How fast does your credit score recover from your goofs?
Experts say you can expect a late payment to hurt your credit score for seven years, with your score gradually recovering over that time frame as you make smart borrowing decisions -- though exactly how much and how fast your score recovers isn't entirely clear.
The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act says that negative items can only appear on your credit report for seven years, but it doesn't say how the credit industry should treat the impact of those items after they happen. That vagueness, combined with the secrecy and complexity involved in credit scoring, mean that it's tough to say exactly how a borrower's credit score will recover from a late payment. Still, provided the borrower makes smart decisions following a slip-up, time will heal those credit wounds.
"Every consumer's situation is different, but generally speaking, the impact from a negative item, such as a late payment, will lessen as that item ages" says Steve Katz, spokesman for credit bureau TransUnion.
While FICO, creator of the most-widely used scoring model, largely keeps the details of its scoring model a secret, we do know the approximate damage a late payment will cause. FICO pulled the curtain back a bit on its scoring model recently when it acknowledged just how much certain credit mistakes can hurt a borrower's credit score. For example, in the case of two hypothetical consumers, FICO said that a 30-day late payment would reduce a FICO score of 680 by 60 to 80 points, while an identical late payment would reduce a FICO score of 780 by 90 to 110 points. (For more on this topic, see our story on FICO's damage points.) You can run FICO's credit score simulator to get an idea of how much damage various mistakes, including a late payment, may cause to your own credit score.Read more
How your credit utilization ratio is calculated
The calculation of your credit score combines a wide-angle view of your total combined credit utilization -- including any authorized credit card accounts -- with a close-up view of each individual credit card account.
FICO says it takes that approach in order to get the most accurate view possible of a person's credit utilization, or their existing debt levels compared to their available lines of credit. As you already know, FICO's scoring model -- by far the most widely used in the United States -- pays close attention to that ratio, and you're wise to do the same.
"The utilization rate is an important indicator of lending risk. A person who is charging to the limit on their credit cards is far more likely to suddenly have repayment problems than a person who uses their credit cards sparingly," says Rod Griffin, director of public education with credit bureau Experian. For credit scores, "the lower the utilization rate, the better," Griffin says.Read more
What everyone should know about credit reports and scores
Don't be overly concerned with your credit score. It can be a serious challenge to ever really "know" that number. That's because these scores vary based on when they are calculated (since they originate from a momentary snapshot of your credit report) and the scoring model itself. (There are many scores out there, including FICO, VantageScore, proprietary models and "educational" scores that aren't used by any lenders). Your credit score number can -- and does -- vary from day to day and lender to lender. As a result, at a given moment in time, it's extremely difficult to truly "know" your credit score with any certainty.
So instead of placing emphasis on that score, focus on your credit reports. Those reports are the basis for lending decisions, regardless of the scoring model used. In some cases, they are even used for hiring decisions. Note that I said "credit reports" -- plural. That's because you've got a report with each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) that maintain a record of individual U.S. consumers' borrowing behavior. Unless lenders tell you, it's difficult to know what report they may be working with. Since the information listed in those bureaus' reports can differ, you need to look at each one for a complete picture of where you stand.Read more
5 traits that go along with a lower credit score
You know how important good credit is, so you watch your credit-related activity closely. You limit credit inquiries, maintain a respectable debt-to-income ratio and -- of course -- pay the bills on time.
But know this: The credit industry is watching right back. If you've checked your credit report, you can see it tracks your individual behavior, but did you know it tracks how we behave in groups? In search of ways to identify the most creditworthy customers, the industry and academics have studied where we live, who we are, how we behave -- and how these traits relate to credit scores.
So, the studies say, a pack-a-day smoker from Harlingen, Texas, is likely to have a worse credit score than a very patient woman from Wausau, Wis.
Hold the e-mails, though -- these unexpected traits that go along with lower credit scores are just correlations, not causations. It's not cause and effect. "None of these things are factored into your score, but have been studied alongside credit scores," explains Michele Raneri, vice president of analytics for Experian.Keep reading to learn about five things that tend to go along with a lower credit score.
10 things you should know about identity theft
Identity theft is often in the news, but there are a lot of misconceptions swirling around about how to best protect yourself.
While some identity thieves focus on getting your credit cards and maxing them out before you even realize they're missing, an increasing number are using one piece of information about you -- often a credit card number -- in order to steal your entire identity.
Though many folks worry about keeping their credit card information secure when shopping online, the top methods that identity thieves use to steal personal data are still low-tech, according to Justin Yurek, president of ID Watchdog, an identity theft-monitoring firm. "Watch your personal documents, be careful to whom you give out your data over the phone, and be careful of mail theft," he says.