Many people had their financial plans derailed in 2020. You or a spouse may have lost a job or been hit with unexpected expenses for medical care, assisting family members, or other reasons. Financial stress may have forced you to make tough choices, such as deciding which bills to pay, scaling back on your savings, or borrowing from a 401(k) account. As a result, you may need to get back on track financially. One of the first areas to tackle should be your credit score.
Even if your finances didn’t take a hit during the pandemic, it’s wise to keep track of your credit score. A strong credit score forms the basis of a solid financial foundation. It affects your ability to get a job; your access to loans for a car, house, or education; and your ability to qualify for various types of insurance. Can you repair or upgrade your credit score? Yes, but the first step is to understand what your credit score and credit report are based on, as well as how to monitor your credit.
Understanding Your Credit Score
Here’s what you need to know about your credit score:
Your FICO score. The FICO score, based on a model created by Fair Isaac Corporation, is the most commonly used scoring system of a person’s credit history. Lenders use these scores to evaluate your creditworthiness, which means the probability that you will repay credit cards and loans in a timely manner. A lower FICO score can result in higher interest rates for credit or loans, as well as shorter repayment terms, a requirement for a cosigner, or even outright denial of a loan.
FICO scores range from 300 to 850. Generally, scores greater than 800 are considered excellent, while scores below 640 are considered below average, or subprime. Most lenders use the average score of the three most well-known reporting agencies (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax).
Your FICO credit score is based on five factors:
Alternative credit scores. Besides FICO, these recently adopted sources provide alternative credit scores:
UltraFICO and Experian Boost are intended primarily for consumers with subprime credit scores, as well as people without enough usage to receive a score. These services are especially helpful to those with borderline credit scores.
Understanding Your Credit Report
Once you know your credit score, you’ll also want to know what went into that three-digit figure—which you can find out by reviewing your credit report.
Credit reports contain a comprehensive record of your credit history, including personal information, account information, and whether you have paid your bills on time. Your credit report also contains information on any accounts that have been sent to a collections agent and whether you’ve filed for bankruptcy or received a bankruptcy discharge.
Checking Your Credit Report
With so much of your financial life based on your credit report, accuracy is important. Unfortunately, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates one in five consumers has at least one error on their report. That’s why it’s so important to make checking your credit report a habit. There are several ways to do so:
Freezing Your Credit
Since 2018, consumers have been able to freeze their credit files free of charge. A credit freeze imposes restricted access on credit reports, making it more difficult for identity thieves to open accounts in someone else’s name. During a freeze, you can still access your credit history and open new accounts—though you’ll have to temporarily lift the freeze to do so.
A freeze won’t affect your credit score. But you should be aware that a freeze cannot prevent someone else from making charges to your existing accounts. So, even if you have a credit freeze in place, be sure to keep monitoring your current accounts.
Repairing Your Credit: 7 Important Steps
Repairing your credit score will require time, patience, and discipline. Know that there is no quick fix. Instead, work your way through these steps for improving your credit score over time:
Meeting Your Financial Goals
Your credit history is an important cornerstone of your financial plan. That’s why making a commitment to monitor and manage your credit score and report is so important. Although the process may take time and patience, working to repair your credit is well worth the effort. It’s an important part of staying on track to meeting your long-term financial goals.