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Do I Really Have Bad Credit?

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“Do I have bad credit?” The answer to this question can determine whether or not you will be approved for mortgages, auto loans or credit cards. It will also determine how much you will have to pay for those products if you are approved.

Different Types of Credit Scores

The traditional measure of your credit worthiness is a credit score. And the original credit score was FICO. This score is still used in nearly 90% of all lending decisions, and is particularly important in the mortgage market. It is fairly easy to get your FICO score for free. We tell you where you can find a free FICO score here.

FICO measures how successfully you have managed consumer debt in the past. The most important factor in the score is on-time payment history. The score also looks at how much debt you have (the less debt and the lower utilization the better) and how long you’ve had credit. In addition to missed payments, negative items like collections, judgements and foreclosures can have a big impact on your score. Based upon your behavior, you will receive a score between 300 – 850.

The three credit bureaus, tired of FICO’s monopoly, created VantageScore. It looks at many of the same attributes, and it uses the same scale. That is why it is often referred to as the FAKO. Most of the free credit score websites provide you with a VantageScore.

The scale on FICO and VantageScore is similar. You can see what those scores mean here:

  • Above 750: Excellent Credit
  • 680 – 749: Good Credit
  • 620 – 679: “Near Prime” or Acceptable Credit
  • 550 – 619: Sub-prime
  • Below 550: Bad Credit

With Excellent or Good credit, you will likely be approved for almost any credit product. Near-prime customers are seeing more options every day, as banks and finance companies expand their product offerings. Sub-prime borrowers will have fewer options available, and they will all be very expensive.

People with Bad Credit have a score below 550. If your score is this low, it will be very difficult to obtain any financial product. Your focus should be on improving your score, which we explain in our Debt Guide.

There is no difference between having no score and having a bad score. If you have no credit history, you should start building it with a secured credit card.

Is My Credit Score Enough?

Your credit score is a good indication of whether or not you will be approved, but it is not enough.

Credit card decisions are largely automated and score-driven. However, in addition to your credit score your debt burden is extremely important. Your credit score does not know how much money you make. $20,000 of debt can be a lot (if you make $40,000 a year), or not much at all (if you make $500,000 a year). Your debt burden looks at your monthly expenditure and compares it to your monthly income. Usually, only expenditures reported are the credit bureau are included. That means things like your mortgage, car payment, credit card payments and any other form of unsecured debt. If your debt burden is above 50%, you are typically considered a bad credit risk and would be declined by most lenders. Excellent Credit means a debt burden below 30%. And there are debates about everything in between.

In addition, most banks will look at how rapidly you have been building up debt. If you have been accumulating a lot of debt recently, the bank will likely consider you a high risk, and you will have fewer opportunities to borrow at a good interest rate.

For products like mortgages and auto loans, your down payment and income are also extremely important when the bank considers your level of risk. The lower the down payment, the higher the risk.

Especially for mortgages, you will probably have your income and employment verified. Banks like people with steady jobs and a long history of employment. If you have highly volatile income, you are considered riskier and may be rejected. Or, the bank may not consider all of your income, given its volatility.

So, What Is Bad Credit, Really?

When people talk about their “credit,” they are really talking about their likelihood of being accepted. To have bad credit means that you have a low chance of being approved. And here are the main reasons you find it impossible to get any form of credit approved:

  • Your score is below 550
  • Your debt burden is above 50%
  • You have no credit score
  • You have been building up a lot of debt recently
  • You are unemployed

The only way to improve your debt burden is to pay down your debt or increase your earnings. If you are starting from no credit score, you can build a good one very quickly. Improving a damaged score takes more time, but it can be done. In a worst case scenario, every negative item will disappear from your credit score in seven years. But most people, with focus, can have a dramatically better score in 12 to 18 months.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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The Best Options for Rebuilding Your Credit Score in 2020

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The Best Options for Rebuilding Your Credit Score

A strong credit score is a vital part of your overall financial health. But rebuilding a damaged (or non-existent) credit score can feel impossible. Don’t despair. There are plenty of avenues you can take in order to rehabilitate your credit score and it all begins with identifying your starting point.

How Bad is Your Bad Credit Score?

Before you start to panic about rehabilitating your bad credit score, let’s determine if it’s even bad. Where do you fall in the range of FICO® credit scores? Below you’ll find what your credit score is considered, with ranges from Experian.

  • Above 740: Excellent Credit
  • 670 – 739: Good Credit
  • 580 – 669: Fair Credit
  • Below 579: Bad Credit or No Credit Score/Thin File

Your credit score isn’t the only thing that will keep you from being approved for credit. These factors are common reasons for being declined.

