Living with credit

Young man seeking a good score

Tyler Metzger

Well, it finally happened. We met. I doubted you at first; I think that is why it took me almost 24 years to meet you. I thought you would be deceptive. I thought you would lie to me. But I was wrong, and I’m happy we briefly met.  I’m happy I finally met my credit score.

A calculated journey
My rendezvous with my first credit score was a long time coming. Although I’ve had a credit card for more than seven years, I honestly never thought about checking my credit status. It just never crossed my mind, and I’m not alone. According to a 2008 study by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, about one-third of adults admit to never checking their credit score. Seems like I’m not the only one who treats their credit score like an ugly date.

It’s not that I didn’t want to meet my credit score face to face; I just thought it would come with a lot of baggage. You know, like hidden fees and junk mail and sad, rainy nights on the phone with customer service. That scared me, and — like 71 percent of Americans thought in a 2007 study — I didn’t know I could get it free. However, my biggest reservation about getting my first credit score was a fear of being ripped off. For me, the words credit, loan, cash advance and even mortgage conjured images of scheming, greasy car salesmen. I didn’t want to get my heart broken, especially on the Internet, where things aren’t always as they seem. But reluctantly, I made the jump to shed my credit score virginity.

Bam. Wow, that was fast. It was all over in only about 20 minutes. I was directed to one of the three major credit bureaus, gave them my financial vitals, skimmed the small type and was ready to view my score in no time.

The walls come down
And there it finally was — my credit score. Wow, it was so big. But why? Yes, I have had a credit card for about seven years, but my parents gave it to me in high school for emergency use only. I rarely used it. It basically just sat in my wallet. I’ve only had a credit card in my name for four months, so why did I have such a beautiful score? Where was it hiding all these years? You have to have years of debt paid off to reach this type of financial echelon, right?

Nope. A concept called piggybacking, which allows an authorized user to benefit from their parent’s or spouse’s exceptional credit, granted me that score. So ever since my parents provided me access to their credit card as an authorized user, I have been building my credit score. Some organizations, including Fair Isaac Corp., the creators of the FICO credit score, had tried to stop this practice. They say it is being exploited and makes the playing field uneven. But parents see this practice as a way to help their children start off on the right foot. I totally agree.

Newbie advice
My credit score and I are barely friends, but here are some things I know now.

  • Be careful. Know the service you are requesting before hitting the submit button. If you are asked to enter any sensitive information, understand the reason behind it.
  • Make sure the Web site is secure. You’ll know if it is safe if the URL begins with https, or if a padlock appears in the bottom of your browser window.
  • Every consumer is entitled to an annual, free credit report. Don’t be scammed into paying for one.
  • Sign up and cancel the service as soon as you’re done. Many companies offer trail periods for other credit-related services because their studies show people forget to cancel. Don’t be suckered.
  • A credit score and a credit report are different. A credit score is a three-digit number that lenders use to rate your financial reliability. That number is derived from your credit report, which describes any open accounts, credit history and payment behavior. They sometimes can be confusing due to their length, so read them carefully. Some Web sites only offer one of these.
  • Get your score now. It’s free, takes about 20 minutes and can save you a ton of money.

If your score doesn’t look right or there is false information in the report, contact the credit bureau immediately to resolve any issues. Failure to do so might hurt your chances of receiving a loan or getting the lowest possible interest rates.

Share your experience
Have you recently had your first experience with a credit score or report? Love it or hate it, please comment about the relationship below.

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  • julie

    Glad we could be of assistance son! Enjoyed your article.

  • Remember that credit can be a useful tool, but it can also get you in trouble. After you build credit, you may be inundated with offers. Banks, credit card companies, and others will want to loan you money because they’ll know you’re a good borrower. Don’t take them up on every offer — only borrow money when it truly benefits you.
    After you build credit, you need to continually monitor it. The US Government requires the credit bureaus to provide a free credit report to you annually, and you should take advantage of that right.