Building a Credit Score from Scratch

Perform a quick Google search and you will discover that there is no shortage of articles and ideas online clamoring to offer you tips and pointers about how to best manage your credit. You can find videos, podcasts, and even television shows from many self-proclaimed "gurus" who are quick to share their credit secrets with you. Add in the well meaning credit advice you may have received from your family, friends, and acquaintances and before long your head will be spinning with dozens of contradictory credit improvement strategies.

Unfortunately, the truth is that many self-proclaimed "professionals" and even your loved ones can give really bad advice when it comes to your credit. Most credit advice is likely given with a very well-meaning spirit; however, bad credit advice can hurt you even if the damage is unintentional. It is important to be careful whose advice you follow when it comes to your credit, especially when you are building credit for the very first time. Here are 4 tips to help you build great credit from scratch.

Tip #1: Do Not Assume Anything

If you are preparing to build credit for the first time you may genuinely believe that your credit reports are completely blank. However, assuming that this is the case without verification is a mistake. You should begin by checking all 3 of your credit reports from Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.

You are entitled to a free copy of these reports every 12 months from AnnualCreditReport.com. You can also access your 3 credit reports and 3 scores (if they exist) via a variety of credit monitoring services such as those featured on GreatCredit101.com. You should develop the habit now of checking your credit reports often. Although the Fair Credit Reporting Act does give you the right to expect accurate information to appear on your credit reports, it is up to you to monitor your those reports in order to ensure that they remain error-free.

Credit Expert Advice: If you discover errors on your credit reports then you have the right to dispute those errors on your own or you can hire a reputable credit expert to assist you.

Tip #2: Establish Revolving Accounts

After you have checked your credit reports, if they are indeed completely blank, then you might consider opening a few credit card accounts - aka revolving accounts. Secured credit cards can potentially be a good place to start when you have zero established credit. These types of credit cards typically offer less strict qualification standards when compared with the requirements for unsecured credit card accounts. In other words, qualifying for a secured credit card is generally an easier process even if you have no credit history or damaged credit history in the past.

Credit Expert Advice: Just remember, if you open a credit card account it is absolutely essential that you keep all of your payments on time every single month. It is also a good idea to never revolve a credit card balance from month to month either. If you manage your new account well it has a great potential to help you build positive credit and stronger credit scores.

Tip #3: Establish an Installment Account

Credit scoring models such as FICO and VantageScore like to see that you know how to manage a variety of account types. Consumers with a good mix of accounts showing up in their credit histories will potentially be rewarded with higher credit scores. However, a problem which consumers with no established credit often face is the fact that it can be difficult to qualify for certain types of loans with little to no credit. Your solution? Enter the credit builder loan.

Many local credit unions and some online lenders will offer credit builder loans as a means for their customers to rebuild or build credit for the first time. Credit builder loans are generally issued for a low dollar amount ($500 - $1,000) and the funds are held in a savings account while you make the monthly payments to satisfy the loan. Once the loan has been paid in full the funds are released to you, plus any interest earned. If you managed your account properly then you should have around 6-12 months of on-time payment history showing up on your credit reports.

Credit Expert Advice: If you are thinking about applying for a credit builder loan product be sure to ask the credit union or lender if they will report the account to all 3 credit bureaus. On-time payments are also essential, otherwise your new credit builder loan could hurt your credit instead of helping it.

Tip #4: Ask a Loved One for a Favor

Asking a loved one or a family member to add you as an authorized user to an existing credit card account is another potential strategy which may help you to build credit from nothing. Though it is true that authorized user accounts will not show up on your credit reports 100% of the time, in most cases when you are added as an authorized user to a credit card the account will show up on your 3 credit reports within a few months. Plus, if you are a parent then authorized user accounts represent a great way for you to help your children establish credit without dipping your toes into the very dangerous waters of co-signing.  

Credit Expert Advice: Before being added to any account as an authorized user you should be sure that the account has a flawless payment history and a low or $0 balance. Otherwise, being added as an authorized user could backfire and hurt your credit instead of having a positive impact.


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About the Author: Michelle Black is an author and leading credit expert with over a decade and a half of experience in the credit industry. She specializes in the areas of credit reporting, credit scoring, identity theft, budgeting, and debt eradication. She is featured monthly at credit seminars, podcasts, and in print. You can connect with Michelle on Facebook here

What Is Revolving Utilization and Why Is It So Important to Your Credit Scores?

If you want to have great credit scores then pay your bills on time every month. The previous statement is great advice; however, it is incomplete. Simply paying your bills on time is not enough to achieve and maintain great credit scores. In fact, only 35% of your FICO credit scores are based upon your payment history. The other 65% of your FICO scores have nothing at all to do with how timely you pay your bills.

