Do you know your credit score?
Getting a good rate on your auto loan or your mortgage sounds pretty great, right? Here’s the thing you might not know: Those super-low rates are only available to borrowers with the best credit scores.
Your interest rate isn’t the only thing determined by your credit score. Lenders use this three-digit number to determine things like your credit card limit and the amount of loans you’ll receive.
Think of it as the SAT score of your financial abilities. Do you know yours?
Your credit score is based on your bill payment history, debt load, the length of your credit history, and other factors. It can range from a lousy 300 to a perfect 850, and anything above 760 will usually make you eligible for the very best interest rates. The national average is about 700.
How can you get your score? First, get free copies of all three of your credit reports (from three reporting agencies) at annualcreditreport.com. (NOTE: Other sites claiming to be “free” are often anything but.) The report—as opposed to the score—is the detailed record of your credit history. Unfortunately, there’s a decent chance it contains an error. If it does, simply contact the credit bureau that issued it; it has 30 days to investigate and respond.
Now, on to the score itself, which is based on the report. You can get a free version of your score at creditkarma.com. But if you’re planning to get a loan in the near future, best to go to myfico.com and pay for an official score. When you consider that a 1% interest rate difference can save you thousands of dollars over the life of a loan, 20 bucks doesn’t seem like a high price to pay to make sure you’re on track.
Once you start contemplating a credit score, it’s easy to get freaked out. (Hmm, perhaps comparing it to an SAT score doesn’t help!) But there’s no need to panic. Even if your score is lower than you’d like, that’s not the end of the story. If you pay your bills on time, every time, your score will improve. And the longer you keep it up, the better your score. You can estimate how good financial behavior will improve your score by using Bankrate’s FICO Score Estimator.