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Understanding & Establishing Credit

Life's journey is not always a straight and narrow road. There are detours, ruts, sharp turns or steep hills, and sometimes you need financial help to navigate through the rough patches. Loans and credit cards will give you this help, and your credit record is what determines what kind of credit you will be given and at what rate. That's why a good credit record is one of your most valuable assets, and one everyone should protect.

What is Credit?

Credit is defined as the confidence in a borrower's ability and intention to repay. The level of confidence lenders have in potential borrowers depends on many factors, and since lenders typically don't know the borrower personally, they use a credit report and a credit score (FICO Score) to determine the borrower's creditability. FICO scores ranges from as low as 300 (worst) to as high as 850 (best).

Bad credit can affect you in more ways than you may realize. It can cause you to pay a higher interest rate on loans, plus, the amount of credit you can obtain can be affected. It could even cost you a job as many potential employers look at credit reports as a means of determining how responsible an applicant is. But on the other hand, having no credit can be as detrimental as damaged credit. Without a credit history, lenders don't have an adequate indication of what kind of credit risk you may be.

Credit Reports

Your credit report provides a record of how you have used credit.  Credit bureaus must adhere to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act) established by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  This ACT gives them the right to gather information about individuals as it relates to their eligibility for credit, insurance, or employment.  The information can then be provided to creditors, insurance companies, employers, or anyone who has a legitimate business oriented need for the information.

Top 5 Criteria for a FICO Score

  • 35% is determined by Payment History
  • 30% is determined by the Amount You Owe in relation to your limits (capacity)
  • 15% is determined by the Length of Your Credit History
  • 10% is determined by New Credit
  • 10% is determined by the Types of Credit in Use

Other factors could also be considered by institutions when you apply for a loan

How Do I Obtain My Credit Report?

There are three major credit bureaus, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian.  These bureaus acquire credit data from creditors such as lenders, credit card companies and retail establishments.  They also search court records for lawsuits, judgments, and bankruptcy filings.

Under the FACT Act, you are entitled to one free credit report per year.  to obtain your report do one of the following:

  1. Visit https://www.annualcreditreport.com/cra/index.jsp
  2. Call:  1.877.322.8228
  3. Send requests to:
           Annual Credit Report Request Service
           P.O. Box 105281
           Atlanta, GA 30348-5281

What if I find errors on my report?

If you find that corrections are needed to your credit report, you should contact the credit reporting company that provided the report.  For more information on how to obtain and monitor your credit visit:

Tips for Establishing Credit

  • Open a checking and/or savings account at Community Choice Credit Union. A checking and/or savings account is crucial in proving to creditors that you can handle money. If possible, set up an overdraft loan for your checking account and keep a close eye on all your accounts.
  • Borrow against savings. There are two basic forms of loans, secured and unsecured. A secured loan is backed by assets belonging to the borrower, which decreases the risk to the lender. You don't have to spend the money you borrow; just pay it back over several months, making sure your payments are on time. Though it will cost you a few dollars in interest, it will be worth the price for a good payment history.
  • Take out a small installment loan. You may need a co-signer (someone who becomes responsible if you don't make the payment), but you will be the one to pay it back over a set period of time at a set interest rate. These loans are often secured by the products you are purchasing (if you don't pay the loan, the lender can repossess the property), or by the co-signer.
  • Begin with a single credit card. A credit card can help establish your credit history, but just be sure to use it sparingly and make your payments on time every month.

Improving Your Credit Score

Just as you can't establish credit overnight, you also can't raise your score overnight, but you can do so fairly quickly. Even six months of "good behavior" will have an impact. Below are tips on how to show you have cleaned up your act.

  • Make a habit of paying bills and other payments on time-at least the minimum amount required
  • Pay down balances on open lines of credit. (This is the fastest way to improve your score)
  • Avoid opening a lot of new accounts at once and retain your oldest account
  • Rotate and use all of your cards at least every six months