Every consumer should be interested in their credit score, especially if they are considering a major financial move that will require a loan.
Anyone wanting credit for a mortgage, auto loan or credit card needs to realize how often credit reports (and thus scores) are updated and how that ebb and flow of information can change this vital financial number on a monthly, weekly or even daily basis.
Your credit score is the basis for your financial life. It’s the difference between exorbitant and reasonable interest rates. It’s usually the bottom line on whether you are approved for any type of loan.
In other words, it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on, even if it feels like there is some kind of mysterious code you have to crack to get an accurate reading on it.
“It really is not mysterious at all,’’ said Rod Griffin, director of public education for Experian, one of the three major credit reporting agencies. “Your creditors update about once a month. Now that can vary across the month. They don’t all update on the same day at the same time.
“The credit scores reflect the information in the credit report at that moment in time, when it’s requested. If you request a report right now, it could be a different score if you request it 15 minutes from now or tomorrow, when one of your lenders send an update. That’s really as hard as it gets.’’
Credit Score Update Frequency
How often is my credit score updated? That’s a pretty common question from consumers.
Your credit score update frequency usually occurs on a monthly basis for each lender. That might seem unusual because if you use your debit card for groceries, the charge is sometimes posted to your checking account by the time you are storing the food in your refrigerator.
Why the time lag for your credit purchases and your credit score?
Credit transactions — purchases, payments or missed payments — generally need about 30 days to go from a creditor’s book to one of the three major credit reporting agencies (CRAs), either Experian, Equifax or TransUnion.
Why are there variances? Legally, lenders are not required to report anything to the CRAs. Some lenders might not report to all three. It’s always a voluntary practice and many credit card companies don’t disclose their practices (with some notable exceptions, such as Capital One, which works with all three CRAs).
“There are some things that people assume are reported — and they’re not,’’ Griffin said. “Cell-phone providers and utility companies, for example, don’t report to the credit bureaus. We wish they would because it’s a credit-like relationship for consumers and they generally keep up with it. It would be helpful information.”
Another factor: There’s no uniformity in the frequency of the reporting — some creditors operate on a daily basis, while others report once a month, sometimes, less.
One thing is certain. If you make on-time payments and keep your balance low, you won’t have any worries. Remember that credit-card companies report late payments to the CRAs at the end of the billing cycle and payment history is 35% of the average person’s credit score. Being on time is critical.
If you need to keep track, here are creditors that typically report monthly:
- Banks, credit unions, finance companies and other lenders that issue credit cards or make mortgage, personal, automobile and/or student loans.
- Non-bank credit-card issuers (such as American Express, Diners Club and Discover).
- Department stores.
- Oil and gas companies.
- Other creditors that receive monthly installment payments.
Once a CRA receives information on an open credit account, it must update a person’s credit report as soon as possible. Because of variations in reporting frequency among creditors, some credit reports aren’t updated for months.
If there’s a discrepancy — if you’ve paid a debt and don’t see that information reflected on your credit report — you should check on the process. First, contact the creditor and make sure it has updated your status with the reporting agency. If the creditor has complied, contact the reporting agency to make sure your credit report reflects the updated information.
Problems with Credit Reporting
Here’s where it gets complicated. Some businesses only provide information to the CRAs when an account is past due (60, 90, 120 or 180 days) or has been written off and/or turned over to a collection agency. Creditors will write off a debt when it is deemed uncollectible.
Some of these creditors include:
- Utility companies
- Local retailers
- Landlords and property managers
- Insurance companies
- Magazines and newspapers
- Doctors and hospitals
- Lawyers and other professionals.
The three reporting agencies are making increasing efforts to gather monthly information from utility companies, phone companies and local retailers. That increases the amount of data in an individual’s credit profile, which cuts down on the guesswork.
Why Is It Important to Know When Credit Companies Report?
Some confusion can be cleared up by knowing when credit-card companies report to the CRAs. It’s usually at your statement closing date.
Don’t be alarmed if you check your credit report and see a balance when you know your card is paid off in full each month. At the end of your billing cycle, there’s a great fluctuation, sometimes causing as much as a 30% shift in the credit score for most consumers. But when the payment is accounted for, it shifts back into form.
Billing cycles can vary. Some credit-card companies might do it at mid-month and others at the end of the month.
Credit-card companies probably are providing a snapshot of your current balance when they report to the CRAs. If this is a concern, keep track of your spending by your statement closing date. Making a payment before your statement closing date will keep the balance lower when it’s reported, helping your overall credit.
This also helps your credit utilization rate, an important factor when it comes to your credit score. Your credit utilization rate is your total credit-card balance divided by your total credit-card limit. Experts advise consumers to keep that ratio under 30%. Paying down your revolving debt and carrying a lower balance is a possible way to help your credit score, although it is influenced by several factors.
“Credit utilization is the second-most important factor behind payment history, but I don’t think enough people know that or act on it,’’ Griffin said. “You hear the ratios of keeping it at 30 percent (utilization) but that should be an absolute maximum. Zero would be even better. Don’t try to keep it around 30%. Keep it as low as possible.
“The bottom line is if you pay your bills on time and you keep a low credit-card balance, your credit score will take care of itself.’’
All that being said, here are some tricks:
- To help your credit utilization, ask for a higher credit limit. By having more credit available — and not using as much — your credit score could be boosted. A word of caution: This doesn’t mean you can spend more. Be careful not to accumulate more debt.
- Make multiple payments throughout the month to lower your overall balance. With this method, when the balance is reported to the CRAs, your credit utilization should be in good shape.
Reporting of Late Payments
If you’re a day late on your payment, that won’t be reported by a credit-card company. But a one-day delinquency indirectly affects your credit score by inflating the balance. One-day-late payments could create fees and interest charges. Automatic online payments help you avoid this inconvenience.
Credit-card companies DO report 30-day late payments. It’s the industry standard. The companies convey this negative information to the CRAs at the end of the second billing cycle if they haven’t received at least the minimum payment. But a 30-day late payment is considered a minor delinquency. It hurts a credit score only temporarily if the account returns to “paid as agreed” status shortly thereafter. Major derogatory items hurt scores more for a longer period.
How Can I Get My Credit Re-Scored Quickly?
If you’re trying to raise your credit score a few points to get approved for a loan or to qualify for a better interest rate, your mortgage lender might be able to pay a fee for a rapid re-score that updates your credit report in two or three days. But only if there’s proof of a credit report error or you’re able to pay off an account right way and need the balance to reflect on your credit report.
Check Your Credit Report
The bottom line to it all is information. To pick up on problems and learn what’s going well, you must see your credit report. Every consumer can do that annually at no cost — make your request at www.AnnualCreditReport.com — but Griffin said fewer than half of the eligible people take advantage of that.
“That’s a huge concern,’’ Griffin said. “We want people to be educated and know their course. You can’t do anything about your credit report unless you know what’s in it. It’s all part of the education process. Information is powerful and people need to know how to get the right information.’’