Everyone wants your number. Insurance companies, cell-phone providers, utility companies, and even landlords routinely solicit that three-digit score to find out if you’re financially responsible. Your FICO credit score can help them make that assessment, says John Ulzheimer, the president of consumer education at SmartCredit.com, a credit-monitoring site.
That FICO score, the number used by most lenders to determine your credit risk, is calculated by three national credit bureaus—Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax—that maintain your credit history. Scores range from 300 to 850, with a median of about 710, according to FICO, the company that developed credit scores.
If you don’t know your number, go to MyFico.com to request a copy (for a $20 fee). If it’s 760 or higher, relax. Most consumers in that range are generally considered reliable borrowers, says Ken Lin, the chief executive of CreditKarma.com, a free credit-management service. If your number is on the bubble or lower, you’ll need to take action. (And if you see a mistake in your report, like a supposedly missed payment that you actually made on time, contact the credit bureau and say, “I dispute the accuracy of this information, so please correct it,” suggests Ulzheimer. Then follow up with a letter requesting the same.)
Read on to learn about the moves that can wreak havoc on your score (plus a couple that won’t hurt it a bit). Although you can’t easily or quickly boost your credit score, avoiding these money-related behaviors will ultimately have a positive effect on it.