We often talk about how important it is to stay on top of your credit reports and scores. We encourage consumers to review their free credit scores, whether that’s through Credit.com’s Free Credit Report Card or another service.
But the truth is, once you have that information, figuring out what to do with it can be tricky. When it comes to taking action, what’s really important — and what’s not?
The Number: Don’t Obsess
Yes, it’s true that the three-digit number that represents your credit score can be significant. If you are trying to get a loan to buy or refinance a home, for example, a difference of a few points in one of your scores could cost you a lot of money in the long run if it means you have to pay a higher rate.
But at the same time, obsessing about your credit scores can be not only frustrating but fruitless. There are many reasons for that:
- Your scores can change as often as information on your credit reports change.
- Every lender has different standards, so the same score may earn you the best deal with one lender but not with another.
- And, perhaps most importantly, you have many scores, not just one, so trying to figure out which scores matter most can be an exercise in futility.
In fact, when we recently included a free credit score with our free Credit Report Card — one of our most popular tools — we wanted to make sure that consumers understand that they don’t have a single score. That’s why we provide an Experian score, but also show consumers their VantageScore along with it. After all, there are dozens of scores available at any given time, and if you focus on just a single number, you may miss the bigger picture. If you want more insight into the different kinds of scores out there, read my recent article, What’s A Credit Score, Really?
What Goes Into The Number: A Bigger Deal
If focusing on the number isn’t the most important thing, then what is? Understanding the elements that make up your scores can be much more important. Our Credit Report Card, for example, assigns a grade to each of the main factors that go into a score:
• Payment History
• Debt Usage
• Credit Age
• Account Mix
Within those, we recommend you put your efforts toward the things you can control. If you get a “C” or “D” for a particular factor, you’ll get suggestions for things you may do to address that grade. Some of these may be things you can address immediately while some may not be under your direct control.
If you earn a “D” because your credit report reflects a large number of recent inquiries, for example, then you can stop applying for credit for a time (action you can take) but you also will have to just sit tight while the current inquiries get older. After a year or two they won’t have the same impact on your scores.
[Related Article: What's A Credit Score, Really]
What Your Credit Score Does For You: The Biggest Deal
The reason you want great credit scores is that they can help you save money and achieve your financial goals. If, for example, you have high-rate credit card debt, a decent credit score may help you qualify for a personal loan that you can use to consolidate that debt. If you walk away with a fixed-rate personal loan at a lower interest rate that you pay off in three years, for example, you can save money and get out of debt faster.
And finally, it’s important to put your scores in context. Even mortgage lenders look at other factors, like debt-to-income ratios and employment history. As any loan officer can tell you, even a perfect score can’t get you a loan if the appraisal comes in too low, or if income or assets aren’t well documented.