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Understanding Your Identity and Credit Score: The Basics

Posted by Chris DeMarco on Friday, September 11th, 2009 at 10:15 am

Given today’s economic climate, the rising threat of identity theft, and the many other factors in today’s financial world, credit scores are a significant concern to many Americans. This day in age, a good understanding of the system is essential to financial survival. For example, most lenders have tightened the criteria for giving out loans, and not knowing how the credit scoring system works can be a great hinderance towards getting a loan.

This series on credit scores and personal identity will help you better understand and utilize your credit score to achieve financial success. In this article, we will take a look at some basics and common misconceptions regarding credit scores and personal identity. In future articles, we will also cover important factors to consider when trying to get a loan, ways to repair or improve your credit, and ways to protect your identity and credit score. The more you know, the more likely you are to succeed, so let’s get started right away.

Disclaimer: I am not a financial expert, and all information provided here is solely based on my own personal research and conclusions. Please consult with your financial professionals before making any decisions regarding your individual or family finances. All use of any information provided here is at your own risk.

First, let’s cover the basics. Your credit score is essentially a tool that lenders and financial institutions can use to evaluate your “financial health” when considering you for a loan, credit card application, or other such instance. The reason for this, of course, is they want to determine if you are an appropriate candidate for their service (do you pay your bills, are you in debt, etc.), or if you would be a “risk” for them to loan money to. And chances are, if you have a good history of paying your bills, aren’t in debt, and have had some sort of experience with an account before, you’ll offer similar results for them.

It’s important to understand that there’s more to your overall “financial health” than your credit score. While your score is an effective tool financial institutions and lendors can use to evaluate your financial status, it is only one piece of the puzzle. They will also consider your income, assets, payment/loan history, and other factors. The Wall Street Journal suggests considering your credit score like an ACT or SAT score rather than a report card – in that it shows your performance for certain criteria on a particular date, intending to project your future performance. This chart (provided by MyFico.com) shows what factors are accounted for in your credit score.

As you can see from the chart, the largest factor that affects your credit score is your payment history. For example, if you have a credit card and pay it off every month, your credit score would reflect your responsible payment history and therefore be higher than if you had an unpaid balance on the card or had missed payments.

The second largest factor is your amounts owed, which includes your debt ratio. This factor considers the maximum amount of credit made available to you, and how much of it is currently available. For example, if you had a credit card with a $5000 limit, provided you had no other accounts open, this would mean that the maximum credit available to you would be $5000. If your card was paid off entirely, your current available credit would be that full amount, $5000. However, if you had used up $3000 of your maximum available credit, your currently available credit would be only $2000. The higher the ratio of your available credit to maximum credit, the better your score will be and the faster it will build.

This principle is helpful to consider when trying to build or repair credit, as the higher your available credit is (and the less you’ve utilized), the faster your credit score will improve. We will discuss this and other principles for credit building/improving in a future article.

The length of time you’ve had your accounts, number of accounts you have, number of inquiries of your credit information, and types of accounts/debts you have also play smaller, though still substantial, roles in determining your credit score, especially when your credit history is less established.

It’s also important to be aware that your credit score is not just summarized in one number. It is actually determined by three different agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) with their own proprietary scoring systems. When requested by a lender or financial institution, your FICO score will vary based on what information they are requesting. Therefore, when analyzing and evaluating your current credit situation, it is most helpful to see your individual scores for the different agencies, rather than an averaged or precompiled single score. Credit scores generally range from a low of 300 to a high of 850, varying based which credit bureau the score is from. Today, a credit score in the mid- to high 700s is typically considered a good score.

Your credit score only comprises one part of your identity, but many people are not aware of this. Millions of Americans are concerned about identity theft, and rightfully so as it is the #1 crime in America. However, most mistakenly concern only about their credit being stolen and aren’t aware of the other factors, such as criminal records and background reports. That is why it is important to consider all the factors that comprise personal identity when selecting a protection service. We will cover selecting an effective and complete identity protection service in a later article. If you are interested in more information now, please Contact Me and “Ask a question.”

Hopefully, although this article only covered some basics, you have still learned something new. Stay tuned for future articles in this series, in which we will delve deeper into some specific and effective principles for getting approved for loans, improving or repairing your credit, and more.

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Tagged in:   • credit repair • credit report • credit score • how to understand credit report • interpreting credit scores • interpreting my credit score • understanding credit score • understanding credit scores • understanding my credit report • understanding my credit score

5 Responses to “Understanding Your Identity and Credit Score: The Basics”

  1. pariah Says:

    I have found two disturbing things regarding my FICO score. Whenever you open an account at a store such as Macey’s, it adversely effects your score. My wife loves the 15% discounts. I’ve canceled them all. I pay my cards off in full every month but Experion lists the monthly amount as a negative feature on my score despite it being paid on time. It makes no sense to me. I follow this on my Privacy Assist account with BOA which is also a great defense against identity theft.


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