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We all know how important our credit score (called FICO score) is in obtaining financing for large purchases. But what is your score? How do you raise your score? How does my credit report affect my FICO score?

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FICO SCORE CATEGORIES
To begin with, let’s see what a credit score number means. If you know your score, you can compare to the following chart to get an idea of how you stack up. If you have applied for a loan, the lender will have disclosed your score. If you don’t know it, you can also purchase your score from MyFICO.com.

FICO SCORE AND CREDIT STATUS
750-850 excellent credit
700-749 good credit
650-699 fair credit
600-649 poor credit
Below 600 bad credit

I HAVE NEVER SEEN MY CREDIT REPORT. HOW CAN I GET ONE?
Go to AnnualCreditReport.com. This website is authorized to provide you with a free credit report from each bureau every year. There are three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and Trans Union), so stagger your requests over the year so that you receive one report a year from each of the bureaus at a different time of the year. Set up a plan to get one in January, one in May and one in September. Then you can keep track to see if there might be mistakes. Take the time to check the accuracy of things you might take for granted, such as your name, address and social security number.

YOUR FICO SCORE COMES FROM 5 CATEGORIES OF INFORMATION FROM YOUR CREDIT REPORTS
• 35% - payment history – did you pay on time or are you late sometimes?
• 30% - amounts owed on your accounts – this is compared to your card credit limit
• 15% - length of credit history – how long have you had credit?
• 10% - credit mix in use – how many credit cards, retail accounts, installment/mortgage loans
• 10% - new credit – how many accounts did you open in a short period of time?

SOME WAYS TO HELP INCREASE YOUR CREDIT SCORE
• Make payments on time – this is one of the biggest ingredients in a good score
• Keep card balances less than 30% (10% is ideal) of your card limit
• Pay down the highest interest rate cards first, not the highest balance
• Do not close unused credit cards – better to leave it open with a balance at zero
• Get rid of small card balances – limit the number of cards with a balance
• Reduce your overall debt – easier said than done, but this might be a more satisfying achievement than improving your FICO score

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