5 Tips to Improve Your Credit Score

5 Tips to Improve Your Credit Score

Your credit score plays an important role in your life that can help put you on the right path towards financial success, or veer you off course. It can affect everything from whether or not you get approved for an apartment to getting a low interest rate on a car loan. If you have a poor credit score, you can end up paying hundreds or even thousands more in interest over time.

Fortunately, there are a variety of easy steps you can take to start building good credit. Here are five ways you can improve your credit score starting today.

    1. Pay bills on time

One of the biggest things that affects your score is a record of timely payments. When you are juggling bills and expenses, it can be easy to lose track and end up missing one, which can negatively impact your credit score.

To avoid missing payments, set up automatic payments for your recurring bills, like rent, electricity and cable. For other bills that do not occur monthly, such as car insurance, put reminders on your calendar to remind you to pay before the bill is due.

    1. Use less than 30% of your available credit

Another factor credit companies use to determine your score is your credit utilization ratio. This is the amount of credit you use compared to the amount you have available. For example, let’s say you have a credit card with a limit of $10,000, and you have a balance of $3,000. That means your credit utilization is at 30%.

Use less than 30% of your available credit to keep your score high. If you rack up too much of a balance relative to your limit, your score will go down.

    1. Monitor your credit

There are a variety of services that give you a free credit report, so there’s no excuse to not know your credit score and monitor it. Regularly review your credit report for any errors, such as unauthorized accounts or credit cards that do not belong to you. Erroneous charges can end up bringing down your credit score.

You can sign up at creditkarma.com to get free access to your credit scores and reports, with weekly updates.

    1. Ask for a credit increase

Because credit utilization plays a big role in your credit score, you can increase your score quickly by asking for a credit line increase. If you are in good standing with your credit card company, meaning you have not missed payments, you can call and ask them to raise your credit limit. With a larger amount of credit available, your score will go up.

If you do increase your credit limit, it can be tempting to spend a little extra, now that you have more credit available. Don’t fall into that trap! Remember to use 30% or less of your available credit to keep your credit score high.

    1. Consolidate credit card debt

If you have high-interest credit card debt, consider consolidating it with a personal loan. 74%1 of Lending Club customers reported an increase in their FICO scores within three months of taking out a personal loan for debt consolidation, with an average increase of 19 points. Credit cards are a form of revolving debt, while personal loans are installment debt. Having a variety of different types of debt on your credit report can help boost your score.

By consolidating, you can also pay off your debt faster while saving money. Borrowers who used a personal loan through Lending Club to consolidate debt or pay off high-interest credit cards reported that their new interest rate was an average of 30%2 lower than what they were paying previously on their outstanding debt or credit cards. Over the length of your repayment term, that means you may save hundreds of dollars.

Building your credit score

Building your credit score can take time, but if you consistently apply these five tips, you can improve your score and take control of your finances.

If you have decided that a personal loan for debt consolidation is right for you, check your rate today with no impact to your credit score!

Behind the Scenes at a Business Credit Bureau

Behind the Scenes at a Business Credit Bureau

You may have a mental image of how credit reports are created: from an orderly exchange of clean, tidy data flowing seamlessly through some kind of standard method, untouched by human hands and delivered straight to your web browser.  But that would be wrong.  As with any well-executed professional endeavor, it only looks that effortless.

I entered the world of credit data in the late 1990s as part of the team that delivered one of the first business credit reporting platforms on the internet.  Back then, I thought a lot like you.  I assumed that credit data comes from nimble-fingered accountants and therefore would be inherently orderly.  I assumed that the bigger the company sharing trade experiences with us, the more exacting and precise the data was likely to be.

At least now I no longer have a 9-track computer tape reader in my office; all of our data is transmitted digitally and we don’t have to wait for FedEx to deliver physical media.  Other than that, not much has changed.

