Based on CreditKarma.com's data, the trend amongst lenders shows that a 660 credit score is the threshold to be approved for a mortgage, auto loan and unsecured credit card. Digging deeper into consumers' credit health, nearly 40% of consumers have a credit score below 660. That means 4 out of 10 Americans would likely be denied for a mortgage and auto loan, charged sky-high interest rates, and only qualify for a secured credit card.
In the fine line between approval and denial in lending, consumers deserve to know more so they can do more about their credit health. While recent federal regulations have nudged open the door on consumers' access to credit, it's not enough. Consumers must be empowered to actively manage their credit, not just when they are transacting but also in their daily financial life.
1. It's your consumer right to get a free credit score! Thanks to a recent federal regulation, consumers who are denied on a credit application or receive higher interests due to their credit profile are entitled to see their credit score for free. This only applies to declined consumers, so it begs the question: why aren't all consumers getting their credit score for free? With such significant impact on accessing and pricing of financial products, free credit score access should be a right of all consumers. We may see government efforts to provide free credit score access on the horizon. Once a mysterious and proprietary secret of the credit industry, credit scores are becoming a powerful tool in the hands of consumers.
3. It's not enough to check your credit score. One drawback of the federal regulation is its limitations. Giving consumers access to their credit after being denied is too little, too late. Credit scores can fluctuate suddenly, so a single snapshot isn't enough. What's necessary is for consumers to monitor their credit. Whether you have a 550 or an 800, tracking trends in your credit use and credit score helps identify areas to improve, habits to avoid, and most importantly, makes you conscious of how day-to-day financial decisions impacts your credit health. You might need several months' cushion to polish up your score, so begin monitoring your credit as soon as you plan to buy a home or car, or apply for a loan or credit card. If you aren't applying for credit but currently have a credit card, it's still imperative to stay on top of your credit health. Issuers periodically do an account review, and if any new credit blemishes appear, it could affect your card terms. Proactively use credit score monitoring services so you, and not lenders, are the first to know about recent changes on your credit.
While the recent federal regulation is a positive move for consumers, lenders have already found loopholes, reports SmartMoney. For example, if the lender uses its own scoring model, they aren't required to disclose that credit score to consumers. Also, insurance companies, which also use a credit score model to evaluate customers and price premiums, are excluded from this regulation and aren't required to disclose credit scores to consumers who are charged a higher premium.
We're headed in the right direction when it comes to consumers' access to their credit score. But don't walk away from this topic just yet; we barely have our foot in the door.
Justine Rivero is the Credit Advisor for CreditKarma.com.
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