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Credit report myths and misconceptions

Published January 26. 2013 09:02AM

There are many myths going around about what hurts or improves someone's credit report / score.

We have all been overwhelmed with myths and theories regarding ways to improve your credit or even prevent it from getting worse.

Think of a credit report like a report card, as that it provides lenders an insight into how you use credit.

Simple habits, like paying debts on time and keeping debts low on credit accounts, will help you build a great credit history.

Here is a list of popular truths and myths concerning your credit score and credit report:

Checking your own credit score will hurt your credit score.

False. Reviewing your own credit report results will only be seen on a personal credit report and this has no impact on your scores. It is recommended that you check your reports at least once a year.

However, if you apply for credit, a lender will pull and review your credit report, adding a "hard inquiry" your report. Hard inquiries, which do affect credit scores, are shown to other lenders because they may show new debt that doesn't yet show on a credit report.

There is only one credit report / credit score.

False. The three national credit reporting agencies - Experian, Equifax and TransUnion - work together to develop VantageScoreR, a new generic credit score that uses the same formula for credit information of all three bureaus. A low generic rating doesn't always mean a "bad" credit rating. Keep in mind that there are numerous credit scoring models used by lenders. Different models have different score ranges. Generic scores may be used by various lenders and businesses to determine general credit risk. It all depends on the demanding factors of the lender.

Using your credit cards can help your credit score.

True. After all it is called a credit score, no cash score. Having credit accounts is an important factor in helping you establish and build credit. Using cash, checks or debit cards for everything isn't better than using credit, because you aren't building upon your credit references. A debit-only credit card does count as credit. A good habit to have is to use credit cards for purchases that you can pay in full each month. Also be sure that you make all loan and rent payments as agreed. Over time that positive history will produce the best scores and ensure that you are offered the best terms when you apply for new credit accounts or services, including cell phones and utilities.

Paying off all debt is the fastest way to improve credit.

False. Paying off all debts or closing accounts, despite being very satisfying, can hurt credit scores. One of the most important factors in credit scores is the financed proportion of total balances to the total credit limits. Paying off debts lowers that proportion, improving credit scores. Although, closing credit accounts will eliminate some of the available credit limits, making the balances appear to be higher compared to the overall limits. Experts say to stay below 10 percent of your total available credit at any given time. Don't be afraid of a credit line increase, even if you don't need it.

Credit is also determined on how much money or assets a person has.

False. Credit reports don't list bank account balances, investments or assets, so those numbers are unknown to creditors and don't impact credit scores. However a bank account can affect a credit score if a consumer bounces checks or does not pay the money back. If the balance owed to the bank gets turned over to a collection agency, that information will usually show up on a credit report.

Having an academic background or degree level can improve your credit score.

False. Education level doesn't have much bearing on credit scores. Your credit report only pertains to debt-related information. A higher educated person doesn't always have good credit. Remember that saying, "The more you make, the more you spend."

Poor credit will prevent you from getting hired.

Possibly. Federal law allows potential and current employers to view a modified version of a candidate's credit report for employment purposes, such as hiring or promoting. The decision to include a credit check is left up to the individual employer. In certain industries, i.e. financial institutions, knowing that a candidate has a sound credit history is usually an important part of the hiring and screening process. Credit reports used for employment purposes are reviewed manually and never scored. There is also a requirement to obtain written permission before accessing your credit report for this purpose. So, you will never be surprised and should be able to explain any issues reflected in your credit references.

- There are numerous Internet sites out there that offer free credit reporting information. It is recommended to go directly to www.annualcreditreport. com

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