What criteria determines a good or bad credit risk?

Lenders often use a FICO score for an objective measure of credit risk. This is a calculation of your credit report by the Fair Isaac Corp., a Minneapolis-based provider of creative analytics. It obviously can help or hurt that score by knowing how lenders look at credit risk.

The following five areas are for the general public, but they may be altered on an individual basis depending on the circumstances.

* Your track record. The greatest impact on your score is if you have made timely payments on various accounts. Keep in mind that an overall good credit profile can outweigh a few late payments. This accounts for 35 percent of your score.

* How much do you owe? Maintaining a small balance without missing payments shows that you've managed credit responsibly, and is often considered better than having no balance. While you don't want to have too many accounts open, it's good to have more than one, so that you're not using too much of one account's available credit limit. Owing a lot of money on numerous accounts suggests to lenders that you may be overextended. This accounts for 30 percent.

* Your credit history. A seasoned credit history will increase your FICO score. Lenders want to see that you can responsibly manage your credit accounts over time. This is 15 percent of the score.

* Taking on more debt? Opening several credit accounts in a short period of time can represent a greater risk, especially for those with newer credit histories. FICO tries to distinguish between an attempt to obtain many new credit accounts and an attempt to obtain the best interest rates. Its scores usually do not associate higher risk with shopping for the best interest rate. This accounts for 10 percent.

* Types of credit. The score will reflect your mix of credit cards, retail accounts, installment loans, finance company accounts and mortgage loans, among others. While a healthy mix will improve your score, it's not necessary to have one of each, and it's not a good idea to open accounts that you don't intend to use. This also accounts for 10 percent.

Outside the scope

Lenders look at many things when making a credit decision, including your income, employment history and the kind of credit that you're requesting, but none of those factors are included in your FICO score. And neither is your race, religion, sex, marital status, age or even if you receive public assistance.

FICO also ignores self-inquiries, so checking your own credit report will not lower your credit score. In fact, it's a good idea to check your own credit report at least once a year to make sure that there are no mistakes.

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