For many people, a credit report is something akin to a mystery novel.
It’s a little hard to understand, and you never know how it’s going to
turn out if you don’t read the whole thing. But you really do have the
power to take the mystery out of understanding what your credit report
is, how it affects your life, and what you can do to improve that all
important credit score. Let’s begin with some basic definitions.
This is a written record of your financial transactions. It details the
amount of your current debt, and how well you are repaying it. It also
includes a record of past debts, and how/if they were repaid. Every
open account you have will be listed, as well as any record of
bankruptcies, foreclosures and judgments.
Based on the details in your credit report, you will be given a
numerical score, that reflects your level of ‘credit worthiness’. This number
is based on:
- The number and types of accounts you have open.
- How long you have held the accounts.
- How many late payments you’ve made, and just how late.
- Your current total accumulated debt.
- Any attempts you’ve made to open more accounts.
Every company you apply for credit with will examine this score, to
determine how likely you are to repay them any money they advance to you.
Would you like to apply for a home or auto loan? A credit card account,
or home improvement loan? Your current credit score will be the biggest
determining factor in whether your request is approved.
The Big 3 Credit Reporting Agencies
- Equifax, based in Atlanta, Georgia.
- Experian, based in Costa Mesa, California.
- TransUnion, based in Chicago, Illinois.
Each of these nationwide credit-reporting agencies maintains a credit
report on you. Since you have no way to know which one of these agencies
a potential lender will contact, you need to keep track of the info
contained in all three reports.
How To Improve Your Credit Report Score
Your credit report is a living, breathing document, changing with every
entry made. If your score is bad now, there are a few things you can do
to improve it.
* Examine each report thoroughly to make sure there are no mistakes.
If you find a company listed with debt outstanding, but you know you’ve
paid it and have a receipt or cancelled check to prove it, you can make
a challenge to that item on your credit report. The company you are
challenging has up to 90 days to respond and defend the item, or remove it
from the report. You should resist the urge to make a challenge without
proper documentation of your payment.
* Close old credit card accounts.
Even if you aren’t actively charging on them, these old accounts that
remain open still add up in your total amount of credit available. This
total line of credit is compared to your income, and alerts lenders to
the fact that you can become overextended any time you choose.
* Never use more than 50% of your available credit.
Potential lenders want to see that you have money left over after
paying your debts. They take this as a sign of good money management skills.
* Add favorable items (tradelines) to your credit report.
You can boost your credit score by making sure that debts you are
paying on time now, or in the past, are listed in your credit report. These
accounts are referred to as tradelines in the industry. It is entirely
possible that a company you deal well with hasn’t even made a report in
to one or all three of the nationwide credit reporting agencies, so
it’s up to you to see that the good info makes it’s way into your report
to counteract the bad info.
Examples of tradelines:
* Installment loans
Car loans are a good example of an installment loan. Your current car
loan may already be in your report, but what about car loans past? You
can add a former car loan that was appropriately repaid onto your
current report, adding favorably to your overall score.
In-store accounts for items like refrigerators, washer/dryers, and
jewelry that are being paid for on an installment plan should also be
included on your credit report if you are making your payments according to
schedule. Many of these smaller stores only report to the credit
bureaus if an account is placed in collections, ask them to send in a report
of your payment history to add a positive tradeline to your credit
report. Make sure the creditor notifies all three credit bureaus.
* Mortgage Loans
Again, a current mortgage would likely be listed already, but if this
is not your first mortgage, and you have other successful mortgages in
your financial past, make sure they are listed. This all still weighs in
your favor. If you have paid your mortgage on time with an individual
who holds the lien to your home, you should get credit on your credit
report for it. Most individuals would be fairly baffled at your request
to add a manual tradeline to your credit report, simply write the three
credit bureaus and ask that they account be added and give your point
of contact’s name and phone number for verification. The bureaus will
verify the information and have it added to your credit report. Repeat
this process a few times a year to keep your information current.