Few people understand the impact a credit score can have in an individual’s life. A high score can mean a lower rate for a bank loan while a low credit score can result in more expensive insurance premiums. Not only is it important to understand your credit score, but it is also important to understand how to improve your credit score and reap the advantages of good credit.
First, the basics. Creditors have been using credit scoring systems to determine if people are a good credit risk for some time. Today, many businesses, including insurance companies, phone companies and employers use a person’s credit score to determine if a product, service or employment offer should be provided.
Credit scoring systems are complex and vary among creditors and businesses. Essentially, information collected from an individual’s credit report is put through a statistical program that compares that specific information against consumers with similar profiles. The program identifies all characteristics that relate to risk and generates a number which represents a credit score.
The higher your credit score, the less of a risk you are considered to be. So, the higher the score, the better. The scores generally range from 300 to 850. A score of 620 or higher should mean that you are eligible for very good rates.
You can obtain your credit score from any one of the three national consumer reporting companies. They are allowed to charge a reasonable fee, typically around $8, for the score. Since your sore is comprised of information from your credit report, you need to ensure that your credit report is accurate.
If your credit score is low, or you just want to make sure it stays high, follow these steps to improve or maintain your score:
- Pay your bills on time.
- Do not max out your credit limits.
- Do not apply for too many new credit accounts in a short period of time.
- Do not have too many credit card accounts.
- Develop a credit history as early as possible to demonstrate a long record of responsibility.
If you find inaccuracies on your credit report you should:
- Dispute the inaccurate information directly with the consumer reporting agency and maybe even with the provider of the information.
- Tell them in writing what you believe is inaccurate and provide as much proof, including copies of documents, as you can to support your position.
The agency generally has 30 days to investigate your complaint. For more information about your credit score and credit report:
How to Place a Fraud Alert on Your Credit Report
If you are aware someone has obtained or misused your personal or financial information, call one of the companies and ask for an initial fraud alert on your credit report. If you’re concerned about identity theft, but haven’t yet become a victim, you can also place an initial fraud alert. For example, you may want to place a fraud alert if your wallet, Social Security card, or other personal, financial or account information are lost or stolen. You may also want to place a fraud alert if your personal information was exposed in a data breach. A fraud alert is free. The company you call must tell the other companies about your alert.
An initial fraud alert can make it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name. When you have an alert on your report, a business must verify your identity before it issues credit, so it may try to contact you. The initial alert stays on your report for at least 90 days. You can renew it after 90 days. It allows you to order one free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting companies. Be sure the credit reporting companies have your current contact information so they can get in touch with you.
Step one: Contact one credit reporting agency. Ask the company to put a fraud alert on your credit file. Confirm the company you call will contact the other two companies. Placing the alert is free.
Step two: Update your files. Record the dates you made calls or sent letters. Keep copies of the letters in your files.
Step three: Mark your calendar. The initial fraud alert stays on your report for 90 days. You can renew it after 90 days.