How to check your credit score in the US without damaging it

Credit scores have dominated Americans’ spending and economic decisions, but very few know how that magic number operates, what hurts it, and what can be done to increase it.

The first credit scoring model was created in 1989 by FICO and is now the most widely used and accepted. However, while FICO provides the algorithm for credit scoring, the three major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, provide data for credit reports.

Here are the key points, from what makes a good credit score to how to check it without damaging it:

What makes a good credit score

According to Experian, about 67% of Americans have a FICO credit score of 670 or higher, which qualifies them as “good,” “very good,” or “exceptional.”

Credit scores are based on several factors. Payment history is one of the most important components: making payments on time can help, while missing or filing for bankruptcy hurts the score.

Recently opened accounts, applying for new accounts, and the age of your accounts can also affect your credit score.

What is a good credit score by age?

You don’t have to have a “good” credit score at one age or another. But while age is not used to calculate credit scores, data show that averages tend to increase as credit holders get older.

According to American Express, this is because older people simply have had more time to establish credit. An older person has a longer account history, more payments to consistently pay on time, and often a higher income.

Young people checking their credit score may be surprised by a low number, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve done something wrong.

Will requesting my credit report hurt my score?

No, requesting a credit report will not hurt your credit score. Checking your credit report is not an inquiry on new credit, so it does not affect your score.

Checking your credit report regularly can help you verify that the information credit reporting companies share with lenders is accurate and up to date.

Customers are entitled to one free credit report every 12 months from the three major reporting companies.

How can you check your credit score?

According to the Federal Trade Commission, you may be able to obtain a free credit score from a credit bureau or by enrolling in a bureau’s credit monitoring system.

How to improve your credit score?

A poor credit score includes more than 30 days of late payments and a utilization rate. The utilization rate is the amount a consumer owes divided by his or her credit limit.

A low rate is often a good sign because it means you are using less of your available credit and are controlling it by not overspending.

The easiest way to improve your credit score is to know and address risk factors and stay on top of payments.