Credit reports are used by lenders to determine interest rates, by insurance companies to determine premiums and sometimes by potential employers as an indicator of financial responsibility.
However, few Americans are checking their credit score regularly. According to a survey conducted by CreditCards.com, about half of all adults in the U.S. haven’t checked their credit score in the last six months.
Checking your credit report regularly makes it more likely to catch potential fraud on your report.
“Checking your credit report is one of the best ways to monitor for fraud and identity theft,” said Laura Hendrix, University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture associate professor of personal finance and consumer economics.
Hendrix gives her tips about checking your credit report and building your credit score.
Spread out credit checks. Consumers are entitled to an annual credit report from each credit bureau—Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Your credit report can be found on www.annualcreditreport.com. A credit report is different from a credit score. Your credit report is the list of all the things that effect your credit score. There is a fee for checking your credit score. Spread your credit report checks throughout the year to regularly check your report.
Know what’s on your credit report. “Your credit report provides a history of your use of credit,” Hendrix said. It will include personal information such as your employer and current and previous addresses. It also includes information about current and past installment loans and revolving accounts. If you see something suspicious, report it.
Know what impacts your score. Points are rewarded for items on your credit report that show you are likely to repay debt. Negative factors of your credit score include late payments, overdue notices, collection agency actions, bankruptcy and tax liens. The total number of points equals your credit score.
Know what your score means. Credit scores may vary among bureaus because they may have slightly different information and use different scoring models. Two commonly used scoring models are FICO and VantageScore. FICO scores range from 300 to 850. Most people score in the 600s. If you have a FICO score above 700, you may qualify for more credit and lower interest rates. A score below 600 could mean high interest rates, low credit limits or even denial of credit. VantageScore Models 2 and 3 use the 300 to 850 range. VantageScore Model 1 uses a 501 to 990 range.
Build or improve your credit score. Always pay bills on time and keep credit balances low compared to credit limits. Use a variety of types of credit, like having installment loans and revolving credit.
For more information about credit or personal finance, visit www.uaex.edu/Money and follow uaexMoney on Facebook and Twitter.