You've seen the ads with the annoyingly smug guy who asks, "Do you know your FICO score?" right?
So, do you? Most people probably have a general idea of whether they have a relatively good or bad credit rating, but knowing your score is even better. If you are applying for a car loan or mortgage, the lender will probably have to access the information and can let you know, or you can buy a report.
Even more important than getting that number, though, is understanding how it is determined and structuring your financial activities accordingly. The exact algorithm has long been a closely guarded secret, but I read an article in the local paper that describes the factors that influence scores.
- Payment history
- Amounts owed and relationship to credit limits
- How many years you have used credit
- How often you apply for credit and open new accounts
- Types of credit, such as a mortgage, auto loan, finance company accounts or retail accounts. Bank cards can help your score more than those from a department store or gas station. Some consumers try to help their score by closing unused accounts. But that can backfire because reducing credit lines and eliminating a long-term account can be seen as negatives.
The second point is the most interesting point to me. I remember that when I first started to make a little money, I got to the point where I could stop using the credit line at my bank. I think I had only been using it as a very poor type of emergency fund, transferring a little money to my checking account when it got low to avoid overdrafts. Once I built up a savings account, I closed the credit line. I didn't realize it at the time, but that action probably really hurt my credit score. That was the only credit I was using at the time, so what I should have done is kept the line open in order to keep my ratio of debt to available credit low. Live and learn; I just wish I had learned in time for the information to be more useful.
One last good quote from the article:
What's the profile of a person with a near-perfect credit score?
"If we're talking about predicted credit risk, the ideal consumer is a very conservative money manager...It's somebody who has two or three accounts that have been open as long as the U.S. has been a country, they have never, ever been late, they do use the credit occasionally, but they always pay it down to zero or to low balances."