Consider the lowly data entry clerk who manually inputs much of the information into these systems.  They often aren’t paid enough to think or care deeply about what they are doing, and in many cases, they don’t have the time to notice, much less correct, misspellings like COMAPNY.  So let’s imagine three different creditors sharing their trade experiences about a customer who I will give the name of Walt’s Cigar Rentals.  We might get the name and address information in the three following ways:

WALT’S CIGAR RENTAL

123 WALT AVE

WALTVILLE, VT 01342

WALTS CIGAR RENTALS COPMANY

123 WALT

WALTVILLE VT

WALT’S CIGARRNTL CO

123 WALT STRET

MALTVILLE, VERMONT 1342

And this is a simple example.  Don’t get me started about non-US addresses, often entered into US-made software that doesn’t understand, for instance, that many countries have four or six digit postal codes, rather than five like ours – Canada’s is not even all numeric.  And while we’re on the subject of Canada:  Many addresses in Canada could be expressed in either English or French and we still have to recognize them as the same!

Now comes a user searching for this company, and they might enter the name in yet different ways.  If they search for WALT’S with an apostrophe, they won’t find the second version.  If they narrow the search to MALTVILLE, then the misspelled version, WALTVILLE, will be omitted.  When you consider that we can get trade experiences on any one company from hundreds of creditors, and that the search terms entered by thousands of users may vary in their own right, you’ve encountered the fundamental challenge of processing all this data:  How does a computer, which is famously simple-minded and literal about matching, recognize hundreds of variants as the very same company?

Even if the computer recognizes all the different variations, who wants their business credit report cluttered with all of them?  The debtor should appear once, with the name and address correctly rendered, so that users can make quick credit decisions with confidence.  Nothing inspires doubt like obvious mistakes in the representation of company names and addresses.

This is where data hygiene enters the picture.  If that evokes images of data elves scrubbing data with (industrial-strength) soap and water, that is not, metaphorically speaking, far from the truth!  But to digest data in real time and avoid falling behind, this process must be automated.  We must patiently teach computers to correct random errors introduced by humans.  It is this requirement that keeps people like me awake nights.

Thankfully, we’ve had nearly two decades to fine-tune the process, and it’s getting better all the time.  Using a combination of postal standardization software, tools for us to capture intelligence over time about common misspellings and odd abbreviations, and an extensive layer of proprietary software, the three sample addresses above would be recognized and reported by our system in a standardized way:

WALTS CIGAR RENTALS CO

123 WALT ST

WALTVILLE VT 01342

Of course there’s far more to it.  I haven’t discussed other interesting issues such as how accounts receivable can be aged differently by different companies, how the methods of expressing data points like high credit and days-to-pay can vary or just be plain incorrect, and the fact that the export and transmission of trade experience data is not always 100-percent automated by the creditor, resulting in constant small changes in the data layout and even the file format.  Our system handles roughly 80 percent of the data sent to us automatically in spite of this, and human intervention for the rest is often a matter of minutes.  It takes a long time and a lot of experience to achieve such levels of automation with such unruly data.

Nor have I mentioned the need to remove non-objective comments stashed into data fields not meant for such things.  It would not do for our business credit reports to include some clerk’s notation appended to a company name that THIS CUSTOMER IS A PAIN!  In addition, we deal with cryptic notations or acronyms that have meaning only within the collection department of a company – or within an industry.  So we have to recognize when MACYS EAST COAST ACCOUNTS should really just be MACYS INC, or that MACYS INC EDI just means that the bills are paid by “electronic data interchange” and so the EDI can be removed as superfluous for credit reporting purposes.

We have a large stable of internal “sanity checks,” too.  They help to ensure that, for instance, a creditor didn’t accidentally send us the same file they sent last month, or the same month last year.  Or that the total portfolio balance doesn’t vary by a suspicious amount month-to-month, indicating a possible malfunction in the creditor’s data export.  We have staff to contact creditors and verify suspicious changes or request corrected replacement files.

