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Credit scores: What you need to know

FRANKLIN LIVING—First things first: credit scores and credit reports are two different things.

I think the onslaught of media advertising “Get your free credit score now” has comingled the two terms for many folks. That said, let’s break down the basics.

Your credit report has information about your credit activity, current credit situation and historical credit information. It has all the information on your loan paying history and status of your credit accounts. It also includes other information reported to the credit bureaus, such as current and former addresses, your employer, inquiries, collection records and public records.

There are three credit reporting agencies, or credit bureaus, in the United States: Experian, Equifax and Transunion. Each reporting agency compiles your credit information from various reporting sources, like banks and credit cards, into a credit report.

Your credit report does not include information about your marital status, income, bank account balance or level of education. Your credit report could, however, include your spouse’s name if it is reported by a creditor.

Now let’s talk credit score. Your credit score is a three-digit number calculated based on what is on an individual’s credit report – basically, summing up your history of borrowing and paying back money.

Your credit score is based on five primary factors:

  • Payment history – This is a big one! It takes into account whether you paid your bills on time.
  • Credit Utilization – This is how much debt you have.
  • Length of Credit History – The longer you’ve had credit, the better.
  • Types of Credit – You want a healthy mix of accounts.
  • History of Searching for Credit – Excessively shopping for credit can impact your score negatively.

Your credit score is also affected by accounts you have jointly, but there are not joint credit scores. If you co-sign for anyone on a loan or credit card, it reports on both of you – regardless of who is actually responsible for the debt. Having this joint debt will also affect your debt-to-income ratio when you go to apply for a loan. Be sure to keep that in mind before you sign with anyone; you are both equally liable for the debt.

Monitoring your credit report and your credit score is essential for detecting identity theft and fraud. Knowing what should and shouldn’t be there can help you spot signs sooner and take action if something fraudulent happens. Learning more about the basics of your credit report and credit score helps you keep control of your financial situation.

Emily Mays is vice president/senior marketing director at Community Spirit Bank in Red Bay, working in finance for 13 years. She is an enthusiastic social media marketer, financial literacy advocate and go local supporter. She lives in East Franklin and has one daughter, Lola, 11.