Credit scores can make our lives easier, or vastly more complicated, depending on our rating. But what are these credit scores? How are they calculated? How are they used? And, where can you see yours?
What is a Credit Score?
Credit scores are a measure of your financial trustworthiness. Based on a sliding scale between 300 and 900, the higher your credit score number, the better. Put simply, a high credit score indicates to lenders that you are less-risky, and that you have a good track record of paying your debts. Different reporting agencies have different calculations, and even different scoring ranges, but in general a high score at one agency will match a similar score from another agency. As a result, finding your credit score from a single agency will give you a good indication as to where you stand.
How are Credit Scores calculated?
Different agencies calculate credit scores differently, and even the calculations are proprietary and not known for certain. That said, the most common scoring calculation used is the FICO score. In general the FICO score can be broken down into 5 core areas, generally weighted as follows.
- 35% Payment History
- 30% Amount of Debt
- 15% Length of Credit History
- 10% New Credit
- 10% Credit Mix
While this isn’t an exact formula, it’s a good estimate as to the most important criteria. Each category influences your credit score. Let’s look at how it all stacks together.
How well you have paid your bills in the past is the biggest influence on your credit score. Are you paying everything on time, every month? By routinely making your payments for all your bills, you indicate to lenders that you are reliable, which drives your credit score higher.
Amount of Debt
The amount of debt you have, and the amount you use also plays a role. In general, you want to be below 20% of your total allowable consumer debt. For consumer debt, credit card limits and lines of credit are the most important types. It is important to make the distinction between types of debt here, since mortgages and auto loans can be rather large, you won’t be adversely penalized for using them, despite throwing off your total debt usage ratio.
Length of Credit History
How long you have had an established credit history impacts your credit score. The longer you have had credit available to you, the better your score will be. This of course impacts young people and immigrants the most, as they haven’t had the time to establish their credit history yet.
Another consideration in this area comes with cancelling sources of credit. For example, it might be beneficial to hold onto your oldest credit card or line of credit even if you don’t use it anymore because it proves you have a longer credit history.
Applying for new credit can drive your credit score down. This is seen as risky behavior, as you obtain new sources of credit in a short period of time. As you prove that you can manage the level of credit that you are eligible for, your credit score improves. Again, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t find new sources of credit, indeed there are good reasons to change credit cards, etc. But, making a lot of changes at once might make you appear more of a credit risk, and your credit score will adjust to reflect that.
The final element is credit mix, or the types of credit available to you. Having a diverse array of credit options improves your score. This can be a combination of auto loans, credit cards, lines of credit, mortgage, etc. Being able to effectively manage multiple sources of credit indicates to lenders that you are financially responsible, and your score is higher as a result.
How are Credit Scores used?
Arguably credit scores are the most important number in your financial life. They impact everything from housing rent and job applications, to the interest rates you pay on loans. Your credit score can even impact your relationships, with studies showing that your credit score can even impact your dating.
Credit scores are used as a measure of your financial risk. A lower number indicates that you are more risky, and therefore lenders demand a higher interest rate to account for the increased risk. This means that being financially responsible isn’t just good practice, it’s also saves you money! The difference of a fraction of a percent on large items like auto loans or mortgages can mean thousands, or tens of thousands of dollars in savings over your life.
Where do you find your Credit Score?
You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report each year from each of the credit scoring bureaus. For our US readers, you may request your credit report here:
For my fellow Canadians, you may request your credit report from Borrowell here:
Knowing how credit scores are calculated, what your score is, and how to find it is important. This three-digit number can have quite an impact on your financial future. As with any scoreboard, why not try and set the highest score you can? Your whole financial life will be better for it!