30% of your FICO credit scores, plus a significant portion of your VantageScore credit scores, are calculated based upon information found in the "Amounts Owed" category of your credit reports. The primary factors considered within this category are largely based upon those little pieces of plastic you carry around in your wallet: your credit cards.

What Is Revolving Utilization?

Revolving utilization is a term used within the credit world to describe how much or rather what percentage of your credit card limits are being used. Your revolving utilization ratio is also known as your debt-to-limit ratio or your credit utilization ratio. It measures how much of your credit limits are in use on each of your credit card accounts and expresses that calculation as a percentage. Here is a quick look at how revolving utilization is calculated.

Credit Limit: $5,000
Balance: $3,500
Revolving Utilization: Balance ($3,500) Divided by Limit ($5,000) = Revolving Utilization (70%)

Why Is Revolving Utilization Considered in Your Credit Scores?

Your revolving utilization is an important consideration in your credit scores for one very simple and important reason: it is statistically predictive of higher credit risk. When you carry outstanding credit card debt on your credit reports you represent a higher credit risk than someone whose reports show paid off credit card balances.

All debt is not created equal. When you take out a mortgage loan or an auto loan, for example, you are opening an installment account. Credit cards, by comparison, are revolving accounts. Installment debt is much less risky for lenders to extend because the debt is generally secured by some sort of collateral (aka your house or your vehicle) which the lender can seize and resell in the event you stop making your payments. However, credit card debt is different.

Because of the nature of credit card debt, it is much more predictive of increased credit risk than installment debt. Think about it. If you begin to struggle financially due to an illness, divorce, job loss, or even poor financial management habits like overspending, which is the first obligation you will probably allow to slide in the event that you have more bills than money at the end of the month? Most likely you will not skip your mortgage payment, your rent, or your auto loan payment if you can help it. Credit card payments, however, are much more commonly skipped in the event of a financial shortage.

Additionally, increased credit card balances might indicate that a financial problem is looming. If a consumer loses his job then it is very common to rely upon credit cards to help finance every day expenses until a new source of income can be secured. As you can easily see, if your reports show that you are revolving balances on your credit cards from month to month, especially high balances when compared with your credit limits, it might make you appear to be a higher credit risk in the eyes of a lender.

The Good News

Although revolving unpaid credit card debt on your credit reports from month to month will almost certainly lower your credit scores, you can currently regain those lost points rather quickly, as soon as you start to eliminate the debt. The other goods news is that the score increase you may be eligible to earn from paying down your credit card balances and lowering your credit utilization can be earned incrementally (instead of an "all or nothing" scenario). In other words, as you pay down your credit card balances little by little you should begin to experience small credit score increases. You do not have to pay a credit card balance all the way down to zero on your credit reports before you can hope to receive a score boost.


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About the Author: Michelle Black is an author and leading credit expert with over a decade and a half of experience in the credit industry. She specializes in the areas of credit reporting, credit scoring, identity theft, budgeting, and debt eradication. She is featured monthly at credit seminars, podcasts, and in print. You can connect with Michelle on Facebook here


How Many Points Will An Inquiry Lower My Credit Scores?

The fact that inquiries have the potential to lower consumer credit scores is not breaking news. Credit savvy consumers know that letting too many lenders pull their credit reports in a short period of time is a bad idea (with the exception of rate shopping for a mortgage, auto loan, or student loan within a 45 day period). However, the idea that inquiries lower your credit scores a particular number of points is a complete myth.

There is nothing on a consumer's credit report that raises or lowers your scores a fixed number of points. For example, an inquiry does not always lower your score 4 points (or 3, 5, or 6 points for that matter). An on-time payment does not raise your credit score 5 points. A late payment does not lower your scores 30 points. That is simply not the way that credit scores work.

How Inquiries Actually Impact Your Credit Scores

Remember, not all inquiries will have a negative impact upon your credit scores. (CLICK HERE to read The Difference Between Hard and Soft Inquiries for more information.) However, as mentioned above, those hard inquiries which do have the potential to negatively impact your credit scores are not going to lower those scores a specific number of points per inquiry that occurs.

Instead, imagine a set of 5 buckets lined up side by side. Each bucket bears a sign which represents the number of inquiries which appear on a consumer's credit report over a period of the past 12 months.

