Why your friend has a better credit score than you

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Tia Chambers first checked her credit score when she was 23, after seeing a friend check hers, she says.

“I said, ‘Oh my gosh my credit score must be better than this,’” says Chambers, now 31, who recounted her experience on her website, Financially Fit and Fabulous. To his surprise, it was worse. “My credit score was much lower than I expected. It was actually somewhere between 500 and 500.”

She felt deflated. “I was like, ‘Dude, I pay my bills on time. Why isn’t my credit rating better?'”

If you are new to credit, you might be wondering the same. Why is your credit score poor compared to your friend’s, even though you checked it on the same website, using the same scoring model?

“For someone with a low credit score, there is always – and I mean always – a logical explanation as to why this score is as it is,” says John Ulzheimer, a credit expert. who previously worked for the credit rating company FICO and credit bureau Equifax. “It’s never random. It’s never anecdotal.”

These factors may work more in your friend’s favor than in your favor:

CONSISTENT RECORDING OF ON-TIME PAYMENTS

You and your friend may be used to paying your bills on time, but even a single forgotten payment can lower your credit score.

This is part of what happened to Chambers, Indianapolis. When she checked her credit report, she says, she discovered an unpaid medical bill left behind in collections. She paid it off, negotiated to have the collection account removed from her credit report, and noticed a slight increase in her score afterward, she says.

Payment history is a key factor for FICO and VantageScore Solutions, the two largest credit rating companies in the United States. It represents 35% of your FICO score, and VantageScore rates it as “extremely influential”. Payments over 30 days late are reported to the credit bureaus and, like other negative scores, can stay on your credit report for up to seven years.

“(A negative rating) is much easier to avoid in the first place, rather than trying to take it off after it’s already happened,” says Ulzheimer. If you are negotiating with a collection agency to remove a collection account from your credit report, get that promise in writing.

LESS DEBT

If you never talk to your friends about money, you might not realize that their financial situation is different from yours. Becky with a good credit score might have less debt than you.

Using a smaller percentage of your available credit card limit and paying off student loans can increase your credit. The amount you owe is 30% of your FICO score. For VantageScore, the percentage of credit used is a “very influential” factor, and total debt is “moderately influential”.

Chambers says she took a second job and cut expenses to pay off her high credit card balance and the thousands of dollars owed to her college.

“I saw an improvement of at least 100 points by the time I paid off this debt,” she says.

LONGER CREDIT HISTORY OR VARIED ACCOUNT MIX

Your age, gender, sexual orientation, race, location, religion, and political opinions do not affect your credit score. Having a high income won’t lower your score either.

So what else matters? The length of your credit history, to begin with. This represents 15% of your FICO score and is “very influential” for VantageScore. Your friend may have started using credit earlier than you.

Applying for new accounts can also damage your credit, but usually not so much. Maintaining a combination of accounts – for example, having both loans and credit cards – can help.

STEPS TO IMPROVE YOUR CREDIT

To see what is hurting your scores, retrieve your free credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com, a federally licensed website. Then do the following:

  • Dispute inaccuracies. Report errors on your credit reports to the corresponding credit bureaus.
  • Pay off the debt. In particular, reducing high balances on credit cards can dramatically increase credit.
  • Piggyback. If your parents have great credit, ask them to add you as an authorized user on a credit card.
  • Open a credit card and use it responsibly. Start with a student card or secure card, which requires cash collateral. Those under the age of 21 may need a co-signer.

Finally, don’t pay too much attention to what other people are doing. Credit scores vary because people’s financial paths vary. “Everyone’s journey is different,” says Chambers.

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This article was provided to The Associated Press by the NerdWallet personal finance website. Email Writer Claire Tsosie. Twitter: @ ideclaire7.

RELATED LINKS:
NerdWallet: Virtual people, real lessons: how card use affects credit score
NerdWallet: Add 100 points to your credit score
Financially fit and fabulous: How I increased my credit score by over 150 points


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