FICO Credit Scores | Everything you need to know & one easy way to build credit without paying interest!
Want to build credit without paying hundreds of dollars in interest? Find out in this article.
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Credit Building Myths
So, I'm hearing a lot of people say things that are just not true, don't make sense, or are just plain bad advice, when it comes to building credit.
Credit building is not rocket science.
It's true that the math formulas behind the scores are actually akin to rocket science math... But some of the basic things the average person needs to know are actually quite simple.
If you want to build credit without paying interest or creating debt read on, or just skip to the bottom to the conclusion.
I'm sure you've seen this funny commercial:
Now I want to bring in the focus a little to some Credit Building basics. The score isn't the only factor used in lending decision, but it's a big one.
What is a FICO credit score?
The very first things you should know is that THE company that creates your credit score is FICO (the Fair Isaac Corporation). It was started by Bill Fair and Earl Isaac. It is now THE leading credit scoring company on the planet. FICO is the most used credit scoring platform accounting for over 100 BILLION scores sold to date.
Fico.com Excerpt: Engineer Bill Fair and mathematician Earl Isaac found FICO — with an initial investment of $400 each — on the principle that data, used intelligently, can improve business decisions. (1956)There are other credit scoring companies that exist. Some, like Vantage Score, are making major headway into the field. However, for the time being, FICO remains the most used score on the market. That's a lot of power for one company to have over your future.
When you apply for a Credit Card or Loan; and you get a decline/approval letter in the mail, the score shown on the letter will most likely be a FICO score.
Where is the first place you should go to find out how to manage your credit score?
Why not ASK the ones who create it!? They created a website just for you, the consumer. You can read all about the who, what, when, where, and why of your credit score. It's not exhaustive, but it is thorough.
The Big Three Credit Bureaus; Experian, TransUniun, Equifax
There are three major credit reporting agencies (call bureaus) that monitor your personal credit; Experian, TransUnion, Equifax. There could be others, they are private companies after all; however, these are the three that banks overwhelmingly use.
For business credit there are two others to note (Dun & Bradstreet (D&B); and Experian Business).
FreeCreditReport.Com is a site managed by Experian, and endorsed by most banks, for you to get your free annual copy of your credit report from each of the Big Three.
As you might be able to tell, Experian is the big boy on the block, followed by Equifax and then TransUnion.
Three Credit ScoresLet's say that you apply at two banks, on the same day, within ten minutes of each other. Then you get two letters in the mail a few weeks later. One bank says your credit score was 540 and they declined you, the other says it was 620 and you were approved.
How is it possible to have two credit scores? Did one of them make a mistake? No.
If you look again, there are two likely reasons.
1. The first possibility (but least likely) is that one used a FICO score, the other used another score (like Vantage). This is possible, but unlikely as 95% of banks still use FICO.
2. The second (and more likely) is that one score was based on one credit bureau (Experian, for example), and the other score was based on a different bureau (TransUnion, for example). Look at the letter again, it'll tell you which bureau they used.
Since each of the three bureaus has different information on their report, each can have a different score assigned to your report.
Why do I have three credit scores?Each bureau has a different mix of information about you.
A bank will choose which company to pull the report from, and which to report too.
You have no choice, it's up the banks' established relationships and protocols. You cannot ask a bank to pull from the one you choose; because, the bank would then be basing your credit decision on a report that diffeers from their other customers (a violation of Regulation B "Be Fair"). They have to use the same material and math for each customer.
Some banks may report to just one or two of the bureaus, and some pay report to all three. For this reason, you could have a credit card show up on just one of the reports, but a different card show on all three.
Each of the three bureaus is using the same FICO score, but the formula is then applied to a varying mix of information, resulting in different scores. You then end up with three scores, one for each bureau.
Monitor Your Credit
It's important to monitor your credit on an on-going basis, not just once a year. Why? Not only could Identity Thieves destroy your credit in a matter of hours, but it's not just about identity thieves.
Mistakes, errors and forgotten cell phone bills can hurt your credit too!
If you are restoring your credit, and disputing items, or paying off old items, you want to SEE those items update on your credit. You do not want to wait a year after paying off an old bad debt just to find out that the company never bothered to report that you paid them off.
My Top FREE Pick for Credit Monitoring: Credit Karma
If you want to monitor your credit (reports and scores) without paying for it, there is a site is GREAT and FREE! It is, http://www.creditkarma.com/.