Finally, we have mechanisms to guard against credit fraud.  It’s rare, but not unheard of, for someone to set up one or more fake companies that share contrived trade experiences just to inflate the credit scores of certain slow-paying or non-paying debtors.  Surprisingly, there are telltale signs in such data that we look for regularly.

Why Your Business Credit Reports Need Transparency

Why Your Business Credit Reports Need Transparency

Transparency is one of the most important components of a reliable and accurate business credit report.

What is transparency in the terms of credit reports? In short, it means that the business credit bureau isn’t padding their reports to make it appear that their data is better than it really is. For example, a transparent business credit report is very clear about how current the credit data it contains is.

When you review a company’s credit report you should have no question that the information it contains is up to date, be able to tell how the company pays specific industries and see a month by month breakdown of the data.

3 Components of a Transparent Business Credit Report

Does the report provide the most current information? 

A business’s cash flow situations can change overnight so it’s important that you’re looking at the freshest data available. For example, if a business recently lost a major customer, they’ll likely start having difficulty paying their bills. If the credit data you’re using is not current, you’re making a decision based off of information that may no longer be relevant.

It is vital that your business credit bureau shows how current their data is. Without this transparency, there’s no way for you to know whether the credit information is 2 months or 2 years old.

The bestway to know whether or not the information you’re looking at is current is to know what month the information was reported to the bureau. This is most easily seen in a month by month breakdown, where the number of contributors reporting that month is shown. See the first two columns below (Month and # of Co’s):

If your current business credit reports show aggregated data, or don’t show when the data was reported, how can you know whether or not the information is current or outdated?

How does the company pay my industry?

There are always some products and services that a business cannot function without. Since these vendors provide something that is essential to the operations of the business, the company will usually pay them first.

For example, a trucking company will likely pay its fuel provider before anyone else. How can they move their trucks without fuel? A restaurant will probably pay the food distributor before they pay anyone else. How can they feed their customers without food?

There are many industries that payment for a certain good or service demands a higher priority than others. Knowing how a company pays specific industries is therefore vital.

Imagine you’re an electrical manufacturer who produces commercial lighting. If you’re considering extending credit to a trucking company, would you rather know how they pay fuel companies or other electrical manufacturers?

A transparent credit report will always show you an industry breakdown. In this, you should be able to see how many companies, within that industry, are reporting and how they’re being paid.

Without this information, it is almost impossible to know how a company prioritizes their payments.

Is it a single trade line or a month by month breakdown?

It is extremely important to see how a company pays their bills month over month.

With a month by month breakdown, you’re able to predict their future payment trends. For example, if you look at a company’s credit report and see that over the past 4 months, their days to pay have gone from 31 to 33 to 36 to 41, you can likely deduce that for whatever reason, they are having trouble paying their bills on time. Such a payment trend should factor into your decision of extending the company credit.

Take a look at the graph below. Over the past 6 months, the company’s days to pay haveconsistently increased (from roughly 40 days to pay to 70). If you saw the trend in the graph below, would you extend credit to this company?

In addition, many companies experience some seasonality and these seasonal changes can cause drastic ebbs and flows in their revenue. They may pay their bills on time when they’re busy and fall behind when they’re not. By reviewing their monthly payment history, you’ll be able to determine if they experience any seasonality.

A reliable and transparent business credit report can greatly increase your chances of getting paid. Be sure that your reports have current, industry specific and consistent data.

Reading a Business Credit Report

Reading a Business Credit Report

Each business credit bureau has their own way to represent the credit information they collect. While the layout might vary, or the names for different sections change, the principles outlined below are the same.

If you would like a free sample business credit report to follow along with, click here.

Step 1) Read the Company Profile

First thing first! Check the company profile to get an overview of the company you are looking at.

