If you’ve decided to take control of your debt, you probably know that your credit is one of the key pillars of personal finance. Good credit will help you meet financial goals, such as purchasing a home or car or renting an apartment, as lenders and landlords look to the quality of your credit to decide whether to lend you money – and at what interest rate.
Essential to understanding your credit are the two concepts of your credit score and your credit report. Both are indicators of your financial health and as such, it’s vital to understand them.
What Is a Credit Score?
A credit score is a three-digit number calculated based on your credit history. The most common credit score is the FICO score, which is a number that ranges from 300 to 850. The higher your score, the better, and the more likely lenders will see you as a trustworthy borrower who qualifies for a lower interest rate. In addition to lenders, potential landlords also consider your credit score when deciding whether to rent a home to you. Generally speaking, a “good” credit score falls between 700 and 749. An excellent one is generally 750 of higher.
There are five factors, which are each given a different amount of significance, that go into determining your credit score. Your score will fluctuate from month to month based on those same factors, which are (in order from most impactful to least impactful on your overall score):
- Payment history
- Credit utilization
- The length of time you’ve had credit
- Any new credit you have
- The types of credit you’ve carried
Essentially, your credit score is determined by how well you are doing in each of those categories and reflects the information contained in your credit report.
What Is a Credit Report?
Your credit report is a summary of your past credit and borrowing history. Instead of a number, it is a document that provides detailed information on all of the factors that ultimately combine to make your credit score. For example, a credit report will contain information such as when you opened and closed each of your credit card accounts, when you took out a loan, your loan balances, and the total amount of credit available to you across all of your accounts.
Your credit report also includes items such as late payments and accounts in collections and bankruptcies, which remain listed on your credit report for up to several years (generally seven years for late payment and ten for a bankruptcy).
How Can You Check Each?
By simply going to annualcreditreport.com, you can order your credit report, free of charge, three times a year from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Checking your report won’t negatively impact your score, so it’s advantageous to check your report every few months to confirm its accuracy.
If you do find an error on any of your reports, you should contact both the credit bureau and the company that reported the incorrect information. It’s best to do this in writing to keep a record of your inquiry. Because companies might only report information to one credit bureau and not the others, you should check the information on each report to make sure everything is correct.
In contrast, your credit score isn’t necessarily offered for free, but there are easy ways to check it. There are websites, such as creditkarma, which provide free score estimates. If you want to know your exact score, you can pay for a credit-monitoring service or many credit cards and savings accounts (such as American Express and CapitalOne) provide free score monitoring when you have an account with them.
Which Is More Important?
Both your credit score and your credit report are important pieces of financial information for you to understand. Knowing where you stand on each is a great first step to a financially sound future. Once you’ve gathered all of your financial information, if you find yourself in need of debt relief, contact a debt relief company to see if credit card consolidation might be a good solution for you to begin to get your credit card debt under control.