  • Your debt-to-income ratio is above 50%
  • You have no credit score
  • You have been building up a lot of debt recently
  • You are unemployed

In order to focus on rehabilitating your credit score, you’ll need to start with getting a line of credit. This may sound impossible because you’re constantly getting declined. Fortunately, there are options tailored specifically for people looking to re-establish credit.

[Read more about bad credit scores here.]

Rehabilitating a Bad Credit Score (579 and under)

Get a Secured Card

You’ll use your own money as collateral by putting down a deposit, which is often about $150 – $250. Typically, the amount of your deposit will then be your credit limit. You should make one small purchase each month and then pay it off on time and in full. Once you prove you’re responsible, you may be able to get back your deposit and upgrade to a regular credit card.

Check out two of our favorite secured cards below, and more options for a secured credit card here.

The Discover it® Secured

Perhaps our favorite secured card, the Discover it® Secured, has numerous benefits for those looking to rebound from a bad credit score. There is a $200 minimum security deposit that will become your line of credit, which is typical of secured credit cards.  An additional perk is the rewards program (very rare for secured cards) that offers 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically. This card has another great feature: Discover will automatically review your account, starting at month eight, to see if your account is eligible to transition to an unsecured card. Discover will decide if you’re eligible based on a variety of credit factors, and if you are, you will receive notification and get your security deposit back.

The Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

The Capital One® Secured Mastercard® is another option for those who want to strengthen their credit score. This card offers a potentially lower minimum security deposit than other cards, starting as low as $49. Be aware the lower deposit is not guaranteed and you may be required to deposit $99 or $200. You can deposit more before your account opens and get a maximum credit limit of $1,000. There is a feature that will assist your transition from a secured to an unsecured card. Capital One automatically reviews your account for on time payments and will inform you if you’re eligible for an upgrade. However, there is no set time period when they will review your account — it depends on several credit activities. If you receive notification that you’re eligible, you will be refunded your security deposit and will receive an unsecured card.

Rebuilding from a Fair Credit Score (580 – 669)

Apply for a Store Credit Card

You might be used to checking out at a store and being asked if you’d like to open a credit card. While these credit cards come with really high interest rates and are great tools to tempt you into buying items you don’t need, there is a big perk to store credit cards: they’re more likely to approve people with low credit scores. Just be sure to only use the card to make one small purchase a month and then pay it off on time and in full. Unsubscribe to emails about deals and don’t even carry it around everyday in your wallet if you can’t resist the desire to spend. Read more here. 

Those unable to get a store credit card should apply for a secured card to build credit. With proper credit behavior, you can see your score rise and then you may qualify for a store card.

Here are our picks for two store credit cards:

The Walmart Rewards Card

Walmart Rewards Card

The information related to Walmart Rewards Card has been independently collected by MagnifyMoney and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

Walmart Rewards Card

Regular Purchase APR
26.99% variable
Annual fee
$0
Rewards Rate
5% back on purchases made at Walmart.com and on the Walmart app, 2% back on Walmart purchases in stores outside of the introductory offer, and 2% back at Walmart Fuel Stations.

The Walmart Rewards Card offers a great rewards rate. Earn 5% back on purchases made at Walmart.com and on the Walmart app, 2% back on Walmart purchases in stores outside of the introductory offer, and 2% back at Walmart Fuel Stations. The sign-up bonus has the potential to be an excellent value, too. Get 5% back for the first 12 months when you use your card with Walmart Pay for in-store purchases, upon approval. Just remember that your cashback rate on purchases in Walmart stores will go down after the intro offer ends, so after your first year with the card, make sure to do most of your shopping on Walmart.com or in the Walmart app to take advantage of the higher rate you get for shopping that way. Note that this is a store card, so you can’t use it outside the Walmart ecosystem.

The Target REDcard™ Credit Card

Target REDcard™ Credit Card

The information related to Target REDcard™ Credit Card has been independently collected by MagnifyMoney and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

Target REDcard™ Credit Card

Regular Purchase APR
25.15% Variable
Annual fee
$0
Rewards Rate
5% at Target & Target.com

The Target REDcard™ Credit Card offers great perks that are sure to please frequent Target shoppers. You receive a discount of 5% at Target & Target.com off every eligible transaction. The discount automatically comes off your purchase — no redemption needed. Other benefits include free shipping on most items, early access to sales and exclusive extras like special items, offers, and 10% off coupon as a gift on your REDcard anniversary each year.* Recently, cardholders received early access to Black Friday deals. Reminder: This card can only be used at Target and on Target.com.

Check If You Pre-Qualify

If you’re on the higher end of the spectrum, you may want to consider checking to see if you’re pre-qualified for any cards. This may help minimize your chance of rejection upon applying because pre-qualification performs a soft pull on your credit. This doesn’t harm your credit score.