  •  Bucket #1 = 0 Inquiries
  • Bucket #2 = 1-2 Inquiries
  • Bucket #3 = 3-4 Inquiries
  • Bucket #4 = 5-6 Inquiries
  • Bucket #5 = More than 6 Inquiries
    *
    NOTE: These are hypothetical categories for demonstration purposes only.

Since inquiries account for 10% of your FICO credit scores and the range of FICO scores is 300 - 850 (550 total available points) then there could be the potential for a consumer to earn up to 55 points for her credit scores in the inquiry category. Here's a hypothetical look at how credit score points might be awarded within the inquiry category of a consumer's credit report.

  • Bucket #1 = 0 Inquiries = 55 points
  •  Bucket #2 = 1-2 Inquiries = 45 points
  • Bucket #3 = 3-4 Inquiries = 15 points
  • Bucket #4 = 5-6 Inquiries = 5 points
  • Bucket #5 = More than 6 Inquiries = 0 points
    *
    NOTE: These are hypothetical categories for demonstration purposes only.

While the points listed above are not an exact representation of how many points a consumer's credit score would receive based upon her number of inquiries, the concept is an accurate representation of how credit scores are calculated within the inquiry category. In the example above if Jane Doe had a credit report with 3 inquiries then she would receive 15 points (of the 55 available points within the category) to be added to her overall credit score. However, if Jane Doe had no additional credit inquiries and the 3 inquiries became over 12 months old then she would move to the "0 inquiry" bucket and would receive 55 points instead of the mere 15 points she had received previously. In the case of this example Jane's credit score would increase by a whopping 40 points once the 3 previous inquiries aged out of credit score calculation range and she moved to the "0 inquiry" bucket.

When it comes to inquiries just remember that the fewer hard inquiries the better it is for your credit scores. (Soft inquiries which typically occur when you check your own credit are fine. They never lower your scores.) Now that you understand that individual credit inquiries are not worth a particular number of points, congratulations! You now understand more about your credit scores than probably 99% of the population. 


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About the Author: Michelle Black is an author and leading credit expert with over a decade of experience in the credit industry. She specializes in the areas of credit reporting, credit scoring, identity theft, budgeting, and debt eradication. She is featured monthly at credit seminars, podcasts, and in print. You can connect with Michelle on Facebook here


The Difference Between Hard Inquiries and Soft Inquiries

Credit scores, like FICO and Vantage Scores, are based upon a variety of factors. For FICO scores the factors which make up an individual's credit scores fall into 5 categories. The least influential categories, Mix of Credit and Inquiries, each account for 10% of a consumer's credit scores.

While 10% may seem like a small percentage, and it is small in the grand scheme of your credit scores, it is not an insignificant number of points. FICO credit scores range from 300 - 850. That's a total of 550 points that any given consumer has the opportunity to earn for her credit scores. Since the Inquiry Category accounts for 10% of those points there could be a potential 55 points up for grabs (depending upon the score card being used to determine the consumer's scores).

Why Inquiries Appear on Credit Reports

Whenever anyone requests to see a copy of your credit report a record known as an inquiry is placed on your credit report. In fact, most consumers do not realize that the reason that the credit bureaus place inquiries (aka records of credit pulls) on their credit reports is due to the fact that the Fair Credit Reporting Act [FCRA 15 USC Sec. 1681g(a)(3)(A)] requires the credit bureaus to record whenever a consumer's credit report is accessed for a period of at least 1-2 years, based upon the type of inquiry. In an effort to comply with the FCRA the credit bureaus have made a blanket policy that all inquiries will remain on a consumer's credit report for 2 years.

Hard Inquiries

Credit inquiries can be sorted into one of two categories - those that may have the ability to negatively impact a consumer's credit scores and those which do not have the ability to negatively impact a consumer's scores. Inquires which have the potential to cause credit score damage are known as "hard" inquiries. Not all hard inquiries will automatically cause credit score damage and, in special circumstances, numerous hard inquiries might be counted as only "1" inquiry for credit scoring purposes. Below are some examples of hard credit inquiries.

  • Credit Card Applications
  • Mortgage Applications
  • Auto Loan Applications
  • Collection Agency Skip-Tracing
  • HELOC (Home Equity Line of Credit) Applications

Soft Inquiries

Inquiries referred to as "soft" are treated differently by credit scoring models than "hard" inquiries. Soft inquiries are still able to remain on consumer credit reports for 2 years; however, soft inquiries do not have any impact upon credit scores whatsoever. They will not help nor hurt a consumer's credit scores. Here are some examples of soft credit inquiries.

