Your personal credit profile is a detailed snapshot of your financial history. The information in your credit report is used to generate your credit score.
This score, along with your credit report, is what lenders use to decide whether to lend you money.
The details in your credit profile are extremely sensitive.
Things like your Social Security number, birth date, name, and address are what identity thieves are most interested in gaining access to.
Armed with that information, an identity thief could establish credit in your name and rack up fraudulent charges right under your nose.
Checking your credit report and score on a regular basis can help you spot suspicious activity on your credit file.
There are plenty of services that offer credit monitoring services, which may include access to your score, but the catch is that you’ll need to plug in your Social Security number, name, and address to check it.
The good news is that checking your own credit doesn’t impact your score negatively.
The downside is that some of these credit monitoring services may charge a fee or require you to have a credit card account to view your score.
Fortunately, it’s possible to get a ballpark idea of what your credit score is without having to offer up your Social Security number or any cash.
Estimating Your FICO Credit Score
One of the most common misconceptions people tend to have about credit scores is thinking they have only one.
In reality, it’s possible to have dozens of different credit scores, calculated using different scoring models. The FICO score model is the most common and approximately 90 percent of lenders use it for credit approval decisions.
While you won’t be able to get a 100% accurate FICO score without your Social Security number, it’s possible to get a close estimate of your score.
FICO offers a free FICO score estimator, which gives you a score based on your answers to a series of questions.
The questions include things like:
- How many credit cards do you have?
- How long ago did you get your first credit card?
- How long ago did you get your first loan?
- How many loans or credit cards have you applied for in the last year?
- When was the last time you opened a new loan or credit card?
- How many of your loans or credit cards have a balance?
- How many total non-mortgage debt do you owe?
- When was the last time you missed a payment on a loan or credit card?
- What’s the latest you’ve ever been on a loan or credit card payment?
- How many of your credit accounts are currently past due?
- What percent of your total credit line are you using?
- Have you declared bankruptcy, gone through a foreclosure or had an account in collections in the past 10 years?
It takes about two minutes to answer all of the questions the estimator asks. Once you’re finished, it generates a FICO score range that you most likely fall into, based on your responses.
I completed the estimator to see how accurate it was and based on my answers, I got a range of 680 to 730.
My FICO score hovered around the 710 mark so it wasn’t too far off the mark. You should keep in mind, however, that this is just a range and your actual FICO score could be higher or lower than the numbers the estimator gives you.
Credit Scoring Basics
As mentioned already, the FICO scoring model is the one that’s used most often.
These scores are based on a specific formula, which is shaped by what’s on your credit report. While we don’t have access to the unique algorithm that FICO uses, we do know which factors are included.
This table breaks down what goes into your FICO score calculations:
FICO Credit Score Factors and Their Percentages
|FICO credit score factors||Percentage weight on credit score:||What it means:|
|Payment history||35%||Your track record when it comes to making (at least) the minimum payment by the due date.|
|Amounts owed||30%||How much of your borrowing potential is actually being used. Determined by dividing total debt by total credit limits.|
|Length of credit history||15%||The average age of your active credit lines. Longer histories tend to show responsibility with credit.|
|Credit mix||10%||The different types of active credit lines that you handle (e.g., mortgage, credit cards, students loans, etc.)|
|New credit||10%||The new lines of credit that you've requested. New credit applications tend to hurt you score temporarily. Learn more about FICO credit score|
Obviously, your payment history carries the most weight for FICO score calculations. When you pay on time, that shows lenders that you’re responsible about meeting your financial obligations.
When you pay late, that could send the signal that you’re having money troubles.
Late payments can take a big bite out of your FICO score so paying on time, every time is a safe way to protect your score.
Besides that, lenders concern themselves with how much of your available credit you’re using.
If you’re applying for new credit and the lender sees that you’ve got five or six cards that already maxed out, they may get the impression that you’re desperate for money or you can’t keep your spending in check.
Keeping your credit utilization ratio at 30 percent or less can work in your favor if you’re planning to apply for a loan.
