It may sound strange coming from the president and CEO of a credit scoring company, but when I meet someone obsessing over his or her credit score, I always tell them the same thing: don’t worry so much about being up 10 points or down 20. Instead, focus on the direction your score is moving in and investigate how individual items in your history are helping or hurting your credit profile. Once you put that knowledge into action, and can do more of the positive behaviors and minimize the negatives ones your good score will come. Here’s how it works.
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Credit score models like VantageScore® are “generic” models, meaning they are made available for use by all consumer loan providers. Generic credit score models calculate a score by running a consumer’s payment and debt management information found in their credit file through a complex mathematical formula to derive a 3-digit number. Most credit score models result in a number − the higher the number, the better the score. And if the consumer properly considers the information in the credit file, and manages debt behavior in a responsible manner, the score should improve.
Most lenders report consumer payment and debt behavior to three separate national credit reporting companies (CRCs), Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, which each maintain a credit file on you. That credit file information is combined into your credit report at each of the CRCs and is used to calculate your credit scores. As credit file information is updated at each CRC, your credit report is similarly updated, and as a result, your credit score may change.
The most important step is to be sensible about your debt management so that lenders don’t report negative information to your credit file. Even a single 30-day late payment on your report will show up on your credit report and can negatively impact your score.
You also want to thoroughly examine your credit reports on at least an annual basis for accuracy. Check your credit reports at each of the three CRCs once a year for free at annualcreditreport.com. Each report you receive will also provide you with the steps needed to address any issues you find. You can also use tools at Credit.com to monitor your credit throughout the year.
Finally, another reason why I tell people to focus on credit reports over credit scores is because there are simply so many scores out there. Among generic models, there is the VantageScore model, multiple FICO models, and among others, the CRCs also provide their own credit score models to lenders. Each credit score model may differ in terms of the weightings of certain factors or how it is constructed. For example, a model might place a greater emphasis on the balance of your credit card. Simply, “your credit score” is not just one score.
Each lender chooses which credit score model to use as part of their evaluation of credit applications.
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However, all the credit scores come from one place: your credit file. So rather than comparing your various credit scores all the time, it’s more productive to make sure the information in your credit file is up to date and accurately reflects your prudent debt management steps.
Though I started out by saying “don’t obsess over your credit score,” ultimately, credit scores do matter. They are an important part of our financial well-being and having a good credit score can literally save you thousands of dollars over the course of a loan because a lender might view you as a higher risk if you have a lower score, and as a result, might charge you a higher interest rate. Plus, having a “directional” idea of your credit score can be useful, especially if you are going to apply for a loan in the near future. Obtaining your credit score from a credible source can help you know what to expect as a lender reviews your application as one part of its underwriting process.
Having said that, monitoring and considering the information in your credit reports on an ongoing basis, as well as remaining responsible with debt management, are effective ways to retain and/or improve your credit profile. Make your payments on-time, don’t keep a high credit card balance or apply for more credit than you need, and routinely check your credit file to ensure it accurately reflects your credit history, and then your score should take care of itself.
[Related Article: Understanding Your Credit Score]
This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not represent the views of the company or its affiliates.
Image: joguldi, via Flickr