In English, that means credit scores are designed to predict the likelihood that you'll fall seriously behind in repaying one of your creditors within the next two years. Some things have predictive value and some don't. Inquiries fall in the middle.
"They're not incredibly predictive, so they're in the model but they don't drive the boat," Watts says.
5. Checking my own credit report harms my standing
The reporting agencies distinguish between soft and hard pulls. When Target calls to check before issuing its line of credit, the agencies chalk that up as a hard pull and it counts against your score. Personal requests and credit counselors -- if they do it correctly (insist on this as part of your agreement terms) -- fall under soft pulls, which do not reflect negatively on the evaluation.
Using a company that promises credit reports as a perk can turn this myth into a self-fulfilling prophecy, however, McNaughton says.
Because they are merchants in disguise, their freebie costs you. Citizens must go directly to the three bureaus if they want a soft pull. Ditto FICO.
"Pulling your credit scores is quite empowering," says Watts. "You have a choice: You can either be very aggressive with your credit management and pull your score with some regularity or take a more passive approach once a year to see how all those credit cards are actually doing."
6. Credit scores are locked in for six months
Fair Isaac Corp.'s models are dynamic, meaning that your FICO score changes as soon as data on your credit report change.
"When we calculate a score, for all intents and purposes it then goes away and is recalculated the next time someone pulls your file," says Watts.
7. I don't need to check my credit report if I pay my bills on time
When the Consumer Federation of America and the National Credit Reporting Association analyzed credit scores in the summer of 2002, they discovered that 78 percent of the files were missing a revolving account in good standing, while 33 percent of files lacked a mortgage account that had never been late. Twenty-nine percent contained conflicting information on how many times the consumer had been 60 days late on payments.
"There can be a lot of other activity going on that you don't have any clue about," McNaughton says.
In her experience, 80 percent of all credit reports have erroneous information ranging from a wrong birth date to accounts you never applied for.