Creditors look at your ability to repay the debt by analyzing your current expenses and your income. Once they have all of that information available a credit granting decision is made.
Many creditors also look at something that is called your "Credit Risk Score". One of the most popular scoring systems is known as a "FICO Score" but it is not the only scoring system. "FICO" derives its name from the company that invented the scoring process: Fair Isaac & Co.
Regardless of the name of scoring rules, Risk Scores are numerical representations that attempt to "predict" the likelihood of you being a good credit risk. In fact, credit risk scores are the sole determining factor that are used by web sites that offer you "instant credit" when you apply on line.
You should know that risk scores are not part of your official credit report and they are not part of your credit history. They are calculated by the particular lender when they receive your credit report. Not all lenders assign the same value to each scoring decision point, which means that your score will vary among lenders.
There are almost as many different scoring systems as there are lenders. Although all of them evaluate your general creditworthiness and your risk of bankruptcy, the models vary widely from there depending upon whether you are seeking a mortgage, credit card, auto loan, etc.
In some scoring systems, a high number is desirable. Others want to see a low number. Your best bet is to find out what scoring system your potential lender uses and ask them what the scoring criteria are. That's the only way that your Credit Risk Score will really mean anything to you when you see it.
Back to FICO scores for a minute. You actually have three FICO scores, which is one for each of the major credit bureaus. Since none of the major bureaus has 100% of your credit history by itself, your scores will vary among bureaus. Please refer to the section on Mortgage Reports to see how this is addressed when you are buying a home.
No credit scoring system is allowed to use non-credit data such as your race, sex, marital status, national origin, or religion when determining your score. Creditors are allowed to use your age as a scoring factor but they are not allowed to discriminate against elderly applicants.
I was told that my score was too low. How can I improve it?
As I said, different creditors use different scoring models and there is no one uniform methodology. You score can go up or down regularly based upon events in your life. Your best bet is to ask the particular creditor that denied you credit how you can improve your score with them.
All of that not withstanding, there are some generally accepted methods of helping to improve your chances of having a good score. Paying your bills on time is one-step in the right direction. If you are behind on payments then catch them up. Here are some other generally accepted tips:
Keep an eye on your total outstanding debt.
Many scoring models consider the amount of outstanding credit you have as compared to your maximum credit limits. If your credit card balances are at or close to your limit, it could lower your score.
How long have you had a credit history?
Creditors like to see a long history of satisfactory credit. Of course "long" is a relative term and that's one reason why creditors are allowed to consider your age when making a scoring decision.
How much "new" credit have you applied for?
If you have applied for "too much" credit, according to whatever arbitrary definition a creditor wants to assign, then this could lower your score as well. As time passes these accounts are no longer considered "new" and your score changes as a result. If you've handled the accounts in a satisfactory manner then your score could go up. Otherwise, it will likely go down.
How much credit do you have in total?
While you want to have a "long" credit history, you don't want to have too much open credit. This makes creditors nervous because you might be accumulating too much debt and not be able to pay them back.
Remember, your ability to repay the debt a creditor grants you is the most important factor when they look at your credit report but other things are considered too. Use the four tips above before you apply for credit to improve your chances.