  • Checking Your Own Credit Reports
  • Promotional Inquiries (Think pre-approved credit card offers)
  • Your Current Lenders Checking Your Credit Reports

Inquiries and Your Credit Scores

Consumers often find it frustrating to learn that certain inquiries have the ability to negatively impact their credit scores. The reason that hard inquiries may lower your credit scores is because inquiries can be a reliable indicator of credit risk. In other words, when FICO reviews credit reports samples it finds a trend which demonstrates that people who apply for a lot of credit in a short amount of time are more likely to pay their bills late. People who apply for credit less often are less likely to pay their bills late. Therefore, people with fewer hard inquiries are usually rewarded with higher credit scores.  

About the Author: Michelle Black is an author and leading credit expert with over a decade of experience in the credit industry. She specializes in the areas of credit reporting, credit scoring, identity theft, budgeting, and debt eradication. She is featured monthly at credit seminars, podcasts, and in print. You can connect with Michelle on Facebook here

How Do I Know When Something Has Been On My Credit Report for Too Long?

Overcoming past credit problems can sometimes be a long, tedious process (especially if you are going it alone without professional assistance). However, thankfully there is a strict time limit regarding how long past credit mistakes are allowed to haunt your credit reports. In other words, most negative credit information is not allowed to remain on a consumer's credit report forever.

What Determines When Items Are Removed from Credit Reports?

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) provides set-in-stone guidelines to the credit reporting agencies - Equifax, Trans Union, and Experian - which instructs them when an item must be removed from a credit report. That date is known by a couple of different names: the "FCRA compliance date" and/or the "purge date." Depending upon the type of credit item in question, the purge date will be different. However, the credit reporting agencies (CRAs) always rely on the information provided to them from data furnishers - aka your creditors - in order to determine the date when an item should be purged from your credit report. (The exception to this rule is in the case of public records where the credit reporting agencies proactively seek out this information and no "data furnisher" is involved.)

As mentioned above, the time frame for removal varies depending upon the type of credit report item in question. Due to the difference in purge date timelines, the subject of when an item should be removed from a credit report creates a lot of confusion amongst consumers, and even among many professionals as well. Check out this handy guide if you need help determining when an item should be purged from your credit reports.

2 Years

Inquiries - After a period of 2 years, inquiries are removed from your credit report by the credit reporting agencies (CRAs). The FCRA [15 USC Sec. 1681g] (a)(3)(A) requires that the CRAs maintain a record of employment inquiries for a minimum of 2 years and other inquiries for a period of 1 year. As a policy the CRAs maintain most inquiries, regardless of their purpose, for 2 years.

7 Years

Charge-Offs - These accounts must be purged from your credit report after 7 years from the date of the charge-off.  

Judgments - After 7 years from the filing date a judgment is required to be purged from your credit reports. However, creditors do have the option to try to re-file the judgment and, if the re-filing is granted, the judgment could remain on your credit report for an additional 7 years.

Repossessions and Foreclosures - The purge date for repossessions is 7 years from the date of the original terminal delinquency (when the account became 6 months past due without being brought current again) on the original loan.

Collections - Collection accounts are required to be purged from your credit reports after a period of 7 years from the date of default on the original account. Collection agencies are not legally permitted to tamper with the purge date in any way. This practice is known as "re-aging" and is prohibited under the FCRA.

Released Tax Liens - Tax liens which have been paid and released must be purged from your credit reports after a period of 7 years from the date of release.

Chapter 13 Bankruptcy - The purge date for a chapter 13 bankruptcy is 7 years from the date the bankruptcy is discharged. However, as it can take several years for a repayment plan to be completed, the maximum amount of time a chapter 13 bankruptcy is allowed to remain on a credit report is 10 years from the date of filing, even if 7 years from the date of discharge has not yet passed.

10 Years

Chapter 7 and 11 Bankruptcies - Chapter 7 and 11 bankruptcies must be purged from your credit report 10 years after the filing date.

Non-Discharged and Dismissed Bankruptcies - These 2 categories of bankruptcies are also required to be purged from your credit reports after 10 years from the filing date has passed. 

Never

Federal Student Loans - The FCRA does not govern how long negative student loan account information is allowed to remain on your credit reports. Instead, federal student loan credit reporting is governed by the Higher Education Act. Unpaid federal student loans are not required to be removed from your credit report...EVER.

Unpaid Tax Liens - There is no purge date associated with unpaid tax liens. In other words, unless you pay a tax lien it can remain on your credit reports, damaging your credit scores forever.

