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Where do you score?

Check your credit score before you apply for new credit to gauge where you stand. Your credit score directly impacts interest rates. Determine first whether you need to improve your score before turning in that application. You can save thousands of dollars if your score is in good shape before you apply.

To check your credit score, go to the individual credit bureau websites at the links below. You will be required to pay a small fee for the credit score, usually around $5 to $10. You can also order your score with your free credit report, but you will have to pay.

Be wary of offers for a free credit score from for-profit companies that automatically enroll you for a 30-day trial membership of their credit monitoring program or some other product. Before you accept their offer, decide whether you will remember to track the trial period. If you don't cancel within 30 days, you will be charged a monthly fee for services you may not need.


How is my score determined?

35 percent: Payment history

Pay your bills on time!

30 percent: Amounts you owe

Keep those balances paid down!

15 percent: Length of credit history

Good habits established early will be reflected here.

10 percent: New credit

Apply only when you need more credit.

10 percent: Types of credit

Establish a variety of accounts: installment (loans), revolving (credit cards), secured (mortgages), and other credit (department stores, gasoline company).


What does my score mean?

Scores range from about 350-850 points. The higher your score, the better. The majority of scores are in the 600-700 range. Scores of 700 and above are considered "prime" and can get you much better interest rates on loans. Having a score below 700 does not mean you will be denied credit, but you'll pay more for it.

Don't expect your score to be very high right away. You are just starting to build a credit history and the score is a snapshot in time, always fluctuating. Your score could change completely in three months, depending on your financial activity. Also, scores can differ from bureau to bureau, but the difference won't be more than a few points assuming all the information on all three is accurate.

At CardRatings.com, a generic representation is available that shows how credit scores are measured. Remember, lenders may have their own scoring criteria and requirements. Even though you have a good credit score, you can still be denied credit based on the lenders discretion.

Credit score rating example:

720 - 850
Excellent
690 - 720
Good
650 - 690
Fair
350 - 650
Poor
000 - 349
No Credit