Your goal in this credit range should be to use no more than 20% of your total available credit. Pay your bills on time and in full. And keep pumping that positive information onto your credit report until you reach the 700+ category. 

Who You Need to Avoid

Access to credit and loans may come easier than you expect, but that should also be a danger sign. There are several lenders who are willing to provide lines of credits or loans to people with poor credit. These options are often very predatory. If you’re simply trying to rebuild your credit history and improve your credit score, then there is no need to take these offers.

Here are the options you need to avoid when trying to rebuild credit:

1. Payday and Title Loan Lenders – There is never a need to take out a payday or title loan if you’re trying to merely rebuild or establish credit history. Most of these lenders don’t report to the bureaus and you’ll likely end up in a painful vicious cycle of borrowing and being unable to pay it down.

[How to get out of the payday loan trap.]

2. First Premier – The bank claims to want to offer people a second chance when it comes to their finances, but its fee structure and fine print prove the exact opposite. First Premier charges you a processing fee of up to $95 just to apply for a credit card. Then it levies a $75 annual fee on the credit cards and most cards only come with a $300 limit. You’re paying $170 for a $300 credit line! The APR is a painful 36%. In year two the annual fee reduces to $45, but then you’re charged a monthly servicing fee of $6.25. And to top it all off, you’ll be charged a 25% fee if your credit limit is increased. Stay away from this card! Use the $170 it would take to open the card and get a secured card instead.

3. Credit One – Credit One does an excellent job of confusing consumers into thinking they’re applying for a Capital One card. The logos are eerily similar and easily confused.

Creditone

Capital one

While Credit One is not as predatory as First Premier or payday loans, there is really no need to be using one of its cards to rebuild your credit score. For starters, Credit One cards have annual fees that range from $0 to $75 for the first year, then $0-$99 in subsequent years. If you’re approved for a card with an annual fee, it will be deducted from your initial credit limit. For example, receiving a $300 credit limit and $75 annual fee means you’ll only have access to an initial $225 credit limit. In addition, there is a high 19.49% -25.49% Variable APR. Given the high annual fees, we recommend saving your money and using a secured card with no annual fee to begin rebuilding your credit score.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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View Your Free FICO Score for all 3 Credit Bureaus

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View Your Free FICO Score for all 3 Credit Bureaus

There are lots of free credit scores floating around, but most of them are not the true FICO® score that lenders subscribe to and use as part of their decision.

However FICO® is working to change that by allowing banks and credit unions to give you free ongoing access to the real score they use to make lending decisions as long as you are an account holder.

One of the easiest ways for anyone to get their free FICO® score is via the Discover Credit Scorecard. You do not need to be a customer of Discover – anyone can register and get their official FICO® score for free. The data is from the Experian credit bureau. You can also get a free Experian FICO® 8 score by signing up directly with Experian.

To find out where to get your FICO® score from the other credit bureaus, read on.

Every bank chooses at least one of three credit bureaus to calculate a FICO® score: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. The FICO® score one bank uses can be different than another depending on which credit bureau they pulled a report from.

You may be able to get a free FICO® score from your credit card issuer or bank. Financial institutions belonging to the FICO Score Open Access Program offer this service. Visit this page for a list of participating banks. FICO® itself charges monthly for you to see your scores ($19.95, $29.95 or $39.95, depending on which plan you go with) — though they also throw in full copies of your credit reports, which the free bank scores do not.

Be aware that FICO rolled out the FICO Score 10 Suite in the beginning of 2020. This includes FICO Score 10 and FICO Score 10 T — the latter of which looks at trended data for a historical view of a consumer’s behavior. Under FICO Score 10, credit card debt will have a bigger impact than it used to, so it’s more important than ever to keep your utilization ratio less than 30%.

Here’s where to find your real, free FICO® scores from banks or credit unions anyone can join:

Equifax Scores

Citibank

  • Available with: Any Citibank branded credit card. This does not include Citibank cards with other brands like the American AAdvantage or Hilton HHonors cards.
  • Score updated: Monthly
  • Where to find it: On your online account or the Citi app
  • Learn more

DCU Credit Union

  • Available with: Any credit card, or a checking account with direct deposit
  • Score updated: Monthly
  • Where to find it: Look for an invitation in your online account
  • Learn more

Huntington Bank

  • Available with: The Huntington Voice credit card – you will get a FICO® Bankcard Score 2 from Equifax
  • Where to find it: Log into your account and you’ll see a link

PenFed

  • Available with: PenFed members with active checking accounts, installment loans, and revolving lines of credit
  • Score updated: When PenFed refreshes – no set schedule
  • Where to find it: Login to your account and click ‘Your FICO® Score is Ready’
  • Notes: PenFed uses a more advanced ‘Next Gen’ FICO® score that has a different scale than traditional FICO® scores, with 150 as the lowest score and 950 as the highest score. Most banks use a score with a scale of 300 to 850. Because of this the score you see on PenFed’s site may be higher or lower than what you see from others.
  • Learn more

State Employees Credit Union of North Carolina

  • Available to all credit card holders

Experian Scores

Capital One and American Express regularly use Experian’s FICO® among others for credit decisions.