Immediately

Withdrawn Federal Tax Liens - If you have paid a federal tax lien or entered into an arrangement to pay a lien in full then you may be eligible to receive a withdrawal of the lien under the IRS Fresh Start Program. Currently the credit reporting agencies do not report withdrawn tax liens on consumer credit reports so if you dispute a withdrawn lien and include proof of the withdrawal the lien can be removed from your credit reports immediately.

What to Do about Re-Aging

If an account is currently showing up on any of your credit reports which is past its purge date, then you may have been the victim of re-aging. Re-aging occurs when a data furnisher (usually a collection agency) either accidentally or purposely reports an incorrect purge date to the credit reporting agencies. Re-aging can be disputed with the credit reporting agencies directly and it is very helpful if you can provide proof as well.

About the Author: Michelle Black is an author and leading credit expert with over a decade of experience in the credit industry. She specializes in the areas of credit reporting, credit scoring, identity theft, budgeting, and debt eradication. She is featured monthly at credit seminars, podcasts, and in print. You can connect with Michelle on Facebook here

The Ideal Credit Card Balance to Optimize Credit Scores

As a reader of the GreatCredit101 Blog you already know that credit cards can be a very powerful tool - when used properly - to help drive your credit scores upwards. A credit card with a $0 or very low balance can potentially help to give your credit scores a substantial boost. However, many consumers and even professionals within the mortgage and real estate industries are often confused regarding the best possible balance a consumer can carry on their credit cards. Let's take a look at the truth.

FICO rewards consumers (with points added to their credit scores) when the consumer has a 0% utilization ratio on a credit card or, in laymen's terms, a $0 balance. However, FICO rewards consumers just a little bit more when they have a 1% utilization ratio. What does a 1% utilization ratio look like? Here are a few examples:

1. On a credit card with a $300 credit limit a balance of $3 = a 1% utilization ratio. 2. On a credit card with a $500 credit limit a balance of $5 = a 1% utilization ratio. 3. On a credit card with a $1,000 credit limit a balance of $10 = a 1% utilization ratio.

This means that if a consumer has a credit limit of only $300 and they are carrying a $10 balance then the consumer is above the 1% utilization ratio and, therefore, is not receiving the full potential score benefit from that card. In fact, the consumer is losing some of the points that he or she would receive if the same card had a $0 balance. However, on a credit card with a $1,000 credit limit then carrying a $10 balance is a good idea in order to receive the maximum points available. Don't look at a zero balance as a bad thing. It is awesome. But, a 1% balance on a credit card is one rung higher on the awesome scale.  

Another factor to consider is how difficult it is to actually have a precise 1% balance show up on a consumer's credit report vs. a $0 balance. Let me give you another example. Joe Consumer wants to boost his credit scores as much as possible before applying for an upcoming mortgage loan. Joe has a VISA with a $300 limit. Joe knows that 1% credit card utilization ($3 on his $300 VISA) can help to improve his scores. So Joe goes to his local mall on July 1st and charges $50 on his VISA. Unbeknownst to Joe, VISA reports the $50 balance on July 3rd. On July 5th Joe pays the $50 balance down to $3 which equals a 1% utilization ratio on his VISA card. However, on July 10th when Joe's loan officer pulls his credit report the balance on his VISA is being reported as $50 NOT $3. Joe's limit of $3 will not be reported to the credit bureaus by VISA until August 3rd (assuming that Joe does not use the card for any additional purchases in the meantime). Because Joe's VISA is at a $50 balance, which is a little over a 16% credit utilization ratio, Joe lost potential points that he could have gained with a $0 limit.

Therefore, my recommendation in most cases is still that a $o balance on a credit card is the best way to go to help boost credit scores. If you have time to play around with your balance for at least 60 days prior to a loan to try to reach the perfect 1% credit card utilization ratio - go for it! Never turn down extra potential points. However, if you know that you are going to be applying for a large auto loan or mortgage within the next 45 days then your best bet is to keep a $0 balance. Either way you go - $0 balance or 1% credit utilization ratio - you will be showing the credit bureaus that you are a good credit risk. While you have the right to fully utilize the entire credit limit on your credit card accounts you are choosing to exercise discipline and financial restraint. In other words, you are not maxing out your credit cards each time the shoe store comes out with its hottest new releases. Showing the credit bureaus that you have this discipline and restraint can result in a reward - extra points for your credit scores!

Have credit card debt that you need to consolidate? CLICK HERE to compare consolidation options.

About the Author:

Michelle Black is an author and leading credit expert with over a decade of experience in the credit industry. She specializes in the areas of credit reporting, credit scoring, identity theft, budgeting, and debt eradication. She is featured monthly at credit seminars, podcasts, and in print. You can connect with Michelle on Facebook here