 

The company profile will contain information like:

  • Company name
  • Address
  • Telephone and fax numbers
  • Information on company principals

Don’t spend too much time here. The most important thing is to be sure that the report you pulled is on the correct company. Match the company name and address to what you have on file. This is especially important if the company you are considering extending credit to has a generic name (like Smith Enterprises).

Step 2) Translate the Business Credit Scores & Credit Alerts

Towards the top of each business credit report, you will find an overview of how the company pays their bills.

Each business credit bureau has their own way to represent this overview but it will usually contain three important criteria: a credit rating, a business credit score, and a list of credit alerts.

Credit Rating

We’re back to dreaded 74K-38. So what the heck does it mean?

74K = $74,000 - This is Company XYZ’s average monthly balance over the past 6 months.

38 = 38 days to pay - Over the past 6 months, they pay on average, in 38 days.

To put this all together, a rating of 74K-38 would mean over the past 6 months, Company XYZ has had an average monthly outstanding balance of $74,000 and pays their bills in roughly 38 days.

Business Credit Score

Business credit scores give you an idea of a company’s risk potential. They range from 0-100; the higher the better.

A sophisticated mathematical model calculates the scores based off multiple factors in each of these four areas:

  1. Payment history
  2. Current level of indebtedness
  3. Current level of delinquencies
  4. Length of credit history

Our business credit scores are grouped into three categories of risk:

Low Risk           > 87
Medium Risk     70 - 87
High Risk          < 70

Credit Alerts

A credit alert is an adverse piece of information. We show our credit alerts in bright red, hoping to literally alert credit professionals of their existence. Examples of credit alerts are:

  • Collection accounts
  • Judgment filed
  • Fraud account
  • Credit hold
  • Returned check
  • Phone disconnected

Alerts are never something you want to see when considering extending credit to a company. If you encounter a company with a credit alert on their report, proceed with caution.

Credit alerts, ratings and scores are useful in making a credit decision, but the majority of your time should be dedicated to the next two steps.

Step 3) Understand Month by Month Payment History

How is a company currently paying their bills? Are they slowing down on payments?

This is the start of the meat of a business credit report. Here you will see actual payment history that has been reported by businesses who are working with Company XYZ. This data is usually shown in the standard accounts receivable aging buckets (as seen below).

 

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Using January of 2014 as an example, 28 companies reported their credit experience with Company XYZ. Those 28 companies were paid by Company XYZ in roughly 43 days.

There are a few basic things to remember when analyzing this section:

  1. The more money that is in the 1-30 day aging bucket the better.
  2. The past 12 months of payment history are the most important. I am much more interested in how a company pays their bills now vs how they were paying 2-3 years ago.
  3. You should be able to see how many companies have reported to your business credit bureau each month. If you do not have this transparency, there is no way to know whether the information you’re viewing was reported 3 months ago or 3 years ago.

Step 4) Determine How Your Industry is Paid vs How All Industries are Paid

This is an extremely important section. Here you will see how Company XYZ pays different industries.

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When looking at industry specific payment history, there are two key considerations:

  1. How is your industry being paid?  This is the best indication of how you will be paid.
  2. How are all other industries being paid? An often overlooked area, but vital in determining credit worthiness.

Use the same logic as you did with numbers 1-3 in Step 3 above - majority of the bills in the 1-30 day aging bucket, information from the past 12 months, transparent data.

Step 5) Check the Number of Credit Inquiries

Similar to your personal credit report, business credit bureaus track the number of times a company’s credit report has been pulled.

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A business credit report having multiple inquiries is not always cause for concern. In many instances, it can even be a postive sign. Here are a few examples:

Positive: a business is growing and is seeking new creditors.
Negative: a business has reached their credit limits and is seeking new creditors.

To determine whether inquiries are good or bad, review the company’s days to pay. If these have been steadily increasing over the past few months, it could mean that they are having trouble paying their bills.

