Credit report and credit score basics
Financial stress is a burden that can take its toll on you and your family.

By: Family - Legal - 3/2/2017

What Is A Credit Report?

A credit report is a 10-year record of your financial history, usually compiled by a credit agency. In fact, there are reports from three major sources you need to pay attention to. Your credit report includes your name, social security number, home address, credit cards, loans, collections, credit inquiries, public records, how much you owe, and whether you've paid your bills on time. If you've been late, it shows how late: more than 30, 60, 90, or 120 days past due.

Credit inquiries are requests by certain types of businesses for your credit reports, which include information they look at to determine if they want to do business with you. These include credit card companies, banks, mortgage and other lenders, cell phone companies, and even your insurance company. For example, when you apply for a credit card or loan, the business will use the information on your credit report to decide if you're reasonably safe to give credit to and, if you qualify, what the interest rate will be. Employers can look at your credit history too, but they must ask for your permission first.

Why Are Credit Reports Important?

It's important to look at your credit reports for accuracy. Inaccurate information could impact your ability to get credit. An account or credit inquiry you don't recognize might indicate there's been an attempt to steal your identity. In addition, you can review the list of open credits on your reports. Open credit is a preapproved loan, also known as a "line of credit," that you can use over and over. It can limit you in the long run because creditors know you could use them to exceed the amount you can afford to repay. If there are ones you don't use, it might be a good idea to close them.

What Is The Difference Between A Credit Report And A Credit Score?

Your credit score and your credit report are closely linked. Your credit report is a detailed record of how you've managed your credit, what you've owed, and what you've paid back. Your credit score is a number that indicates how good your credit is. Put another way, your credit score is meant to predict how likely you are to repay any debts. The range for a credit score is typically between 300 and 850. The higher the score, the better. Ranges (and your number) vary based on what company you're getting your score from.

How Is Your Credit Score Determined?

The information on your credit report is used to determine your credit score through a computerized calculation. This is why it's very important the information on your credit report is accurate.

What Influences Your Credit Score?

Repaying your loans (credit cards, car loans, mortgages, etc.) on time is typically the most significant factor that influences a credit score. Also, how much you still owe on each open account you have compared to the original amount you borrowed impacts your credit score.

How Can I Get My Credit Report?

You can ask for a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three major credit agencies. Visit the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) website to learn how to get your credit reports from all three. For more information, you can visit the U.S. government Credit Reports and Scores page. If you find information that is incomplete or inaccurate, report it to a credit bureau.

How Can I Get My Credit Score?

Unlike your credit report, which is available free of charge once every 12 months, you typically have to pay a small fee to access your credit score. You can do this through each of the three companies that provide free credit reports (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion).

How Can I Improve My Credit Score?

  • Pay your bills on time. If you believe you can't repay your creditors, contact them, explain your situation, and ask to renegotiate the terms of your loan.

  • Don't max out your credit. Just because you can spend $2,000 on a credit card doesn't mean you should. Limit your spending so you don't end up owing an amount close to your credit limit.

  • Build credit early. Consider applying for a credit card and not using it. Having some available credit can help build your score.

  • Space out your applications for new credit. Applying for several new accounts at once can negatively affect your score.

Know how much credit you have and stay away from new debt. Access your credit report every 12 months and focus on paying down what you already owe.

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