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Understanding your credit score

Why is a credit score important and how can I improve mine?

You’ve probably heard the term "credit score." It can sound kind of scary - this mysterious number floating around when we apply for loans and credit cards. But don’t worry, with a little know-how, we can make it less intimidating. Let’s dive into the basics.

What is a credit score?

Our credit score shows how we’ve handled loans in the past and how we’re managing them now. It’s a number lenders will look at when we apply for a loan for a house or car, or just a new credit card.

Credit scores are calculated by the three national credit bureaus – Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. The score is rated on a scale from 300-850. Anything below 579 is considered to be poor, while a score above 670 is good, and anything higher than 800 is exceptional, according to Experian.

Why does it matter?

Generally speaking, the higher the credit score, the better the chance of being approved for a loan. But a higher credit score could mean better terms on loans we get in the future, like lower rates or loan fees. That means we could potentially pay less interest on our car loan or mortgage.

A high credit score goes beyond borrowing, too. In many states, employers are allowed to check your credit score when considering you for a job. And companies whose services you probably use often, like cell service providers, insurers and utility companies, could even charge you higher fees and rates if you have a low credit score. So do your future self a favor and keep that credit score high!

What makes up my credit score?

It’s no secret what credit bureaus will examine when calculating your credit score. Here’s a look at some of the things they’ll take into account:

  • If you’ve paid your bills on time in the past
  • How much debt you have and what kind
  • How much you owe on things like a credit card, compared to its limit
  • How long you’ve had that credit card and other loans
  • How long you’ve been a good borrower
  • The number of times a lender has checked your score, like when you apply for a loan or credit card

How can I increase my score?

There are some simple steps we can take to improve our credit score. Follow these tips and you’ll be in a position to see your score rise.

  • Pay on time - Payment history makes up almost half of our credit score. Late payments and collection notices can really pull our score down.
  • Keep low balances - As a general rule, try not to use more than 30% of the credit that’s available to you.
  • Check for mistakes - Read through your credit score every month, checking for mistakes on the report that should be corrected.
  • Don’t collect cards - Opening new cards just to up the available credit you have can hurt you.
  • Don’t ditch the card - Closing a card you don’t use often will reduce your credit and potentially hurt your score, too.
  • Mix it up - Make sure you have a variety of credit, not just credit cards. A home, car or personal loan looks good on your report, too.

To help keep these tips in mind, you can keep our credit score graphic handy, too. And for some more information on credit scores and how to be a smart borrower, give our Borrowing Like a Boss ebook a read.

You can also check on your credit score with these Credit Bureaus:

P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, Georgia 30374
For disputes:

P.O. Box 9532
Allen, Texas 75013

P.O. Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92834

This one is not a bureau, but a service you can use to request your report - at no charge - on an annual basis:

Annual Credit Report Request Service
PO Box 105281
Atlanta GA 30348-5281

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