Q&A: Credit reports vs. credit scores

Dear Liz: I recently downloaded both my wife’s and my own credit reports. I noticed that, for a number of reasons, her report has much less information than mine. The probability is that I will die before her, so my question is whether you can suggest any ways to be sure she has a good credit rating after I’m gone. Do the credit reporting agencies give any weight to a spouse’s score?

Answer: They do not, unless the spouse is alive and a co-applicant.

The amount of information in a credit report doesn’t dictate someone’s scores, however. People can have good scores with only a few credit accounts, or bad scores with lots of accounts. Your wife should find out what some of her scores are to decide next steps. Her bank or credit card issuer may supply her with scores, or she could get free scores from one of the many sites that offer those. (FICO is the formula most often used by lenders, but VantageScore can give her a good idea how lenders view her, as well.)

If her scores are less than excellent (generally 740 and up), she could look for ways to improve them such as making all credit payments on time, using only a small fraction of her available credit and perhaps adding an account or two. Credit builder loans from credit unions can be a good way to build or rebuild credit.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 5 ways to prepare and pack for COVID-Era travel. Also in the news: 8 safety tips for solo female travel, how doing a subscription detox could plug monthly budget leaks, and how to take advantage of (and keep) a high credit score.

5 Ways to Prepare and Pack for COVID-Era Travel
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Doing a Subscription Detox Could Plug Monthly Budget Leaks
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How to Take Advantage of (and Keep) a High Credit Score
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Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: When it’s OK to let your good credit score drop. Also in the news: A new episode of the Smart Money podcast on crypto credit cards and short-term investing, why balance transfer cards are starting to make a comeback, and how a 24-year-old crushed $20K+ in credit card debt.

When It’s OK to Let Your Good Credit Score Drop
Don’t let possible score damage stop you from putting your credit to use in an emergency or to grab an opportunity.

Smart Money Podcast: Crypto Credit Cards and Short-Term Investing
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Why Balance Transfer Credit Cards Are Starting to Blossom Again
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Q&A: Boosting Credit Scores

Dear Liz: I’m frustrated with my FICO scores. At one point they were well into the 800s and now they languish in the 720 to 730 range. I have no debt — no mortgage or car loan — and fully pay off two credit cards monthly. I have millions (fact, not bragging) in assets with no liabilities. I don’t anticipate taking any loans but it is so odd to me. Why is this?

Answer: You likely had at least one installment loan, such as a mortgage or car loan, when your scores were near the top of FICO’s typical 300-to-850 scale. You can still have good scores without an installment loan — and you do — but the highest scores require you to have a mix of credit types.

You might be able to add a few points to your scores by paying attention to your credit utilization — the less of your credit limit you use, the better. Adding another card or two may ding your scores in the short run but also could add points long term.

Or you can just be happy as you are. As long as you continue to use your cards responsibly, you’ll continue to have scores that are “pretty enough for all normal purposes” — in other words, that will get you good rates and terms should you decide to apply for additional credit.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: What to do if a fair credit score cuts your credit card options. Also in the news: Should you use points and miles to book 2021 travel, should you purchase travel insurance for your summer vacation, and how often you should be checking your credit report.

What to Do If a Fair Credit Score Cuts Your Credit Card Options
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Do I Need Travel Insurance for My Summer Vacation?
If you’re making nonrefundable bookings, you might want to consider a travel insurance plan.

How Often Should You Be Checking Your Credit Report?
More often than you’d think.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: The tax credit fix many can’t afford to miss. Also in the news: Being the first in the family to invest, how to right your retirement savings after coronavirus setbacks, and why your credit karma score seems to high.

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Not all scores are the same.

Q&A: When credit scores take a pandemic dive, how to figure out what caused it

Dear Liz: My VantageScores as reported by TransUnion were in the 780 to 790 range until around February, when they all dropped 40 points for no discernible reason. My FICO 8 and 9 credit scores remained unchanged around 760 and still continue to increase. What would cause that?

Answer: VantageScores tend to react more than FICO scores when you apply for new credit, but 40 points is a pretty big drop. The other usual culprit when good scores fall is higher credit utilization, or using more of your available credit, but typically your FICO scores would have dropped as well.

Most credit monitoring services will offer you some kind of explanation for why your scores changed, so that would be the first place to look for clues. You also should check your credit reports, which are now available weekly from AnnualCreditReport.com.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Your last chance for high CD rates is right now. Also in the news: How a credit card can help home improvement plans, how to search for scholarships without getting lost in spam, and a new episode of the SmartMoney podcast on credit scores.

Your Last Chance for High CD Rates Is Right Now
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Got Home Improvement Plans? How a Credit Card Can Help
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How to Search for Scholarships, Not Get Lost in Spam
Finding legit offers.

SmartMoney Podcast: ‘Why Did My Credit Scores Suddenly Drop?’
Sorting through the reasons.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 6 types of conventional loans all home buyers should know. Also in the news: How your credit score can save you money, why you need to verify your Equifax settlement claim, and why you need to be careful when deciding to claim Social Security based on break-even calculations.

6 Types of Conventional Loans All Home Buyers Should Know
All the details.

SmartMoney podcast: ‘How Can My Credit Score Save Me Money?’
Answers to real-world money questions.

If You Asked for $125 from the Equifax Settlement, You Need to Verify Your Claim
Check your email.

Deciding when to claim Social Security based on break-even calculations? Be careful

Q&A: Be strategic when closing credit accounts

Dear Liz: I recently moved to a new state and would like to open a credit card at my new credit union. I’m concerned that closing my old credit union account and card will hurt my credit scores, which are over 800. The old card, which I no longer use, has a high credit limit. My income is also lower, so I’m not sure how that will affect the credit limit I get.

Answer: Closing credit accounts can ding your credit scores, but that doesn’t mean you should never close an unwanted account. You just need to do so strategically.

First, understand that the more credit accounts you have, the less impact opening or closing an account typically has on your scores. If you have a dozen credit cards, for example, closing one will likely have less impact than if you only have two.

Still, you’d be wise to open the new account before closing the old one. That’s because closing an account lowers the amount of available credit you have, and that has a large impact on your scores.

If the new issuer doesn’t give you a credit limit close to that of the old card, you’re still probably fine closing the old account if you have a bunch of other cards. If you don’t, though, you may want to hold on to the old account to protect your scores.