Credit Reports, Scores & Cards

Credit reports contain the information that goes into the calculation of your credit score. Your credit score will determine what kind of interest rate and options you have for getting a credit card (and other things too, think: homes, cars, insurance, jobs, etc.). These three distinct, yet intertwined, subjects (credit reports, scores and cards) are the financial equivalent of following a nutritionally sound diet. Sure, you can survive on packaged, highly refined foods… but you won’t be living your best life. Same goes for your credit.. You can make it through life with cruddy credit, but it sure makes everything so much easier when your financial life is built upon healthy credit habits. The resources below will help you do this!

Free Credit Report (NOT Score)

The U.S. government has mandated that every citizen is entitled to a free copy of their credit report (not score) once a year from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and Transunion. Request these once a year and scan through for any mistakes (when tracking over 300 million people, you can imagine mistakes ARE made). If you find a mistake, report to that credit bureau (instructions are on their sites) and they will report to the other three. Sadly, there are a lot of imposter sites with similar sounding names which aim to subtly – in the very fine print – sign you up for unnecessary monthly credit activity monitoring. So only use the official site: AnnualCreditReport.Gov.

Credit Scores

Your credit score is a 3-digit number ranging from 300 to 850 that measures how good you are at managing your credit (a higher number is better). Credit scores are key because they can determine key things like whether a landlord will rent to you, or what kind of interest rate you’ll get on a car loan. It used to be that the only place you could get your credit score was to purchase it directly from MyFico.com. You can still do that and it can be a great option if you need very frequent monitoring as you work to improve your score. However, if you just want a periodic quick check, many banks and credit card companies are providing free access to your credit scores as measured by one of the three credit bureaus. So don’t forget to ask your existing financial institution to see if you have this option!

Credit Card Pay-down Calculators

You can use these to play with all sorts of variables. For example, if you add an extra $100 to your minimum monthly payment: how much faster will your debt be paid down? Or if you negotiate your credit card interest rate down from 22% to 16%, how much in interest will you save over time if you can only make the minimum monthly payment?There are many websites that provide these calculators. I like the ones at Dinkytown.

Credit Card Selection Search Tools

If you are looking to find the credit card that best meets your needs (for example, no annual fee & cash back or airline miles)I like this search tool from Bankrate.

Identity Theft Insurance

These days there are all sorts of ways hackers try to get our data. As their methods become more sophisticated it can help bring you peace of mind to put some simple roadblocks in place. Enter Identity Theft insurance companies. More and more are popping up all the time. The one I personally use is called Norton LifeLock. It provides a single portal from which I can access my credit reports, my credit scores, put freezes on my credit, bank accounts and utilities (to keep identity thieves from opening any of those types of accounts in my name). And if the worst happens and your identity is stolen, the insurance part of the program kicks in and they will help you with the logistics of restoring your identity.