(WXYZ) - Ever wonder why your neighbor got a lower mortgage rate than you did? Or car ads promise zero percent interest, but you can't get it? In many cases, it’s because of your credit score, one of the most mysterious numbers in our lives.
John Puthoff thought he'd check his credit score before applying for a loan.
“Getting ready to buy a house, selling mine, and wanted to see where my score was at," Puthoff says.
But he was stunned: first, because the 3 credit bureaus all charge a fee, and second because they all have different scores.
"I got a score which was higher than the 850 which is the max, so i ended up confused."
Other consumers we spoke with agreed: it's confusing!
"It was easy to find it. As far as finding out why my score is what it is, that was difficult."
"I think they should make it easier to look up without difficulty."
Veteran credit counselor Mary Hurlbert says your FICO score is the most important one : it ranges from 300 to 850. Below 725, she says, you won’t get a zero percent car loan, or that low 4 percent home mortgage rate you see .
Credit Score Killers
But she says many people lower their score by making some simple mistakes. The top credit score killer: late bills, even just one late credit card payment.
"35% of your score is how you pay your bill,” Hurlbert says. So for Pete's sake, pay every single bill on time."
Another score killer: using more than one third of your available credit.
"If you have a credit card with a $6,000 limit, don't charge any more than $2,000 dollars."
But having too many cards will also hurt your score.
"Don't open a credit card every time you go shopping because you’re going to get 20% off. That's going to lower your score."
But the opposite is also true: canceling several cards at once hurts your score.
Finally, letting anything go to collections --even a disputed doctors bill --will kill your score.
"Just don't let it go to collections, period."
To check your credit score, go to http://myfico.com
While you have to pay for your credit score, you are entitled by law to a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting bureaus. You can get yours at www.annualcreditreport.com
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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