Ok, what's the catch, why is it free?
Because it's the only site, first site at least, to be paid for not by your membership fee, but by ad clicks. The ad's are actually beneficial to you, and they give you a rating of how likely you are to get a product based on your score before you apply. HOW COOL IS THAT?!
Downside of Credit Karama? There isn't any real downside (it's free). But one point to make, you only get two reports, of the three companies out there; therefore, only two of your three scores.
My Top PAID Pick for Credit Monitoring: LifeLock
So if you want ALL three credit reporting agencies you still have to pay for that, typically through an "Identity Theft Protection" service, such as http://www.lifelock.com.
Most "credit monitoring" companies only review the three reports and send you an alert if something looks fishy. They don't actually help you repair your credit.
Lifelock blows every other monitoring company out of the water. They not only help you repair your credit, but they go way beyond credit reports. They monitor public records, your accounts, and more.
LifeLock uses advanced technology to constantly monitor over a trillion data points to help detect suspicious uses of your identity information to get loans, credit and services in your name.†
What do YOU need to know about credit building?
There are a lot of things that go into credit. Consult a credit adviser for YOUR particular situation. The advice I give here is for demonstration of the basics, do with it what you will.
Here are the basic elements of your FICO credit score.
There are five components to a FICO score. The image seen here is adapted from FICO's website and gives a breakdown of the categories. FICO scores are based on complex mathematical formulas and as such are fluid.
There is no such thing as A + B = C with credit.When you affect one thing it could change the dynamics of the others in unexpected ways. Therefore no two people would have the EXACT same result because no two people have the EXACT same creditors and credit histories.
Many people ask me: "If I apply for this __XYZ Credit Product__, how will that affect my score?"
How will applying affect my credit? Inquiries
If anyone tells you an answer other than "That Depends" they are clearly ignorant.
"Oh, it will go typically only go down a few points..."
While that may be true much of the time it may not be.
A person with no credit history of any kind, that obtains a credit card, may find that adding something to nothing will cause their credit score to go up.
A person with substantially positive credit history that does one application may find their score totally unaffected.
The only thing applying does for a credit score; is that it shows up as an "Inquiry".
If I get declined it will hurt my credit?
Important Fact: Your credit reports do not know that you got declined.
They only know that a bank inquired on your behalf.
It could have been declined, approved, or maybe you didn't like the rate so you declined them.
All they know is that the bank inquired (asked about you). Too many inquiries can be bad, just a few not so bad.
Not all inquiries are the same. There is no such thing as a hard pull/soft pull. Just those that count and those that don't count. See FICO for definition.
What doesn't count for me when building credit?
In short almost everything you've been told does count... doesn't.
- Cell Phone Bills
- These all mean just about nothing to your FICO score.
By all means, pay them on time and don't let them go to collections. That will prevent negative credit issues. But your monthly payments on those won't build your credit score with FICO, at all.
*Exception: If the company (utility, rent, cell phone) happens to have a relationship with the credit bureaus, they can report. 99.9% don't.
Some people are out there telling you to go buy a $300 TV on your credit card and make payments on it for 6-9 months to build credit.
This advice is WRONG.
Don't do it.
It could make your credit worse, due to the usage rule (we'll discuss that in a moment).
What does count for me?
Payments on Credit Products.
- Credit Cards,
- Department Store Cards,
- Auto Loans,
- Student Loans,
Let's take a look at how those payment affect your credit score... Specifically.
Credit Cards can help you build credit, interest free. Here's how.
I'm going to give this advice to those who want to start from scratch or rebuild from scratch. This assumes you either have nothing on your reports in recent history, or you've paid off all old items, or your bankruptcy is finalized and you now want to start over. I give this same advice to anyone who wants to build from scratch. Much of this info will be good for the advanced credit builder to know too. This is MY PERSONAL opinion. It is based on years of experience and research and I believe it whole heartedly but it is just that, my opinion. Do your own research and verify what you need to before using it.
Credit Cards: One easy way to build credit without paying interest!
Get two credit cards.
Not one, not three, two.
I know what you are thinking, credit cards are what created my (or others I know) debt problems in the first place.
Well, yes and no.
Yes they can be a tool for debt.
No they don't have to be a tool for debt.
A hammer is a tool for breaking glass jars or building furniture. It's the hand of the holder that guides it. Credit Cards are a tool, nothing more. Your problem has been perspective.
