Answers to Common Questions about Your Credit Scores

You may already know that your credit scores count when you’re applying for new credit. But you may have questions about how credit reporting agencies provide data for your credit scores, what credit behaviors can affect your scores, and how they change over time.

When you give creditors permission to review your credit scores, they’re looking at a history of your past and present credit behaviors. They may also request a credit score, especially if you’re applying for a loan. Credit bureaus provide the data from your credit report that is fed into statistical models to generate a credit score for you. Scores are intended to help creditors understand how you are using credit, and to predict how likely you are to be a good credit risk.

A credit score is a fluid number that can change over time with you when you make certain credit decisions. Here are answers to some common questions about credit scoring and credit score changes:

My score changed in just a week! I haven’t done anything different, so what happened?

Credit scores can fluctuate based on a number of factors. For example, a creditor might have sent information to the credit bureaus this week that shows a change in balance. Variations in balances on credit accounts such as credit cards affect your credit utilization ratio, which a factor that influences many credit scoring models. Fluctuations over time are normal and generally balance themselves out in the long term. Just as it’s counterproductive to weigh yourself every day, you may not need to check your credit scores every week, week after week.

I got turned down for credit and the lender said they based their decision on a credit score from a company I never heard of. Who are these people and why is their score so different from the one I got from a national credit bureau?

While consumers may be most familiar with the three national credit bureaus, many companies compile consumer credit information to generate credit scores. Smaller companies may be localized or may cater to specific industries. For example, the credit reporting company a landlord uses might be different from the one a mortgage lender turns to. Their scoring models may be different, too, which could account for the differences in credit scores. Regardless of who does the reporting, if you’ve been turned down for credit because of something in your credit report, you are entitled by law to receive a copy of that report from the agency that generated it.

What can I do to improve my credit score?

No single act will improve your credit scores. Multiple actions over time, however, can positively affect your credit report and scores:

  • Pay your bills on time every month.
  • Maintain your history. The age of credit accounts is often a factor in credit score calculations.
  • Keep revolving debt to a minimum. Too much unsecured debt, like credit card debt, may negatively affect credit score calculations.

I’m not planning to borrow money any time in the near future. Why should I care about my credit scores?

Your credit report and credit scores don’t just affect your ability to secure credit at favorable rates. Many companies you do business with, such as utility companies, automobile insurers, mobile phone providers and landlords, may ask to look at your credit report or consult a credit score. Based on the information in your credit report, they may make decisions about how, or if, they do business with you. Potential employers may also ask to review your credit.