Many young Americans are still confused about their credit scores, according a new survey conducted by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and credit scoring company VantageScore Solutions.
Part of the confusions stems from the fact that there is more than one credit scoring model used to generate an also varied number of accompanying credit reports, the report suggests.
“Reports visually can appear totally different,” Deatra Riley, financial education manager for non-profit credit counseling organization Credability, says. “Some use certain color schemes. Other uses special formats.”
But, regardless of what report or score you’re looking at, the same basic rules for reviewing the information applies. Here are a few best practices for reading your credit report.
Interpreting a score
The CFA-VantageScore survey found, while most consumers understand that there is more than one credit scoring model out there, they don’t always bother to check which one is being used on a credit report they requested. This is problematic since the two most popular models, FICO and VantageScore, use very different ranges. (FICO operates on a range of 300 to 850, while VantageScore falls between 501 and 901.)
But simply checking to see what score is being furnished won’t ensure you’re looking at the same one as a lender. This is why consumers shouldn’t be so concerned with the concrete number that appears on top of their credit report so much as they should pay attention to where they fall in the scoring range that is being used, Riley says.
Generally, a FICO score of 760 or higher will help you net the best rates, while a VantageScore “A” is awarded to those with numerical score between 901 and 990.
Most reports also have a section that shows a consumer’s risk rating, which can be instrumental in deciphering whether you’ll score a loan. Those falling in the low risk zone are going to be attractive to lenders while those in the high risk zone may want to follow the tips (also often provided on a credit report) to improve their score before they look for financing.
Scanning for mistakes
Of course, interpreting a score is futile if the information being used to generate it is inaccurate. This is why consumers need to go through their report line by line to make sure all the right information is in play.
First, “check your personal information,” Riley says, including name, address, Social Security number and any aliases included, so you know the report is, in fact, yours. Next, go through each subhead and verify the accompanying line items. Closed accounts should have zero balances associated with them. Open accounts need to be checked for both status and balance accuracy.
If you’re pulling a report from each credit bureau, “make sure each credit report has similar information on it,” Riley says.
Check the report regularly
Information on a credit report changes more often than you may think.
“Creditors have a duty to update the credit report every 30 days,” Riley says. Credit card issuers, for example, report an account’s status and accompanying balances once a billing cycle. Fortunately, you don’t need to necessarily check your credit that often, but Riley does suggest pulling a report once or twice a year.
You also should request a report for the three major credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax and Trans Union – if you’re in the market for a new loan since you can’t guarantee which one will furnish your data to a lender.