Free Credit Reports at ftc.gov

Credit Reporting Agencies (Credit Bureaus):
TransUnion (www.tuc.com) 1-800-888-4213
EquiFax (www.equifax.com) 1-888-766-0008
Experian (formerly TRW) (www.experian.com) 1-888-397-3742

You should monitor all three credit bureaus because some institutiions only report too one.

As a result of the FACT Act (Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act), each legal U.S. resident is entitled to one free copy of their credit report from each credit reporting agency once every twelve months. This information is available at the government-sanctioned but credit bureau-operated AnnualCreditReport.com

Credit Scores:
The most commonly used score is FICO (Fair Isaac Corporation)
Determined by:

  • 35% Payment History - Percentage on time in the last 24 months (only includes payments later than 30 days past due).
  • 30% Debt Usagee - The amount of debt, expressed as the ratio of current revolving debt (credit card balances, etc.) to total available revolving credit (credit limits)
  • 15% Credit Age - Average length of time (months) you've had each account.
  • 10% Account Mix - Types of credit used (installment, revolving, consumer finance)
    The mix of accounts you have—your student loans, auto loans, mortgages, and revolving credit cards make up 10% of your credit score. Creditors like to see this mix because it shows them you’re capable of handling all types of accounts.
    It seems to be just the number of credit accounts you have.
  • 10% Inquiries - Recent search for credit and/or amount of credit obtained recently

  • Soft inquiries (e.g. Mortgage application) don't count.
Sample Credit Report Summary | Credit.com


A FICO score generally ranges from 300 to 850
Median US: 723
One in nine Americans have a score over 800.
660 is generally regarded as potentially subprime and represents an important break point for creditworthiness.
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  • Less than 640 - this is a very low score, and it will mean that you will struggle to get credit, and you will probably have to pay high interest rates when you do get credit.
  • 641 to 680 - This is a reasonable score, but you will probably have to pay higher than average interest rates.
  • 681 to 720 - this is a good score, and you should easily find lines of credit and be able to get attractive interest rates.
  • Above 721 - you have an excellent credit score, and creditors will want you as a customer. You should have no difficulty obtaining a good interest rate.

Tips of improving credit score:

  • Pay your bills on time. Delinquent payments can have a major negative impact on your score and the longer you pay your bills on time, the better your score. For example, someone with an average credit rating of 707 can raise their score by as much as 20 points by paying all their bills on time for one month.
  • Keep balances low on credit cards. High outstanding debt can affect your score. Maxing out your credit cards could lower your average score by as much as 70 points.
  • Don't open a number of new credit cards that you don't need. New accounts will lower your average account age, which could actually lower your score by up to 10 points.
  • Have credit cards - but manage them responsibly. In general, having credit cards and installment loans (and making timely payments) will raise your score. Someone with no credit cards, for example, tends to be higher risk than someone who has managed credit cards responsibly.
  • Closing an account doesn't make it go away. A closed account will still show up on your credit report and may be factored into the score.

Links:
BankRate.com's guide to managing your credit
www.myfico.com
Find a service with all 3 scores | Top 10 Credit Report

last updated 17 Nov 2006