How to Manage Your Credit History Before it Manages You
Many major events in life can be affected by your credit history. You may be renting an apartment, buying a home, shopping for a new car or just dealing with an emergency, when a creditor asks to pull your credit report.
What’s on that report will determine whether you can get the credit you’ll need, and if so, how much it will cost you in interest.
Failing to make payments, filing bankruptcy or even just applying for too much credit at one time can set you back. Some negative events can remain on your credit report for seven years, making it more difficult for you to get the credit you may need.
Here’s what you need to know about how to manage your credit history.
What’s on a Credit Report?
Your credit report lists personal information including your name, date of birth, addresses where you’ve lived, telephone numbers you’ve used and employers you’ve worked for. It also includes a list of credit accounts you’ve opened and closed, their balances and whether they’re in good standing. Reports may include negative information, such as accounts that haven’t been paid as agreed and accounts that have been sold to collection agencies. Credit reports may also include a section on “inquiries” or instances where you’ve authorized a creditor to look at your credit history. A large number of inquiries can be a red flag for creditors and becomes part of the information that goes into your credit score.1
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What Factors Affect My Credit Score?
Your credit score is a three-digit number that is based on your credit history, and it helps creditors analyze the risks of lending you money. It’s important to understand that lenders may use different types of credit scores. Typically, credit scores can range from 300 – 850 depending on the type of score. Common factors that affect your score are:
- Payment History
- Credit Utilization
- Derogatory Marks
- Length of Credit History
- Total Accounts
- Credit Inquiries2
How Can I See My Credit Report and My Credit Scores?
Credit reports come from three major agencies: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Under federal law, you are entitled to a free copy of your report from each of these bureaus every 12 months. You can also get free copies if you are denied credit or insurance as a result of what’s reported. You can order them online at annualcreditreport.com.3
Don’t be afraid to request your credit report information—inquiring about your own credit is considered a “soft inquiry” and does not affect your credit score.
Tips to Better Manage Your Credit Report and History
It’s important to review what each of these agencies is reporting to be sure the information is accurate. If you find mistakes, you may dispute them by writing the agencies reporting them. Include documentation supporting your claims.4 Each credit reporting agency offers a page on their websites, as well as a mailing address, where consumers can do this. Under federal law, agencies have 30 days to investigate claims, so be sure to follow up if you haven’t heard back after a month.
Another way to keep your credit report clean is to avoid applying for too much credit at once. By regularly applying for credit, you’re adding inquiries to your report, which may negatively affect your credit score. Always be selective in choosing credit.
Ultimately, the best advice is this: If you don’t want it reported, don’t let it happen. There are consequences to missing payments, defaulting on accounts and filing bankruptcy. Keeping current with your bills can be as important to your life as maintaining your health.
Does My Credit Score Need to be Perfect?
A perfect credit score of 850 is extremely rare and perhaps fleeting (the moment someone with an 850 score applies for credit, that score drops because of an inquiry). The good news is, you don’t need to be perfect to be excellent. In fact, any score above 750 is considered excellent. And any score above 700 is considered good.5
Remember: Keeping your credit history and credit scores in top shape could save you thousands of dollars over the course of your lifetime.
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