I have a confession. I’ve worked in financial services for the past four years, but I haven’t checked my credit score in over a decade.
I’ve been a member of Hanscom FCU that entire time, but it wasn’t until I started working here this summer that I realized how risky it was to be in the dark about my score. I checked it once when I was about 20, and have basically just closed my eyes and hoped things worked out.
I finally decided to undergo Hanscom FCU's free credit report and score review recently to make up for lost time. I sat down with Carol Johnson, the branch manager of our main office, and we went over all of the credit information contained in my report.
How to get a free credit score review
To kick off the process, all a member has to do is stop by a branch or fill out this form on the Hanscom FCU website. From there, one of our representatives will reach out to you to get your approval to pull your credit.
Next, they'll schedule a time for you to come by a branch to review it in person or go over it with you over the phone. Meanwhile, your representative will pull your credit report and review it to take note of any important factors they'll discuss with you at your meeting.
What did I learn about my credit?
1. I lucked out. I was playing a dangerous game by not knowing the contents of my credit report. I could have had fraudulent activity on it, especially in the wake of the Equifax data breach. I never checked to see if I was one of the millions affected and never bothered to freeze my credit. I left the door open and thieves could have walked right in.
2. My score. The last time I pulled my credit report was before I had any lines of credit open, so I had no idea what my credit score was. I only knew that it couldn’t be that bad because my husband and I bought a home last year, and we managed to get a good rate on our mortgage. It turns out that my credit score is actually over 800 – I gave myself an internal pat on the back for doing something right!
3. What makes up my credit score calculation. Before my credit report and score review, I didn’t know anything about how credit reports are calculated. Sitting down with Carol was great because she not only explained all five pieces of the credit report pie, but color coded each part of my report to match the diagram and showed me how much some of the factors weighed into my score.
4. Ways to improve my credit score. My score is already quite high, but there were still steps I learned I could take to bump it up more.
I have one credit card with a pretty low limit of $1,500 and a pretty high interest rate of 14.49%, especially for someone with excellent credit. Carol suggested that I look into increasing that limit, and that my interest rate should drop at the same time to 7.49% since they could base it off of my actual credit score this time.
I’m definitely doing this, because “credit utilization," or the percentage of available credit that you’ve used, makes up 30% of your credit score. Increasing your available credit (but not increasing your spending!) can improve a large chunk of your credit score.
5. It wasn’t scary! In fact, I now know that not knowing is far scarier. What you don’t know about your credit report can in fact hurt you. At worst, you could be the victim of fraud, and at best, you could be missing out on prime score-improving time. Especially considering the third largest piece of the credit score pie is the length of time you’ve had credit, starting a line of credit early and treating it right can be a boon to your credit score calculation.
My biggest regret is not checking my score sooner. I don’t know what my credit score was before my mortgage, but there likely was room for improvement that I could have taken action before then. Had I gotten my credit score a bit higher before the mortgage, I might have gotten a better rate. The same holds true for the car loan I took out the year before that. How much potential did I waste (and money did I lose) by not just checking my credit score every few years?
I’ve been very fortunate and I’ve had some help along the way, but despite common belief, it isn’t impossible for a millennial to have a great credit score. Credit unions are often willing to help you out even if your score isn’t great, or if you don't have one at all. At the very least, there are many free tools available to credit union members to learn about and improve your credit sore, if you just take them.
A free credit report and score review is the first step to getting a handle on your financial future. Stop by a branch or sign up online today!
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