Knowing Your FICO Credit Score Is Half (But Only Half) The Battle
First, if you haven’t seen a copy of your free credit reports recently, you need to get them. There are three primary credit bureaus — Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax — and each keep their own records. Your score, and the information used to determine it, could be different for each of the three. By law, they’re obligated to give you one free copy of your credit report each year.
You can visit their websites individually or go to annualcreditreport.com to get your report.
What IS a FICO Score, Anyway?
There are other credit assessment schemes out there, but the score most often used is based on a scorecard of a number of factors developed by Fair Isaac Corporation and is called FICO. FICO scores range from 300-850 and are used to estimate a person’s credit risk. They take into account amounts owed, payment history, length of credit history, new credit, and types of credit in use. While there’s no official cutoff for a “high” or “low” score, scores in the 700 range and above can often help you qualify for lower interest rates. It’s best to discuss with your lender any FICO criteria they have regarding the loan program you’re interested in. One thing is certain, however, when it comes to FICO: the higher the better, so it’s in your best interest to improve yours as much as possible.
How to improve your FICO Score, Remember RACE
The place to start improving your FICO score is at the bureaus. And, since you probably want to improve your credit fast, remember the RACE strategy (Remove, Add, Correct, Explain) recommended by credit attorney Charles Price to help get you there.
Remove: Review all three of your credit bureau reports and note negative information. If it’s not accurate, you can request that the bureau substantiate the information — if they cannot, they must remove it from your file.
Add: Good information — new credit you’ve been granted that is being paid timely — should be added to your credit reports. If the bureaus don’t have this information, write them and ask that they add it.
Correct: Even accounts that are reported that are negative may be more negative than the facts warrant. If there are mistakes in negative information, such as the length of time an account was overdue, correct it.
Explain: If there is negative information that can’t be removed or corrected, you can add an explanation to the file. Perhaps you had a medical or family emergency, suffered the death of a spouse or lost your job unexpectedly through no fault of your own. Or maybe you became involved in a dispute with a retailer or creditor who reported you for not paying a disputed invoice. You have the right to place a Consumer Statement in your file explaining the circumstances. While this has no direct effect on your credit score, it may help with big-purchase financing such as refinancing a home mortgage.
Be Methodical and Don’t Give Up
Dealing with the credit bureaus can be maddening. Their internal processes are complex and — intentionally or not — getting through the bureaucratic quagmire won’t be quick or easy. This last point is crucial. The credit bureaus are bound by the provisions Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), but to get them to comply with the terms, you have to prove that you have disputed and corrected information in their file. To do that, you can’t use the online dispute process because it won’t give you proof that you submitted the information. Instead, you must correspond with the bureaus by certified mail.
The FCRA is on Your Side
The FCRA has specific time limits for the bureaus to respond to your request. Keep a log of when you sent the requests, as well as the date the bureau received them, and then follow up when the time limits have elapsed. Even if the information you’re disputing is true, if the bureau doesn’t verify it within the specified time frame, they must remove it. You may have to threaten suit to get that done, but that’s the law.