FICO Credit Scores: What Do They Mean?
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Because our society is so automated, you're probably not surprised to hear that your ability to repay virtually any loan boils down to one number. Credit reporting agencies use your loan payment history in order to create this score.
The three agencies use slightly different formulas to build a credit score. The original FICO was developed by Fair Isaac and Company. While Experian still calls its score "FICO", TransUnion calls its score "Beacon" and Equifax uses "Empirica." While each of the models considers a range of data available in your credit report, each agency uses the following to determine a credit score:
- Your Credit History - Have you had credit for years, or for just a short time?
- History of Payments - Do you have a history of late payments?
- Balances on your Credit Cards - How many accounts? How much do you owe on your accounts?
- Credit Inquiries - How many times have lenders pulled your credit report for the purpose of giving you a loan?
These factors are assigned weights based on the formula being used. The results are added up and distilled into a single number. FICO scores range from 300 to 800. Higher is always better. Most home buyers will likely find their FICO scores falling above 620.
Not just for qualifying
FICO scores affect more than your ability to get a loan. They also affect your interest rate. Higher scores indicate you are a better credit risk, and thus may qualify for a better mortgage rate.
Raising your credit score
What can you do to raise your FICO score? Unfortunately, not much. Some companies promise quick fixes, but they can't do anything different than what you can do — for free. (Of course you can and should have incorrect items removed from your credit report.)
Know your FICO
In order to improve your score, you've got to have the credit reports that the agencies use to build it, and of course, you need the score itself. Fair Isaac has created a web site (www.myFICO.com) that lets you do just that. It's inexpensive to get your FICO from all three agencies, along with your credit report. Also available are information and online tools that can help you analyze what actions might have the greatest impact on your FICO score.
You can get a free credit report once a year from all three credit reporting agencies by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com. You won't get a free credit score from AnnualCreditReport.com, but getting it is fast and inexpensive.
Armed with this information, you'll be a more informed consumer and you'll be better positioned to obtain the right mortgage for you.