Experian’s Rod Griffin Talks Boosting Your Credit Score

MP recently sat down with Rod Griffin, Director of Consumer Education and Advocacy for Experian. He is responsible for Experian’s national consumer education programs and outreach. Rod serves as an expert spokesperson on consumer issues, particularly credit reporting, credit scoring, and identity theft, and is frequently quoted by national television, print, radio, and online media including the New York Times, Washington Post, CNBC.com, MSNBC.com, Time Magazine, and other national media outlets.

MP: Why are there different credit scores and what purpose does each of them serve?

RG: This is a popular question. Credit scores are based on proprietary algorithms created by independent companies as well as by lenders themselves. Most consumers are familiar with the name FICO, the most recognized credit scoring company. Their largest competitor is VantageScore. Both produce credit scores used by lenders and other organizations.

FICO scores were first developed by what was then called Fair Isaac Corporation in the late 1980s.  VantageScore is a score developed together by the three credit reporting agencies to provide an alternative to an entrenched scoring system that would expand access to credit to more consumers and to people who have been unable to access traditional credit resources.

The scores are calculated using the information in an individual’s credit report. People often confuse the report with the score and mistakenly believe that credit reporting agencies create the score. Think of the credit report as a financial resume; there are various bits of information compiled in one place that represents your credit history, similar to the way a resume represents your work history. Lenders use electronic credit scoring systems to objectively evaluate the information from the credit report.  

Credit scores have a very important purpose. They are used by lenders to assess risk in their lending decisions. It tells lenders how likely a consumer is to pay back a loan, which is often called “creditworthiness.”

MP: What are the quickest ways to make a good credit score great?

RG: There are a few key factors for how credit scores are calculated and what carries the most weight in changing the score. First, pay your bills and pay them on time. Second, keep your credit card balances as low as possible. Any balance can affect credit scores. You should not utilize more than 30 percent of the total available credit at a maximum. When utilization exceeds that level, scores begin to fall much more rapidly. For example, if you have two credit cards at a credit limit of $5,000 each for a total of $10,000, you will only want to be using about $3,000 total. We aim to achieve the best, but in the credit scoring game, it is not always the best pursuit.

Credit scores fluctuate based on a consumer’s financial activity so my advice is not to get too obsessed with trying to achieve a perfect score – practice positive financial behavior and the score will reflect that and generate a good score that will allow a consumer to achieve his/her financial goals. However, it’s important to be checking the score and credit report often, and consumers can get access to this information as well as tools such as credit monitoring to be alerted of changes to their credit report through free and paid products that are available in the marketplace.

MP: What impacts your credit score the most?

RG: I often get asked, “What is the trick to improving a credit score?” There really isn’t any magic to making your scores better; the biggest impact is from paying your bills and paying them on time. The second most important is keeping credit card balances low. The fastest way for most people to improve their credit scores is to catch up on any late payments and reduce their credit card balances. If consumers practice positive financial habits over time, the credit score will reflect that behavior.

MP: Can you share a few credit statistics with us?

RG: Experian often releases different data on credit topics and, recently, we took a look at how consumers fared over the past tumultuous year. Unfortunately, nearly 1 in 3 consumers have a subprime score, which is a score that falls behind a certain threshold.  This threshold isn’t universal and can vary based on the organization that’s making the distinction. For the purposes of Experian’s analysis, all consumers with scores of less than 670—or those in the “poor” and “fair” FICO® Score☉  ranges—were considered to be subprime. However, the good news is that this population has shrunk by 12 percent since 2020. This means consumers are seeing improvements in their credit scores. In fact, consumers had the highest average of 700+ credit scores in many years. This was possibly due to pandemic cost-cutting and loan forbearance and government stimulus programs.

MP: What is the FACT Act and why is it relevant?

RG: The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act) is a federal law that amended the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The act allows consumers to request and obtain a free credit report once every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). In cooperation with the Federal Trade Commission, the three major credit reporting agencies set up the website AnnualCreditReport.com to provide free access to annual credit reports. At Experian, we also offer access to credit scores and Experian credit reports for free at Experian.com. 

It’s important for consumers to check their credit reports regularly to verify the information is accurate, dispute information that may be incorrect, and look for signs of identity theft. Checking your credit report regularly will ensure it will help you get the credit you need and help you respond to signs of fraud.

MP: What factors do credit scoring models usually consider?

RG: The credit score models usually consider the following: payment history, amounts owed, length of credit history, credit mix, and how much new credit is established.  Credit scores are very individualized; the scores reflect consumers’ personal credit relationships, which evolve over time. Scores fluctuate as information in the credit report changes. Every consumer has a unique credit history.  

MP: What should someone do if they miss a credit card payment?

RG: The best course of action is to make the payment as soon as possible. Late payments do not appear in a credit report until a full billing cycle, usually, 30 days, has been missed. Making the payment, even days after the due date, would prevent it from appearing in the credit report. Consumers should contact their lenders ahead of time if they have to miss a payment to discuss options for making the payment such as an extension. A late payment appearing in the credit report will affect a consumer’s credit score so be aware that the score may drop and it may not be a good time to apply for additional credit.

MP: Is there anything else you would like to share?

RG: In addition to practicing positive financial habits, I encourage consumers to access the many resources available to them that can help them achieve their financial goals. At Experian, we offer Experian Boost, a free tool that allows consumers to add in positive payment history for telecom and utility accounts, as well as video streaming services, to their Experian credit file to potentially increase their score immediately. We also have an educational blog at Experian.com/education.

Check out Rod Griffin’s article on how to improve your business credit.

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