The banking industry actually studies and classifies credit card users.
There are two primary categories. There are debtors and transactors.
- When debtors see $100 in their checking and $100 available on a credit card they see $200 to spend.
- When transactors see $100 in their checking and $100 available on a credit card they see $100 to spend and multiple tools to use based on the need.
- They could use checks, debit cards, cash, or credit cards... but it's all about spending the same $100.
In fact, the credit card is a powerful tool for the debt free! Credit cards are the only credit product in common use that a debt free person can use to build credit and never create any debt or pay any interest.
In fact if you create debt or pay interest on a credit card; it's proof you are not using them right in the first place.
FYI: Banks don't want you to pay interest on your credit card.
The banks actually don't like debtors. People who put a large balance on their credit card and make payments on it forever are the banks LEAST favorite credit card user, but most common.
Sure the banks makes interest off of you. But they loose more money from debtors than transactors through charged off/collections accounts by leaps and bounds. The interest you pay is making up for losses on cards that went into collections.
Transactors actually make the bank more money. Stores pay banks every time you buy something with your credit card. The banks make more money from those purchases than they do from interest. If you make one purchase and pay on it for six months you aren't buying new things and therefore aren't making the bank money. You are also MORE likely to stop paying on it and go to collections.
They would rather you buy things, pay it off, not pay any interest, and buy more things. that is the real money in credit cards for banks, and those people get lower rates and better rewards for being wise credit card users.
So here's how to use Credit Cards help your FICO credit score.
Credit Cards actually help you in all categories of your credit score, but most especially the top three.
I'm pasting this chart again, so that you can take a closer look.
- Payment History - 35%
- Amounts Owed - 30%
- Length of Credit History - 15%
- New Credit 10%
- Types of Credit 10%
Credit Cards have a direct, controllable, impact on 80% of your credit scoring categories (Payment History, Amounts Owed, Length of Credit).
Here's the way to work it.
If you want to see how your credit compares against all the variety of categories go sign up for a free Credit Karma membership and click on "Credit Report Card".
1. Payment history- 35%.Payment history means one thing, and only one thing. How you made (or didn't make) payments on credit products.
Depending on how you get the credit report they all "look" different in format, there will be information regarding your payment history.
MYTH: "Carrying some balance over to pay a little interest builds credit"
FACT: Paying your balance BEFORE your statement cuts shows nothing due, therefore you get an "N/A" on your statement, possibly. Waiting until your statement cuts, produces a "balance due". Paying it before the due date avoids interest AND shows "payment made" or in other works the "OK"/"CUR" that you wanted.
So, instead of carrying a balance on your card. Go out once a month and buy a $1.50 Dr Pepper or a $5 cheeseburger Wait until you get the statement and then PAY IT OFF IN FULL BEFORE THE DUE DATE.
Here's how that works: The payment history could show three things.
1. No Data/Not Available/No Activity: These all have a neutral effect on credit. If nothing was due and nothing was paid, this will be the result. It may look like an empty box, a slash "/", or a "N/A".
- If you make a $25 payment on a $300 balance you get "OK".
- If you make a $1.50 payment on a $1.50 balance you get "OK".
- The MOST you can get in the way of positive information from one credit account is 12 "OK"'s per year.
2. Amounts Owed - 30%.
Amounts owed on credit cards is a tricky category.
Any and all accounts that can be used and then reused again are considered open/revolving accounts.This may play out differently on loans, but on an "OPEN" or "REVOLVING" account FICO actually wants to see you are using LESS not more.
In general the FICO formula looks at the total amount you have on the "Credit Limit" and the total amount you have "In Use" and comes up with a Usage Percentage.
If you have a $300 Credit Limit and you have a $250 balance on your card you are at: 83% Utilization.
You have used 83% of your credit limit.If you followed the advise many give this is exactly what you did. You got a $300 card, bought $250 worth of stuff and made payments on that balance for months (or years).
FICO says the LOWER your utilization score the better, except for 0%.
They want to see SOME usage, but less is more.
Someone with a 5% utilization will score better than someone with a 90% utilization.
However someone with 0% utilization may appear to not be using the card; therefore, may not be able to demonstrate they can use a credit card responsibly.
Getting a credit card and putting it in your freezer may be a good way to stay out of debt, but not a great way to build credit.
