scores out there, most lenders base their decisions on your FICO score.
So, how can you boost your score? “There’s only one way to improve your score quickly, and that’s if there’s untrue negative information,” Weston says. “If you have somebody else’s account showing up on your credit report and you get that taken off, for instance, you’re likely to see a quick improvement in your scores. Other than that, it’s really a game of small improvements over time.”
To build your score:
- Pay off debt. “The most powerful thing you can do to improve your credit score is to reduce your credit utilization,” Weston says. The less you use of your credit limit, the better your score.
- Pay on time. According to Weston, if your FICO score is 780, a single late payment can drop it 100 points.
- Limit new accounts. Opening new accounts has a small but noticeable effect on your credit score. Keep new accounts to a minimum, especially if you’re planning a big purchase (like a home or a car).
- Don’t close old accounts. This may seem counterintuitive, but to maximize your credit score, keep accounts open, but unused. If you have to close an account or two, close newer accounts before old ones.
- Keep tabs on your credit. Even small errors can hurt your score. Check your credit report regularly and get problems corrected.
By the Numbers:
665 The average national credit score for Q1 2011
More than 50 percent of people have an “excellent” FICO credit score
550 People with FICO scores below 550 are not eligible for any type of loan
As of Q1 2011, California has the highest national credit score, averaging 684. Mississippi has the lowest credit score, averaging 632.
A 2004 survey from U.S. PIRG found that 79 percent of credit reports contain errors; 25 percent are serious enough to affect a person’s ability to get credit.
By law, each of the major credit reporting agencies–Equifax, Experian and TransUnion–has to let you review your credit report for free once a year. You can get reports from all three at once, or you can stagger requests.
Like it or not, your financial future is affected by your financial past. Even a mediocre credit score can cost you tens of thousands of dollars over your lifetime. Raising your credit score is pure profit.
This article was originally published in the August 2011 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Give Yourself Some Credit.