You may have heard the term “credit” but are unsure exactly what it means or represents. In a financial sense, your credit determines your trustworthiness in repaying a debt. Several related terms, including credit history, credit report, and credit score, all detailed below, help define your credit. Your credit plays a significant part in your eligibility to borrow loans to pay for higher education and your future financial opportunities, including home and car purchases and education debt refinancing.

Credit History

Your credit history is a summary of your past financial transactions. It includes a complete list of credit cards and loans in your name, with information about each account, including the date it was opened, credit limit, and payment history.

Credit Report

Your credit report is a written account of your credit history, and therefore provides insight into how well you manage your money and pay back debts. Credit reports are maintained by these three credit reporting agencies, who collect your financial data from different lending entities, including backs, credit card companies, and collection agencies:

When you apply for a private loan, the bank or lender will reference your credit report and make the decision of whether or not to grant you the loan based on the strength of your credit report. If you have trouble paying back debts, you may not be approved for a loan.

We encourage you to request a copy of your credit report and to review it for accuracy. If any data on your credit report is incorrect, work directly with the credit reporting agency to update the information. All individuals are permitted to request a free credit report once a year from each of the three main credit reporting agencies on AnnualCreditReport.com. For more information about credit reports, visit the Federal Trade Commission site here.

Credit Score

Your credit score is a calculated number based on the information in your credit report, and is intended to summarize your credit history. Lenders use credit scores as an indication of how likely you are to pay back a new debt based on prior borrowing behavior, and use it make lending decisions on loan applications.

Each of the main credit reporting agencies above calculates a credit score based on its own model. This means that you can have several different credit scores, depending on the credit reporting agency calculating each score. A separate company, Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO), has created its own credit score, the FICO score, which is the most common credit score used by lenders to evaluate credit history. FICO uses five different data points to calculate their score, with different emphasis on each category.

The different credit score calculations fall within varying ranges, though the majority of credit scores extend from roughly 300 to 850. Though credit scores are traditionally only available for a fee, some credit card companies associated with bigger banks have begun providing credit scores to their own customers free of charge. In addition, some websites, including myBankRate and Credit Karma, provide free credit scores to everyone willing to submit select personal information.

Not only can your credit score determine if you qualify for a new loan, it can also determine what rate you receive. For this reason it’s very important to be aware of your credit score, along with the details of your credit report, and to make sure there is nothing that is being reported incorrectly that could affect your score.

Understanding how a credit score is calculated is important to obtaining and keeping a high credit score. Here is some advice to help maintain a good credit score:

  • Pay your bills on time
  • Avoid credit card debt
  • Avoid using all available credit
  • Don’t apply for too much credit
  • Check your credit report at least once a year from each credit reporting agency