Most people express concern about their credit scores, mainly regarding their ability to secure loans or obtain the best possible terms. However, credit scores aren’t just about that. They significantly affect your insurance rate, rental properties you can qualify for, and even mobile phone plans. Credit scores can help or hinder your financial activities, depending on what you have. It would be to your advantage to understand what they are.
Also, because the information in credit reports can affect your life, you should know who can access them. This article will briefly touch on both to help you better manage your finances.
What are credit scores?
Credit scores represent the rate of a person’s creditworthiness. It is a three-digit number ranging from 300 to 850; the higher the number, the better. The Fair Isaac Corp., or FICO, was the first to introduce a standardized consumer credit rating in 1989. While it is not the only system, most institutions use it to assess a loan application or other financial transaction.
Generally, the basis for a credit score is an individual’s credit history. It encompasses debts, repayment behavior, number of accounts, and more. Lending institutions use the credit score to determine a loan applicant’s likelihood of repaying on time. If you have poor credit and want to buy a house, find out how to improve your credit score fast.
Importance of Credit Scores
A high credit score typically gets the best deals for various financial instruments. You can get higher credit limits, lower insurance premiums, better apartments, and prime interest rates. On the other hand, low credit scores can disqualify you from loans, rental properties, or insurance coverage. If you do get approval, they will likely be at sub-prime rates.
For example, say you have a credit score of 750 and apply for a $200,000 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. You could save around $58,000 on interest payments compared to an individual with a credit score of 630.
How They Work
Most people have multiple credit scores, depending on the scoring formula and the source of the information. Credit scores typically come from one of three agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. These reporting agencies update and store information regarding consumer credit histories. The main factors that affect the credit score include the following:
- Payment history
- Amounts owed
- Credit history length
- Credit types
- New credit
Categorizing credit scores vary somewhat among the three agencies. Experian and Equifax consider a score of 800-850 as excellent. TransUnion puts the same category for a score of 781 – 850.
You can monitor your credit score from the same source to ensure you get accurate information. Several institutions provide it free of charge through a bank or credit card issuer. Some sites also offer a free credit score.
Unauthorized Access to Credit Reports
Credit scores and reports are not publicly available information. Unauthorized access to credit reports is illegal. Even a parent, spouse, or child cannot ask for it if they don’t have a court order.
The reason is security. Credit reports contain sensitive personal and financial information, so bad actors can use them to get loans, open accounts, or apply for services. Suppose someone obtains your credit report without your permission and uses it for unauthorized transactions. You can sue that person for damages up to $1,000.
You can obtain your credit report regularly, and you should. That will enable you to monitor your history and easily catch any anomalies.
Who has access to credit scores?
Any entity with a legitimate need to access your credit report may do so through various agencies. These include the following organizations:
When opening an account, the bank may obtain a credit report to determine the likelihood of overdrawing or abandoning the account. Banks may also check your credit score if you obtain overdraft protection, essentially a line of credit.
Your credit history is a significant factor in getting approval for any financial accommodation. Potential and current creditors will obtain your credit report to evaluate if you qualify for a loan or credit line and under what terms. These include auto lenders, mortgage companies, credit card issuers, and student loan providers.
You might get the loan at higher interest rates or more substantial down payments if you have a low credit score. In the case of federal student aid, you will not qualify for one if your parents have low credit scores or you are in default for any federal loan.
Insurance companies make money by minimizing payouts, meaning they want to avoid claims. People with good credit are less likely to file an insurance claim. As a result, insurers may pull your credit report to assess how much to charge for coverage. However, some states, like Michigan, prohibit using credit scores to determine car or homeowners insurance premiums.
A government agency can pull your credit report for several reasons. It may be trying to find you, investigating if you qualify for public assistance, or determining your capacity to pay for child support.
Utility service providers
Utility companies, including cellphone service providers, check credit reports of anyone applying for the service. The provider might not deny service for low credit scores but may require a deposit.
Expect the property owner or manager to pull your credit history when applying to rent an apartment or house. They want to know if you will pay your rent on time. Good credit scores typically mean you have in the past, so you are more likely to continue the behavior.
Most employers do not have a legitimate reason to ask for your credit history when applying for a job. However, they can if you give them written consent. Even then, it should not contain your birthdate, account number, or any information that poses a security risk. In any case, the employer cannot deny you a job for poor credit. They may only legally do that if they give you an adverse action notice.
Collection agencies may check credit reports to obtain contact information or account activity. The data in the report can help them get in touch and evaluate your ability to repay the debt.
Anyone with a court order
In most cases, an entity must have a legitimate reason to obtain a credit report. The exception is when a court orders it, probably for a good reason. If anyone can provide a court order to that effect, then they can get your credit report.
Credit scores are financial tools that determine your creditworthiness. When you have good credit, you can use it to your advantage. However, poor credit can bar you from obtaining a home, an education, and more. Additionally, a credit report tracks your transactions over time. You can use it to monitor for suspicious activities on your accounts.
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