How to Money, Episode Three: Credit Scores
Your credit score is just a simple, three-digit number, but it has a super powerful effect on your financial health. It determines what kind of loans and credit cards you can apply for, what sorts of interest rates you can get, and could even decide where you live or work.
For more on how these scores work—and what you can do to improve your own score—check out the video below.
What is a credit score?
Your credit score is a three-digit number that expresses your “creditworthiness”, or how likely you are to repay a loan based on your past borrowing behavior. Lenders use them to help judge whether or not to accept a person’s loan application and what kind of interest rates to charge them.
When it comes to your credit score, you don’t actually have just one. You have several. The most commonly used kind of score is the FICO score, which was created by Fair, Isaac and Company in 1989. (The company has since changed its name to FICO.) But even with your FICO score, you don’t have just one. You have three!
That’s because your credit score is based off information from your credit reports. The reports are compiled by the three major credit bureaus: TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. The information on the reports can vary from bureau to bureau, which means that your FICO score can change depending on which credit report is being used to create it!
What do credit scores mean?
FICO scores exist on a scale from 300 to 850. The higher the score the better your credit.
The exact criteria for what makes a “good” credit score versus a “fair” or even a “bad” credit score will vary from lender to lender (check out our other resources for more information on bad credit loans). That being said, there are six basic ranges of credit scores:
- 720-850 = Great Credit
- 680-719 = Good Credit
- 630-679 = Fair Credit
- 550-629 = Subprime Credit
- 300-549 = Poor Credit
If you have a great credit score, you are going to get approved for pretty much any loan you apply for–especially if you have a score of 750 or above. Not only that, but you’ll also receive the very lowest interest rates and the best credit cards perks and rewards.
The lower your score goes, the more likely you are to be turned down for a loan–especially if it’s an “unsecured” loan that isn’t backed by collateral, like a car or a house. You’ll also see your interest rates go up and the kinds of credit card rewards you’re being offered start to dwindle.
If you have a score below 630, that’s when you’re going to find real difficulty getting a loan from a traditional lender. In this range, you’re much more likely to fall prey to a predatory payday loan or title loan. Predatory lenders offer no credit check loans that can seem like a great solution for folks with bad credit–when in reality they can trap those borrowers in an unending cycle of debt.
How are credit scores created?
In order to create your credit score, FICO first has to get a look at what’s in your credit reports. These reports are basically a history of how you’ve used credit (aka how you’ve borrowed money) over the past seven years.
After that period of time, information on your score usually drops off. This means that poor decisions you’ve made—ones that have lowered your score–will eventually drop off your report and stop hurting your credit. However, some information, like bankruptcies, can stay on your report for 10 years.
Your credit report contains information like how much money you’ve borrowed, how much of your total credit limit you’ve used, what kinds of credit you’ve used (like credit cards, mortgages or personal loans), whether you pay your bills on time, how long you’ve been using credit, whether you’ve recently applied for more credit, and if you’ve ever filed for bankruptcy.
FICO takes all that information and uses it to create a snapshot of your creditworthiness. There are five general categories of information, some of which are weighted more heavily than others:
- Payment History – 35% of your total score
- Total Amounts Owed – 30% of your total score
- Length of Credit History – 15% of your total score
- Credit Mix – 10% of your total score
- New Credit Inquiries – 10% of your total score
As you can see, your payment history and your total amounts owed are the two most important factors.
How can you fix your credit score?
If you’re trying to improve your credit score, the two best things you can do are:
- Pay your bills on time.
- Pay down your existing debt.
Taking care of them will have the biggest impact on your score.
It’s a good idea to take a look at your credit reports to see what information is on there. Sometimes, the credit bureaus make mistakes that can impact your score! Luckily, the credit bureaus are all legally obligated to provide you one free copy of your credit report per year. To get a free copy of your credit report, just visit www.annualcreditreport.com.