What Your Credit Score Is Made Of

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Your credit score is a three-digit number that's used to predict the likelihood that you'll pay your credit obligations on time. The score generally ranges from 300-850 and is calculated using credit history information from your credit report. Your accounts, payment history, and inquiries into your credit are examples of credit report information used to calculate your credit score.

How Is Your Credit Score Used

When you make an application for credit, the creditor or lender uses your credit score to quickly make a credit/no-credit decision.

This same decision can very well be made by simply viewing your credit report, but the credit score makes decision-making easier and less subjective.

Creditors and lenders also use your credit score to set the pricing for your credit card or loan. Higher credit scores help you qualify for lower interest rates on credit cards and loans while lower credit scores will result in higher interest rates.

How Many Credit Scores Do You Have?

While there are several different versions of the credit score, the most commonly used version is the FICO score (Read FICO vs. FAKO). Developed by FICO, formerly Fair Isaac Company, the FICO score is used by many creditors and lenders to decide whether or not to extend credit to you.

What Goes Into a Credit Score?

Because some parts of your bill-paying history are more important than others, different pieces of your credit history are given different weights in calculating your credit score.

Even though the specific equation for coming up with your credit score is proprietary information owned by FICO, we do know what information is used to calculate your score.

Payment history is 35%

Lenders are most concerned about whether or not you pay your bills on time. The best indictor of this is how you’ve paid your bills in the past.

Late payments, collections, and bankruptcies all affect the payment history of your credit score. More recent delinquencies hurt your credit score more than those in the past.

Debt level is 30%

The amount of debt you have in comparison to your credit limits is known as credit utilization. The higher your credit utilization – the closer you are to your limits – the lower your credit score will be. Keep your credit card balances at about 30% of your credit limit or less.

Length of credit history 15%

Having a longer credit history is favorable because it gives more information about your spending habits. It’s good to leave open the accounts that you’ve had for a long time.

Inquiries are 10%

Each time you make an application for credit, an inquiry is added to your credit report. Too many applications for credit can mean that you are taking on a lot of debt or that you are in some kind of financial trouble. While inquiries can remain on your credit report for two years, your credit score calculation only considers those made within a year.

Mix of credit is 10%

Having different kinds of accounts is favorable because it shows that you have experience managing a mix of credit. This isn’t a significant factor in your credit score unless you don’t have much other information on which to base your score.

Open new accounts as you need them, not to simply have what seems like a better mix of credit.

How to Check Your Credit Score

You can check your own credit score - and you should - through any of a variety of services. A few sites that offer free credit scores include: CreditKarma.com, CreditSesame.com, LendingTree.com, and Quizzle.com. There may be other sites that claim to provide a free credit score, but if any of them mention a trial subscription or ask for your credit card information, chances are you'll be charged in a few days if you don't take some action to stop the trial.