A better plan:
Instead go out and buy that cheeseburger once a month and then pay it off. That will produce the payment history you need WITHOUT violating the utilization/usage requirements.See also these articles on usage:
3. Length of Credit History - 15%.This is actually a very short thing to describe.
The older your credit products are, the better.
This is especially true with open/revolving accounts.
The reason your score goes down, sometimes, when you go closing cards is because the AGES of your cards are being averaged.
Having a 20 year old card and 18 year old card is better than having a 1 year and 3 year.
If you MUST close a card and replace it with a new one go ahead. Try to stick to three open credit cards at most at any one time, two is better.
There could be good reasons for closing a card and opening a new one.
- Maybe the old card has no rewards
- The company is lousy or even went out of business.
- You hate their customer service.
Averaging a mix 15 year/10 year/2 year cards is different than averaging a mix of 13 year/8 year/1 month cards. So give the new one time to grow before closing the old one.
Best Option: 20 years from now, try to have two cards that are between 15-20 years old.
The final two categories are worthy of note:
Conclusion: One easy way to build credit without paying interest!
So, after all that an examination of the facts, the advise is actually pretty simple.
Get two cards. Go out once a month and buy something(s) for LESS than 10% of their credit limit, maybe even just a soda and/or cheeseburger. Then wait until you get your statement and pay it off in full before the due date.
There is NO REASON, as far as your FICO credit score is concerned, to buy a bunch of stuff. Buy one thing, and pay it off every month for the rest of your life.
And that's how easy it is. Building credit, without debt or interest.
PS: Are there other options? The Small Loan ApproachThe more history/experience you show with a variety of products the better. But if you want to keep things simple do it the way I show above.
What if you want to go a step further?
If credit cards are the only product to build credit with that can have no interest or debt, are there other low cost options?
Take out a small loan, pay on it for 6-9 months and then pay if off.
I once talked to a lady who had a ton of cash and liked to pay cash for cars, but wanted to keep up her credit score.
She went out and bought a car with a loan. Paid on it for 6 months and then paid it off, she did this every 2-3 years.
A low interest plan: Secured Loans
I've seen several people who had collateral (cash/car/house/etc) take out a small loan, put the loan money into a savings, and set the loan to auto pay from the savings (or checking).
Literally the loan money is just paying itself back.
They may take out a 5 year loan, let it auto pay from that savings for 3-6 months and then add a little money to make up for interest and pay it off.
Rent vs OwnThings like this can do wonders.
Are you renting?
You are paying someone else's Mortgage!
Pray about it first, God may have plans to move you half way around the world tomorrow. So don't buy until you are where you know you are supposed to be.
That being said, instead of buying someone else's house for them, buy your own. I heard one mortgage man say:
You want to rent? Great! Rent from the bank. We'll keep your house payments the same for the life of your loan, and in 30 years we'll give you the house for free!
They even have new options on terms for mortgage loans out there now. They have 15, 10, 8, 7, 5 years terms.
I know many people who bought homes with mortgage payments $100's per month less than they could afford in their budget, just so that they could afford to make regular extra payments and paid them off in ten years instead of 30.
It can be done with planning.
One chap I met paid his primary house off in 10 years. He then bought a condo for $675 month on a 15 year note. He's renting that condo out for $1,300/month and putting all of that on the loan. He'll have it paid off in 5 years, if he adds a few bonuses/tax returns to that also, could be faster.
Don't buy the biggest place you can afford. Buy a place for MUCH less than you can afford, pay what you can afford, plus occasional extras and you'll have it paid off in no time.
BTW: Mortgage Secret
Mortgages CAN be easier to qualify for than cars, depending on the person, history, state, and type of mortgage loan.
ASK, you may be surprised. I was declined for a Credit Card just two months before I was approved for my mortgage, barely by the Grace of God. It CAN be done. If God has given you the go ahead, it REALLY CAN!
Finally, forget everything I just said, and listen to Dave Ramsey
This may sound like an odd thing to say after all of that... But some people won't listen to Dave, and they really want to build credit. For those who are still stuck inside The Matrix, I want to help them navigate with the best wisdom available.
If you really want to win with money, forget about building credit.
That's a loosing game that the banks do not want you to win.
The Insider is a BIG fan of Dave Ramsey:
- Go read/listen/watch Dave Ramsey and he'll teach you how to do it right!
- Listen to The Dave Ramsey Show (HERE)
- Or by his most popular book: (HERE) The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness