Getting a free gander> at your credit score could get a lot easier.
Fair Isaac (FIC),
Last week, the Minneapolis-based company announced an agreement with the Pennsylvania State Credit Union (PSECU) to provide its 200,000 members with free access to their scores once a month. Fair Isaac already offers a similar service to holders of the Sears Solution MasterCard issued by HSBC (HBC)
Even more consumers could be eligible soon as Fair Isaac inks more deals like these. The top 10 banks would be on our target list for these kinds of programs, says Fair Isaac spokeswoman Laura Heinrich.
The news couldn't come at a better time. The credit crunch has meant that lenders have significantly tightened their standards. Now, only consumers with the healthiest credit records can get approved for loans and land lower rates on things like mortgages and insurance. Those are the most important three numbers of your financial future, says Gail Cunningham, spokeswoman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
Your score is derived from the information in your credit report, which you can get for free once a year from each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), at annualcreditreport.com. While those reports give you some indication of your financial standing and an opportunity to check for inaccuracies, they don t tell you your score (you have pay for access to an actual credit score).
To learn more, read out story about credit score subtleties For consumers, [Fair Isaac's offer of a free credit report is] a great opportunity to find out where you stand and the FICO score is the place to start, says Gerri Detweiller, a credit advisor at Credit.com.
How to boost your credit score
Knowing your score won t, on its own, improve your credit standing. That information is useful, but what s challenging for many consumers is knowing what exactly they should do to build a higher score. The tips Fair Isaac sends along with FICO scores can certainly help, says Detweiller. But there are plenty of measures you can take on your own to protect your score. Here are some credit-boosting rules worth following:
Pay on time
Timeliness of credit-card payments gets the biggest weighting in your FICO credit score.
Maintain a low debt load
Try to keep your utilization rate -- your total debt relative to the amount of credit available to you -- under 30%, Cunningham advises. For example, if you have an open credit card with a $2,000 credit limit and a $1,000 balance, you're 50% "utilized" on that account because you're using half of the credit limit. Reducing that utilization rate will help to improve your score.
Hang onto old cards
The longer you've had a line of credit, the better. That's because credit history is another factor that can greatly impact your score. So if you re tempted to close an old account because you rarely use it, reconsider, says Cunningham. Then make sure you purchase something with it. As credit-card delinquencies rise, issuers are closing inactive accounts, a move that helps them reduce exposure to risky credit holders. To prevent that, you can charge as little as $10 a month and keep it active.
Avoid getting too much new credit
Applying for a single new credit card may have a small impact on your score, but applying for several credit cards can do plenty of damage, says Cunningham.