July 25, 2008
As the economy continues to falter, many people find themselves trapped in financial limbo: unable to cover their bills (such as adjustable rate mortgages) and not qualified for more favorable interest rates that could help because of lenders' tightening credit standards. Compare that to a few years ago, when just about anyone could secure a mortgage or car loan.
Maintaining a strong credit score has become more important than ever, since anything less could greatly increase interest rates you pay – or even prevent you from obtaining credit in the first place. It could even impact your ability to rent an apartment or purchase a car.
Here are a few tips for strengthening your credit score:
Understand how credit scores work. The three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) track your credit history and activity and use that information to create a three–digit credit score – commonly referred to as a FICO score, after Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO), which developed the proprietary software.
Your FICO score is determined by such factors as your on–time payment record, overall debt amount, credit history duration, ratio of debt to available credit, number of accounts and types of credit used (credit cards, auto loans, mortgages, etc.) Creditors use your score to determine the level of risk involved in lending money to you and set credit limits and interest rates accordingly.
Warning flags that might lower your credit score include:
Here are several actions that can establish or improve your credit:
Or, if you'd rather just estimate your score, use the free FICO Score Estimator at What's My Score, a financial literacy program run by Visa Inc. (www.whatsmyscore.org/estimator.) The site also features tips on repairing damaged or unestablished credit scores.
Don't let a poor credit score ruin your chances for future financial security.
Recent Practical Money Matters