Are Americans Afraid of Their Credit Scores?

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Why are so many Americans burying their heads in the sand over their credit scores?

A report from the Consumer Federation of America shows Americans "know little" about them. (For more on the report, click here.)

According to the CFA:

  • 40% of consumers don't know credit card companies use credit scores to weigh credit approval, and 42% of consumers didn't know the same thing about mortgage lenders.
  • About 40% of consumers believe marriage and age are used in calculating credit scores.
  • Between 25% and 33% of consumers didn't know lenders were supposed to let them know what credit score was used in weighing a lending decision.

"Credit scores have become so influential in the lives of most consumers that tens of millions are severely disadvantaged by their lack of knowledge about these scores," says Stephen Brobeck, CFA's executive director.  "Low credit scores will often cost car buyers more than $5,000 in additional finance charges and cost home purchasers tens of thousands of dollars in additional mortgage loan costs. And low scores are likely to limit consumer access to, and increase the cost of, services such as cellphone service, electric service, and rental housing."

Now Lexington Law, a Salt Lake City credit repair firm, is looking to help financial consumers with some handy tips on better understanding credit — and credit scores.

"It's been easy for Americans to be in the dark about their credit scores because the credit scoring system itself can be confusing," says John Heath, directing attorney for Lexington Law. "That said, it is important not to remain in the dark about credit scoring. Americans can better prepare their financial future by educating themselves regarding credit scoring because credit scoring affects our financial relationships, our potential employment relationships and even how we are insured. The danger of remaining in the dark opens Americans up to the possibility of not getting that needed loan, that better job or an advantageous insurance rate."

Here is some advice from the firm on credit score management:

  • Don't bury your head in the sand just because something may be confusing. Credit is real and impacts everyone, whether you want to acknowledge it or not. It's critical to understand how it works and what you can do to protect yourself.

  • Ignorance leads to bad credit and bad credit costs you money. It's easy for credit to go downhill if you turn a blind eye to it. Bad credit often means living with high interest rates or the inability to get approved for credit altogether. Increased interest rates further inflate the cost of living, making even trivial purchases more difficult.
  • If your credit isn't great, know that you can and have the right to fix it. Consumers often feel like their credit isn't something they can control and that they're at the mercy of the credit bureaus. That's not the case. Every consumer has ownership of their credit and has the right to influence how their credit is represented,
  • Know your score. Many Americans do not know that there is a difference between the "educational scores" you can buy online from the three major credit bureaus and the FICO scores prepared by Fair Isaac that are provided to American creditors. This confusion has put Americans in a difficult position when applying for credit or a loan because while they may know what their individual "educational score" is, the educational score may be far different from the FICO score that the potential creditor or lender is relying on to determine their credit worthiness.

— By Brian O'Connell

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