I want to start by asking for your number.
No, I am not referring to your phone number, I am talking about a number that is more important.
Hint: It is a three digit number.
No, I would not dare ask about your weight! This number can affect your entire financial life.
I am talking about your FICO credit score. This little number quantifies your credit history and gives lenders an inside perspective to your credit habits. I want every strong lady reading this blog to know her number and how to give it a boost to help her financial future.
What Is A FICO Score?
Your FICO score is a number that is generated by the Fair Isaac Corporation. This number is an industry standard for lenders who want to assess your credit risk.
Your FICO scores (yes, you have more than one) can determine how much a lender is willing to lend you and at what interest rate. You will receive one score from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union Corporation.
A good rule of thumb: the higher your scores, the lower the interest rates you can qualify for on credit cards, car loans, and mortgages, which will SAVE YOU MONEY.
How Do I Find Out My FICO Score?
Please note that there is a difference between a FICO score and a credit report.
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you have the right to know all of the information that a consumer reporting agency has documented about you. All consumers are entitled to one free credit report every twelve months, but a FICO score must be purchased.
It is imperative that you exercise your right to a free credit report. With it, you can see every account that has been opened in your name. Additionally, this report can aid in detecting mistakes which can be corrected.
Make sure to request your credit reports from all three agencies over a twelve month period. You can obtain a credit report at annualcreditreport.com.
Please be careful using other websites that could charge you for what you’re entitled to for free. There are so many websites out there that claim to provide a “free credit score,” when in reality, it is only free if you discontinue the use of their service within 30 days. After the 30 day period, they will charge you if you give them your credit card information.
I personally like myfico.com to obtain your FICO score. Again, be careful: some credit card companies offer to provide you with your FICO score upon logging into your account, but please DO NOT run out and sign up for a card just to obtain this service!
What are the Ranges for FICO Scores and How Does it Affect Me?
FICO scores can range from 300 (high risk) to 850 (low risk).
If you have what is considered a good FICO credit score, you should be at 720 or above. A good score will allow you to qualify for the best interest rates when you borrow.
For example, if you find that you have a credit card with a high interest rate, I would recommend calling the credit card company and negotiating a new rate. Look at the rates you could get on other cards, and if you find a great rate, open a new account and then ask your current card company to match or beat that rate. If your current company will not lower your rate at this point, you should request a balance transfer.
There is one particular credit score range that I want you to be aware of: 500 to 579.
If you fall within this range, you are a part of a “subprime borrower” category. This means that you may have maxed out credit cards, bad credit, no credit, or a high debt to equity ratio.
These borrowers pay the highest interest rates, are limited to the products that they can purchase, and can fall prey to scams since they are desperate to obtain a loan. A perfect example of scamming: the mortgage crisis and all of the subprime loans that were bundled and sold off.
This month, I challenge you to know your number. If you are an 850, then give yourself a pat on the back. If your score needs help, that is okay because you are now empowering yourself with the knowledge that it takes to raise your score.
In next week’s column, I’ll talk about what you can do to improve your credit and get a higher FICO score. Make sure you’re following us on Facebook and Twitter so you don’t miss it!
Your FICO score, while extremely important, does not define you. Your actions and how you address your score are what define you. Improving a low FICO score is a marathon, not a 100-yard dash.
If you need additional information or help understanding credit reports, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. I am here to educate and serve our readers.
Amanda Golsch is a six year employee of Children’s Hospital Medical Center and an adjunct professor for the University of Cincinnati. While in grad school, Amanda developed a passion for personal finance. She realized that personal finance can impact every aspect of your life, including your health. Therefore, Amanda has set out to teach as many women as possible basic financial principles that can leave a powerful and lasting impact. Her motto is “A financially literate woman is a powerful woman.”