Friday, August 14, 2009

Credit Scores - What You Need to Know

I co-host a regular TV spot called "Your Money Monday"*. The purpose of the segment is to provide information on various financial topics, and from time to time we answer viewer questions.

Several months ago we got a question about "credit" and "credit ratings", and here's what we covered during that segment...

Q. We’ve all heard about someone having “good” or “bad” credit, but who actually makes the decisions about a person’s credit rating?

There are three major “credit bureaus” - Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion - that collect information about you and use it to build a credit file. The information in your credit file is used to calculate your “credit score” and this score is an estimate of your “creditworthiness”

Q. A credit score will obviously affect someone’s ability to get a loan or a credit card, but do these scores affect our lives in any other way?

Credit scores have a huge impact on our lives. When applying for credit, our scores will determine the interest rates we'll pay, and a lower score will translate into a higher interest rate. So having a low score will lead to paying thousands more in interest over time.

In addition to getting credit, credit scores can impact our ability to get homeowner’s insurance, auto insurance, cell phone service, rent an apartment, or even get a job. Don't underestimate the importance of obtaining and maintaining a good credit score!

Q. What are some of the keys to obtaining a good credit rating?

Other than the obvious strategy of paying your bills on time, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Age - An older credit file will be more stable, so it’s important to keep old, good accounts on your file even if you’re not using them anymore.

Debt Utilization – Make sure you’re not using more than 10% of your available credit at any time. For example, if you have a credit card with a $10,000 limit, you never want to have a balance on it larger than $1,000. The debt utilization ratio applies to each line of credit as well as your combined credit limit.

Inquiries – Every time you apply for credit, the inquiry that shows up on your report can lower your credit rating. Inquiries can affect your score for up to 12 months. When shopping for credit, grouping your inquiries together in a short period of time - rather than spreading them out over several weeks - will lessen the impact on your score.

Q. What should someone do to learn more about their credit file and credit score?

You should check your credit report at least annually in order to make sure it’s accurate and to guard against identity theft. Under federal law, everyone is entitled to a free credit report once a year from each of the credit bureaus. You can go to to get your free copy.

If you decide to purchase your credit score along with the credit report, make sure you’re purchasing a FICO score since this is what most lenders use.

*"Your Money Monday" airs each Monday during Texas Today on KCEN 9, the Waco area NBC affiliate. Email your questions to to have them answered on air.

To learn more about our company - and find out how we are different from other financial advisors - call (210) 587-6433 or visit