Busting the Top 10 Myths About Credit Scores

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Bills.com tackles the truth about credit scores and credit reports to help consumers manage money

With many Americans considering a home purchase or refinance, seeking a new job, purchasing a new car, or striving to pay off credit card debt, 2009 might be the year of the credit score, said Bills.com president Ethan Ewing, who seeks to debunk the top 10 myths about credit scores.

"Many Americans hold mistaken beliefs about credit scores," cautioned Ewing, who heads the free online consumer portal at Bills.com. "Misinformation on television and in hearsay from friends and neighbors only compounds the problem."

Ewing cited the following 10 commonly held myths about credit scores -- and the corresponding truth.

Myth #1: A credit score is a credit report. The credit report is a detailed listing of all debts and payments, going back throughout an individual's entire payment history, Ewing explained. For each entry, it shows the creditor's name, amount owed, the highest balance owed, the available credit, whether the account is open or closed (and who closed it), the number of late payments and whether the account is in default. A credit score is a number between 300 and 850 that is based on complex formulas incorporating all the data in the credit report.

Myth #2: Those who are not in default do not need to check their credit report. Everyone should check his or her credit report at least once a year (quarterly is not a bad idea in today's market) to be sure the report contains no erroneous information. Visit http://www.annualcreditreport.com for a free, no-obligation copy of the report.

Myth #3: Checking a credit report damages credit. "Reviewing your own credit information has no effect on a credit score," Ewing said. "Neither does a credit report review by a prospective landlord or employer."

Myth #4: Everyone has one credit score. In fact, the data compiled by three different credit scoring agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) form the basis for three different credit score calculations. The resulting scores might vary slightly among the three agencies if they have slightly different information, but they will be similar.

Myth #5: Married couples share a credit score. If all of a couple's accounts are joint, their scores will likely be similar, but each individual maintains a unique credit record and credit score. On the flip side, after a divorce, ex-spouses need to follow protocol to have creditors remove either party from a joint account.

Myth #6: Shopping for a loan destroys credit. It is true that "hard inquiries" -- examinations of a credit score in preparation for extending credit -- can have a small negative impact on credit. However, credit bureaus take into account that consumers might inquire about a loan from multiple mortgage companies or auto lenders. "If multiple inquiries are received from the same type of lender within a 14-day period, the credit scoring companies do not count each inquiry against the borrower," Ewing explained. "But note that credit card account inquiries to open new accounts are counted individually."

Myth #7: To improve a score, close unused accounts. An important component of a credit score is available credit, or the unused credit that has been offered (on a credit card, for instance) but not used. Closing unused cards removes those available balances from the equation and can actually lower a credit score. Today, some banks are automatically lowering limits or closing accounts to reduce their own credit exposure. Individuals whose debt load is manageable should not experience an extreme effect on their scores.

Myth #8: To boost credit fast, just pay off bills. Credit scores reflect performance over time. Scores will not change overnight.

Myth #9: For a fee, vendors can fix a bad score. Again, credit scores show historic behavior. Be cautious about companies that claim to "fix" or "repair" credit. "You yourself can remove inaccurate information," Ewing said. "Beyond that, be aware that some companies send credit scorers a deluge of letters asking that they verify -- and in the process, remove -- all past negative information. If and when truthful information is verified, however, it will quickly return to the credit report."

Myth #10: Never get help -- it is too hard on credit. It is true that credit counseling, debt settlement and bankruptcy all can cause significant black marks on a credit report. "If you are in real trouble, however, you can and should seek help," Ewing urged. "Which option you choose will depend on the severity of your situation. Credit counseling can help to manage bills, and lower interest rates and monthly payments to creditors. Debt settlement firms can negotiate to lower the principal amount of your debts, typically providing a faster path to debt freedom than credit counseling. Bankruptcy, an even more serious alternative, should be discussed with a bankruptcy attorney."

"Credit is important, but knowing the truth about credit might be even more important," Ewing concluded. "Before taking action that might hurt or help your score, check your facts to be sure your actions will help your financial picture."

About Bills.com (http://www.bills.com)
Based in San Mateo, Calif., Bills.com (http://www.bills.com) is a free one-stop portal where consumers can educate themselves about complex personal finance issues and comparison shop for products and services including credit cards, debt relief assistance, insurance, mortgages and other loans. Bills.com holds the No. 257 spot on the Inc. 500 list for 2008, and the No. 3 spot on Entrepreneur Magazine's Hot 100 list of the fastest-growing U.S. companies.

Bills.com and its sister companies, Freedom Debt Relief and Freedom Tax Relief, are wholly owned subsidiaries of Freedom Financial Network, LLC. In its debt settlement services, the company has served more than 50,000 customers nationwide since 2002 while managing more than $1 billion in consumer debt. Its RSS feed is available at http://www.bills.com/news_releases/.

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Aimee Bennett

Ethan Ewing
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