CreditKarma.com (free), or paying a credit reporting agency like Equifax or TransUnion we can monitor our credit rating while we utilize ways to continually improve the credit score.
Most lenders, (probably 90% of them), will rely on a FICO score, which is a combination of scores from the major credit reporting agencies. There are 2 major factors that can affect your FICO score either negatively or positively.
The percentage of available credit and your on time payment history are the most important factors affecting your credit score. If you have a credit card with a credit line of $10,000 (revolving credit), your ranked according to the percentage of that available credit that you're actually using. To put this in context, if you have a $10,000 credit line and you're using $5,001 of it you'll have a "poor" rating. And if you have a balance of $3,000 your rating is only "fair". Using less than 10% of available credit is considered "excellent".
The type of credit matters also. An excellent payment history at a retail outlet like Sears or Macy's is not nearly as important as it is with Master Card, Visa or American Express. Also be aware that as you pay down your credit cards it's not uncommon for some companies to reduce your credit line. The result is that even though you pay down your balance, your credit utilization percentage fails to improve. In that case it may be smarter to pay down those accounts that leave your credit line in place rather than those that don't. It may also be wise to keep an account with zero, or close to zero balance open. Husbands and wives with joint accounts can benefit by paying those accounts down as both will see improvements in their individual credit scores.
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