Step 6) Put it All Together

Consider all that you have learned about Company XYZ’s credit worthiness. Does their credit report contain any red flags? How quickly can you expect to be paid? Can you wait that long?

A strong business credit report is one of the best weapons in a credit professional’s arsenal. Understanding the information they contain will dramatically increase the likelihood of payment.

3 Quick Business Credit Report Red Flags to Avoid Bad Debt

3 Quick Business Credit Report Red Flags to Avoid Bad Debt

Extending credit is a requirement of doing business today. This necessity unfortunately opens you up to credit risk and the potential for bad debt.

While you may not avoid all credit risk, credit managers are able to greatly reduce their likelihood of a collection account or bad debt by pulling a business credit report.

Good credit managers are able to read a credit report to understand how a company has historically paid their bills. Great credit managers are able to use a company’s credit report to predict how they can expect to be paid.

Within the report, are red flags that these great credit managers look for to avoid bad debt.

The 3 Bad Debt Red Flags on a Business Credit Report

Knowing how to read a business credit report is a requirement of any good business credit professional. It is the great ones that are able to use a report to avoid the likelihood of bad debt.

Here are 3 red flags that they look for to reduce their credit risk.

1) Low Business Credit Score

Business credit scores give you an idea of a company’s risk potential. Each business credit bureau has their own scoring system, but the scores are usually calculated based on factors in the following four areas:

  1. Payment history
  2. Current level of indebtedness
  3. Current level of delinquencies
  4. Length of credit history

Each bureau will tell you what range of scores they consider high risk. On an Ansonia Business Credit Report, a risk score of 70 or lower is considered high risk.

A low score is not cause to deny a company credit on its own; use your judgment here. If the company has a low business credit score and other adverse information on their report (such as flags #2 and #3 below), you are probably better off working with them on cash terms.

2) Credit Alerts

Credit alerts are never a good sign. Ansonia’s are displayed in bright red, hoping to literally “alert” our customers of the adverse information.

The severity of the credit alert can range greatly, from a bankruptcy to a slow pay.

While this is not a hard and fast rule, alerts can be grouped into two categories: approach with caution and approach with EXTREME caution (creative right?)

Approach with caution

  • On cash terms
  • Slow pay
  • Phone disconnected
  • Returned check

These are often early warning signs. For example, if a company is starting to have cash flow issues, you might see a “slow pay” or “on cash terms”.

It is important to note that alerts in this category can sometimes be explained:

Slow pay - possibly a billing error
Phone disconnected - the company just moved offices

Regardless, approach these with caution; an alert is still an alert.

Approach with EXTREME caution

  • Bankruptcy filed
  • Fraud account
  • Credit revoked
  • Judgment filed
  • Write-off
  • Collection Account

Can you imagine if your company had one of the above alerts posted on your company credit report? These are big, bright, flashing red flags. They almost always indicate that a company is in trouble.

If one of the above alerts is present, cash terms are recommended over extending a credit line.

Credit alerts are never good. Regardless of its severity, an alert is always cause for further investigation. They are the cause of a lot of bad debt and write offs. When you see one, be careful.

See a full list of Ansonia’s credit alerts here.

3) Increasing Days to Pay and an Abnormal Number of Credit Inquiries

One of the best early warning signs on a company’s credit report is an increasing number in a company’s days to pay. This increase is especially worrisome if it is coupled with an abnormal number of credit inquiries (the number of times a business credit report has been pulled).

What is an abnormal number? Look for a trend here. For example, a company has consistently had 4 inquiries on their credit report, and in the most recent two months has had 12 inquiries.

The combination can often signify that the company is in trouble. It often means that they are having trouble paying their current creditors (increase in days to pay) and are out looking for new creditors (abnormal number of credit inquiries).

Pulling a business credit report before extending a credit line can drastically decrease your credit risk. There are many things to consider on a report and these three are some of the worst in terms of risk potential. Avoid them and you can greatly reduce your chances of taking on bad debt.