What is a credit score?
A credit score is a numerical value, usually between 300 and 850, that credit bureaus calculate using your credit history, to determine your trustworthiness in repaying debt. A lower score means you are riskier to lenders.
How do I obtain my credit score?
Your credit score may require a modest fee from the agencies, if it is not included in your report. However, some financial institutions, such as banks, may offer your credit score to you for free.
How is my credit score calculated?
Credit scores are determined by the three major credit agencies - Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. They calculate your score from your credit history, which they collect for a credit report. All three use a scoring model called FICO (developed by the Fair Isaac Corporation). Each agency calculates your score using different statistical models based on FICO, so your score will slightly vary between the agencies. The agencies generally pay attention to five major factors in calculating your score.
Paying your debt consistently will improve your score. Acquiring new debt may not improve your score, even if you are making your payments. A rule of thumb is that using less than 30% of your credit card's limit will give you a much better credit score than anything more than that. Missing or late debt payments will lower your score considerably, as will opening more than one credit line in a year. Credit checks from employers or landlords, offers of "pre-approved" credit cards, and your request for the annual free copy of your credit report will not affect your score.
If you want to maintain a consistently high credit score, it is best to pay your monthly debt on time, spend money within your means, and only acquire debt that is necessary or important (such as a student loan, or a mortgage).
How do I obtain my free Credit Report?
You have the right to obtain a free copy of your credit report from the three agencies, once every twelve months. Here is a step by step video and Q&A for checking a credit report from the Federal Trade Commission.
Online: Visit AnnualCreditReport.com
By Phone: Call 1-877-322-8228. Deaf and hard of hearing consumers can access the TTY service by calling 711 and referring the Relay Operator to 1-800-821-7232.
By Mail: Complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
PO Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
Understanding my Credit Report
FINRA (the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) and the American Library Association have produced a nine-part series of videos to help consumers understand credit reporting.
How to Correct Errors in my Credit Report
Potential lenders generally use only one of the three credit agencies to obtain your credit score, and it's impossible to know which one, so it is a good idea to obtain a copy of your credit report every year to make sure the report is accurate, and to look for any signs of identity theft (such as a line of credit opened in your name that you do not recognize).
If you do spot errors in your report, you can and should contact the credit agency regarding the error and request that any misinformation be removed. The agencies are diligent in making sure every report is as accurate as possible. You generally only need to provide information that was missing or incorrect on your application for a free credit report.
If you are unable to resolve your dispute with the agency, file a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau online or by phone at 1-855-411-2372.