American Express

  • Available with: Any American Express credit card
  • Score updated: Monthly
  • Where to find it: On your online account

Discover

  • Available with: All Discover cards and if you are not a Discover cardholder, you can sign up to get your FICO® score for free by visiting creditscorecard.com.
  • Score updated: Monthly
  • Where to find it: On your statement and online

First National Bank of Omaha

  • Available with: Any credit card account
  • Score updated: Monthly
  • Where to find it: On your online account
  • Learn more

USAA

  • Available with: Any USAA credit card
  • Score updated: Unknown
  • Where to find it: On your online account

Wells Fargo

  • Available with: Any Wells Fargo credit card
  • Score updated: Monthly
  • Where to find it: On your online account
  • Learn more

TransUnion Scores

Bank of America

  • Available with: Select credit card accounts
  • Score updated: Monthly, with history
  • Where to find it: Link available on your account summary page under the ‘Tools and Investing’ section

Barclays

  • Available with: Any credit card account
  • Score updated: Monthly
  • Where to find it: Link available on your account summary page

Unknown Bureau

Other, less open to the public free FICO® providers include:

  • Ally, for auto loan holders.
  • Hyundai and Kia Motor Finance allow customers to view their FICO scores through their online accounts.
  • Sallie Mae offers a free, quarterly TransUnion score if you receive a new Smart Option Student Loan.
  • Merrick Bank doesn’t have open applications for its Platinum Visa, but does offer free scores to its cardholders.
  • Some credit unions with limited membership also offer scores, so check yours to see if it provides them.

Find the Best Credit Score for Your Needs:

The credit score that you are looking for varies, depending on what type of credit you are looking to apply for. Each credit score version has different benefits, and lenders pull certain scores in accordance with your application.

Credit Score Monitoring

The best options: All VantageScores and FICO® scores

If you’re simply looking to monitor your credit score and stay on top of your credit, either VantageScore or FICO® score will suffice.

New Credit Card

The best options: FICO® Bankcard Scores or FICO® Score 8 primarily; FICO® Score 3

Where to get them: Get your FICO® Score 8 from Credit Scorecard by Discover or freecreditscore.com

When applying for a new credit card, these scores are most likely to be pulled by credit card issuers. Lenders may pull your score from one or all three bureaus.

Mortgage Loans and Mortgage ReFis

The best options: FICO® Scores 2, 4, 5

Where to get them: Myfico.com for $19.95 a month

These scores are used in the majority of mortgage-related credit evaluations, with lenders pulling your score from all three bureaus. However, these scores are not free and can only be purchased at myfico.com.

Auto Loans

The best options: FICO® Auto Scores 2, 4, 5, 8, 9

Where to get them: Myfico.com for $19.95 a month

Auto scores are industry-specific and used in the majority of auto-financing credit evaluations. Lenders may pull your score from one or all three bureaus. Unfortunately, these scores are not free and need to be purchased at Myfico.com.

Personal Loans, Student Loans, and Retail Credit

The best option: FICO® Score 8

Where to get it: Credit Scorecard by Discover or freecreditscore.com.

For other financial products such as personal loans, student loans, and retail credit, FICO® Score 8 is best. This is the credit score most widely used by lenders, and they may pull your score from one or all three bureaus when making a decision.

LendingTree
APR

As low as 3.49%

Credit Req.

Minimum 500 FICO®

Terms

24 to 60

months

Origination Fee

Varies

SEE OFFERS Secured

on LendingTree’s secure website

LendingTree is our parent company

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LendingTree is our parent company. LendingTree is unique in that you may be able to compare up to five personal loan offers within minutes. Everything is done online and you may be pre-qualified by lenders without impacting your credit score. LendingTree is not a lender. Terms Apply. NMLS #1136.



As of 17-May-19, LendingTree Personal Loan consumers were seeing match rates as low as 3.49% (3.49% APR) on a $10,000 loan amount for a term of three (3) years. Rates and APRs were based on a self-identified credit score of 700 or higher, zero down payment, origination fees of $0 to $100 (depending on loan amount and term selected). Terms Apply. NMLS #1136

Other Scores and Their Value

FICO® Score 9 is not as widely used as FICO® Score 8. The benefits of this score are that it doesn’t penalize you for paid collections and reduces the ding you get from unpaid medical collections. See our review for more information.

The FICO® NextGen score is used to assess credit risk, but only a small number of lenders use it due to its 150-950 scoring range and older model.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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