When you apply for a loan, lenders assess your credit risk based on a number of factors. Your credit score, as well as the information on your credit report, are key ingredients in determining whether you’ll be able to get financing and the rate you’ll pay. To get approved for a loan and to pay a lower interest rate it’s important that your credit report reflects that you’re a responsible borrower who pays their debts on time with a low risk of defaulting.
Credit Report vs. Credit Score
To start with, it’s important to understand that your credit report and your credit score are two separate things.
Credit Report – Your credit report contains information detailing your credit history. Sources include lenders, utility companies and landlords. This information is compiled by one of two major credit-reporting agencies (Equifax and TransUnion) that try to create an accurate picture of your financial history. Credit files include information such as:
• Name, address and social insurance number
• Types of credit you use
• When you opened a loan or line of credit
• The balances and available credit on your credit cards and other lines of credit
• Information about whether you pay your bills on time
• Information about any accounts passed to a collection’s agency
• How much new credit you’ve opened recently
• Records related to bankruptcy, tax liens or court judgments
Errors on your credit report can reduce your score artificially. In fact, 1 in 4 consumers have damaging credit report errors. Therefore, it’s important to stay up-to-date on your credit report history. If there is an error, you should dispute it and get it removed as soon as possible. Last year, 4 out of 5 consumers who filed a dispute got their credit report modified, according to a U.S. study by the Federal Trade Commission.
Credit Score – Your credit score is the actual numeric value extrapolated from the information in your credit report. A credit-reporting bureau applies a complex mathematical algorithm to the information in your credit file to create your numerical credit score.
Beacon is the most widely known credit scoring formula in Canada and is used by many creditors. Your FICO score can range from 300 to 850, with under 400 being very low and 700+ putting you in the healthy range. Your credit score is meant to give potential lenders an idea of how big of a financial risk you are. The higher your score, the less likely you are to default or make late payments and the more likely you are to be approved for financing.
Your score is based most strongly on three factors: your payment history (35% of your score), the amounts owed on credit cards and other debt (30%) and how long you’ve had credit (15%).
What Are They Used For?
Lenders glance at your credit score to determine your credit risk. Most traditional lenders have pre-set standards. If your credit score is within a certain range, they’ll offer you certain credit terms. If you don’t fall within their approved range, then you may be denied. Most banking institutions will only approve a loan if the client has a credit score of at least 640. A score of 700, however, gives you a much better chance at gaining approval at most lending institutions and at reasonable rates.
As far as interest rates are concerned, banks use an array of factors to set them. The truth is they are looking to maximize profits for themselves and shareholders. On the other hand, consumers and businesses seek the lowest rate possible. A commonsense approach for getting a good rate would be having the highest credit score possible.
It’s important to note that if you apply for a loan, the lender will most likely pull your credit score through what is commonly called a “hard inquiry” on your credit, which slightly lowers your credit score. Therefore, it’s important to know your credit score ahead of time, fix any errors, and apply for loans which you have a good chance of being approved for.
Things You Can Do to Improve Your Credit Score
1. Check your credit report for errors – While the credit agencies do their best to keep your record free of errors, they can make mistakes. It’s important to check your credit report at least once a year — consumers are entitled to one free credit report every 12 months — to ensure all of the information is correct. Each agency may have slightly different information and, consequently, may have errors another credit report doesn’t.
2. Set up payment reminders – Making credit payments on time is one of the biggest contributing factors of your credit score. It may be helpful to set up automatic payments through credit card or loan providers so you don’t forget to pay when payment is due.
3. Reduce the amount of debt you owe – Stop using your credit cards. Use your credit report to make a list of all your accounts and check recent statements to determine how much you owe on each account and what interest rate they’re charging you. Then create a payment plan to lower or eliminate the debt you still owe.