Savvy fantasy baseballers read player rankings before draft day in order to make the best picks possible. The same deal goes with knowing where you rank with your creditors before you apply for a loan or mortgage, so you have time to develop a plan of action for raising your score.
Winning strategy: First, understand what credit scores really are, and know where you stand, says Maxine Sweet, vice president of public education at Experian, one of the three major credit-reporting agencies. "People do have the misperception that there's one score, but the way scoring really works is that the lender selects which model they want to use," says Sweet.
Among the more popular models are FICO and VantageScore. "The FICO scores have been adopted by lenders over the years -- something like nine out of the top 10 largest banks in the country use FICO," says Barry Paperno, consumer affairs manager of myFICO.com. More recently, VantageScore was developed as a joint venture of the three nationwide credit-reporting agencies, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, to be a generic credit-scoring model.
Regardless of which scores a potential lender uses, the smart play is to head to AnnualCreditReport.com once per year to request your free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus, says Sweet, to assess your stats. You can order your free credit reports all at once or one at a time during a 12-month period. Credit scores are based on the information in your credit report.