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April is Financial Literacy Month— What is a credit score? And more.

Tina Dahmer | NeighborGood Partners Self-Help Housing Specialist

 

National Financial Literacy Month is celebrated in April, which is a great opportunity to reflect upon your financial journey.


Let's first start with understanding the credit score. A credit score is a three-digit number, but do you know what it means?

Woman touching a credit scale.

Credit scores range from 300 to 850. The scoring is like a grading system for risk that lenders and even landlords use as a quick and easy way of determining the probability of you paying your debts. Knowing your credit score is the first step to improving your credit which can give you the buying power needed for home and automobile ownership.

Some employers are also now reviewing credit scores before hiring. The average score among Americans is around 714. If you don’t have a credit score you are “credit invisible”.Here’s a breakdown of the ranges of FICO scores and what each range means about your credit.


300-579: “Very Poor” Credit

If you’re in this score range, you may have declared bankruptcy in the past seven to 10 years. Lenders may not approve you for credit, and if they do, they might require you to pay a deposit upfront for what’s known as a secured credit card. It’s a difficult category to get out of but given enough time and dedication to paying your bills on time every month, you should be able to move out of this range.


580-669: “Fair” Credit

If you’re in this range, you might have difficulty getting loans for store credit products, but you’ll likely be able to apply for credit with banks, though at a higher interest rate. In this score range, you’ve probably had too many late payments in the recent past. Keep in mind that you might also be in this range because you’re a “new credit customer” and have a limited credit history.


670-739: “Good” Credit

This is where most people are. If you’re here, you’ve only very rarely paid your bills late and have demonstrated you can handle the responsibility of a higher amount of debt, meaning you’ll be a good candidate for more credit in the future.


740-799: “Very Good” Credit

If you’re in this range, you probably have paid your bills on time for several years. You might have many types of different credit already, including a car loan, personal loan, student loan or home loan, giving you a diverse credit mix.


800-850: “Exceptional” Credit

This is considered an “A+” credit score. Only around 15% of people have a score this high. If you’re in this range, you have over $10,000 of unused credit and a spotless payment history. This takes a few years to obtain but it is doable.


Why Does Your Credit Score Matter?

The benefit of higher scores is not just about being approved for a loan. Higher scores can actually save you money. When a borrower has lower scores, lenders typically charge higher interest rates. Higher scores over 670 are more likely to be offered additional/expanded credit, giving access to more borrowing power – like an auto loan or a mortgage. Depending on the state you live in, a higher credit score can even offer lower car insurance rates and a better likelihood of cell phone plan approvals.


How Can You Improve Your Credit Scores?


1. Start Secured

The best place to start is to commit to paying your bills on time every month. Below are a few tips and tricks that could bump up your scores. If your credit is low enough that you’re having trouble getting a credit card, it’s worth looking into a secured credit card.


This requires you to pay a deposit as “collateral” for the loan, which may be a hassle, but it can show your lender how committed you are to improving your credit. After using the secured card responsibly for a specified period, most lenders will offer a regular credit card and refund you your deposit.


2. Avoid Your Limits

You may see your credit limit as a “ceiling” for how much money you can spend, but that’s not a great way of looking at it. Since credit utilization is such an important aspect of your credit score, you should stick to a personal limit of 30% of your credit limit.


3. Don’t Close Your Accounts

If you have a revolving line of credit or a credit card that you’ve paid off entirely, you may be tempted to close it. Unless there are substantial fees involved in keeping them open, though, you may want to use them as a safety net. This will also add to your unused credit amount, which can improve your score.


4. Know Your Score

By keeping informed of your credit score — and getting your free credit report — you’ll know what you need to change about your credit usage to improve your standing.


Where to Get Your Online Credit Scores

Banks and credit card companies are increasingly sharing credit scores as a service to their clients, and you can receive a free copy of your credit report from each bureau every week through the end of 2023 at AnnualCreditReport.com.

It may seem a bit daunting/intimidating at first, but if you get into the habit of knowing each month how your credit scores look you will never be surprised by a denial of credit. Regular reviews will enable you to be proactive at making whatever financial adjustments you need to improve your scores.

 

Consumer Services

Want to learn more and start building your credit?

We have programs in place to help.


Introducing our newly revamped financial education workshop—LIFT: Learning and Investing for Tomorrow.

This full-day virtual workshop will cover topics about:

  • Goal setting

  • Budgeting

  • Banking

  • Savings

  • Credit

  • Building a financial plan

Join us for our upcoming session:

SATURDAY, APRIL 29, 2023 | 9AM-3PM




(More dates available, plus learn about our other Homeownership Orientations and Events.)


Plus, building credit while juggling life has just gotten easier for Delaware renters, too!


NeighborGood Partners along with Delaware State Housing Authority (DSHA) and Self recently launched the Delaware Tenant Rent Reporting Pilot Program. This program is designed to build participants' credit by reporting on-time rent and utility payments.

Visit Rent Reporting to learn more and see if you qualify.


LIFT Financial Workshop and Delaware Rent Reporting Pilot are just two of the Consumer Services we provide to jump start your success during April's Financial Literacy Month (and year round, too)!


Our mission is to strengthen communities through affordable housing, lending and financial education, which means we have the people in place to meet you where you are in your journey. Other services we provide include: Homeownership Education, Foreclosure Prevention, Stand By Me Financial Education, Real Estate & Community Development, Self-Help Housing, Restoring Central Dover, and the Launcher program.


We are good neighbors and good partners. We are here to help.

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