Tip: Requesting a credit line increase can improve your utilization rate but proceed with caution. Your credit card company may check your credit, which can knock a few points off your credit score.
FICO score ranges
Overall, FICO scores run from 300 to 850 and where you land on the spectrum is important. A higher score is going to be viewed more favorably by lenders than a score that’s hugging the 300-mark.
FICO scores can be broken down into specific ranges and where you land is a broad indicator of your credit health. If you’re planning to check your FICO score, here’s a rundown of how the ranges compare:
Credit Score Ranges and Quality
|Credit Score Ranges||Credit Quality||Effect on Ability to Obtain Loans|
|300-559||Very Bad||Extremely difficult to obtain traditional loans and line of credit. Advised to use secured credit cards and loans to help rebuild credit.|
|560-649||Bad||May be able to qualify for some loans and lines of credit, but the interest rates are likely to be high.|
|650-699||Average/Fair||Eligible for many traditional loans, but the interest rates and terms may not be the best.|
|700-749||Good||Valuable benefits come in the form of loans and lines of credit with comprehensive perks and low interest rates.|
|750-850||Excellent||Qualify easily for most loans and lines of credit with low interest rates and favorable terms.|
So what does that mean for your ability to borrow?
Generally, a score of 750 or better is likely to make you a lock for credit approval. In this score range, you’re also likely to get the lowest interest rates and the best borrowing terms overall.
If you have a “good” credit score of 700 to 749, getting approved for new loans or lines of credit should still be relatively easy.
This is especially the case for people seeking some of the best credit cards around. Interest rates should also be low, although they may be slightly higher compared to someone whose score is 750 or higher.
Having fair credit means you’re still likely going to be eligible for most loans or lines of credit, including a mortgage.
The difference is that you’re going to see interest rates begin to edge up if you fall into this score range.
A bad credit score isn’t an automatic barrier to getting new credit but it can be a serious obstacle.
A score of 620 or below, for example, would make it very difficult to get the green light for a mortgage. If you do get approved, expect to pay much higher interest rates.
When you have very bad credit, your options for getting new credit tend to be very limited.
For example, you may only be able to qualify for a secured credit card, which requires a cash deposit. Interest rates are going to be the highest for someone with a score in this range.
Practice Good Credit Habits for a Higher Score
If you’ve estimated your FICO score and the results aren’t what you were expecting, taking action to improve your score is the next step.
While you can’t wave a magic wand and raise your score overnight, you can make a difference over time by using credit wisely.
Keeping these tips in mind could help you achieve the positive change you’re after:
Pay your bills on time
If you haven’t always been on time with your credit card payments in the past, getting on a regular payment schedule can go a long way towards helping your score.
If you struggle to keep up with your due dates, setting up payment reminders or automatic payments through your bank account can keep you from falling behind.
Reduce your debt
Paying down your credit cards or loans is another relatively easy way to work on your credit score.
If you’ve got higher interest rates on some of your cards, you might think about transferring them to a card with a 0% introductory annual percentage rate (APR).
Just remember that the credit card company’s going to check your credit so if your score isn’t that great already, getting approved could be tough.
Don’t rush to close down old accounts
Part of your FICO score is based on how old your credit accounts are.
If you succeed in paying off one of your credit cards, think twice before shutting it down, especially if it’s one that you’ve had for awhile. Closing your account for good could hurt your score instead of helping it.
Be strategic about applying for new credit
New inquiries for credit can drag your score down, especially if you’re applying for a lot of accounts in a short space of time.
If you need a loan or a credit card, take time to shop around first to see who has the best rates and which one you’re most likely to qualify for so you don’t have a bunch of inquiries dinging your report.
Check your credit report regularly
Lastly, be sure you’re keeping an eye on your credit on a regular basis.
This is important for spotting potential signs of identity theft, as well as errors or inaccuracies that could cause your score to be lower than it actually is.
If you see an error, dispute it with the credit bureau that’s reporting it to see if it can be corrected or removed, which could benefit your score.