Our credit scores, ourselves? A story and some advice.

We looked at data last week showing consumer credit scores drifting lower in the recession. We’re trying to crank up the conversation about the scores and what people have experienced.

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Bonnie Creason was the first to help.

A source in MPR’s Public Insight Network, told us last year her score fell for reasons she didn’t understand.

“Nothing with me has changed and I actually make significantly more than I did a year ago. I’m baffled and angry that my score has dropped 40-100 points,” she told us then, adding that she’d been calling the reporting agencies to find out why.

We caught up with her in emails this week to find out what happened. The good news: The Minneapolis woman told us her score bounced back. But she says she still doesn’t know what happened and couldn’t get a straight answer from the reporting agencies.

She told us:

Yes, within a year my credit rating mysteriously returned to it’s previous rating. I can’t really offer any insight on that either. Is this frustrating or what!

The good offers that came in were things like a Firestone card that offered discounted services, 6 mo free financing on $250 or more purchases, no fees and 5% cash back on all purchases…Citibank offered me a 0% balance transfer, which was not available before.

So you see, I pretty much have no idea what happened or why. But in the end, it paid off to be a good customer.

Your credit score is important because it directly effects what kind of credit you can get (credit cards, mortgages, home equity loans) and how much you’ll pay. Consumer advocates and the scoring company say the best way to keep your credit score healthy is to pay your bills on time, pay off debt rather than moving it between cards and apply for new cards only when you need them.

Staying current on bills, of course, is tough when you are out of a job. The Great Recession has put lots of people out of work.

Here’s FICO’s chart showing scores and the percentage of Americans in each category

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Looking back, Creason says the reporting agencies were no help in trying to understand why her score fell and why it came back. “The good thing is I had no detrimental information on my credit history, which is why this was all a mystery to me.”

I would just recommend to others to a) ask for what they want, and talk to a manager if the person on the line can’t help; and b) don’t be afraid to tell them you’re taking your business elsewhere. It’s pretty much the only thing they’ll listen to and the only power we have as consumers. I feel it pays to vocalize discontent and suggest everyone else do it too.

I find it disheartening that the good customers suffer because of the bad customers. There should be more done to reward our responsible behavior, instead of using us to bail out the others. This isn’t insurance, credit should not work this way.

She threw in one final good bit of advice. Get yourfree credit report every year. “One never knows when you’ll need it,” she said, “and you need it for everything nowadays.”

More voices will help on this issue. Please drop a line and tell us your story about credit scores and life. Post something below or contact us directly.

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FICO has a pretty easy to read page on scores, how to improve them and how to fix errors.

What determines your credit score? Here’s a primer from FICO and the Consumer Federation of America.

1. Your payment history – about 35% of a FICO score

Have you paid your credit accounts on time? Late payments, bankruptcies, and other negative items can hurt your credit score. But a solid record of on-time payments helps your score.

2. How much you owe – about 30% of a FICO score

FICO scores look at the amounts you owe on all your accounts, the number of accounts with balances, and how much of your available credit you are using. The more you owe compared to your credit limit, the lower your score will be.

3. Length of your credit history – about 15% of a FICO score

A longer credit history will increase your score. However, you can get a high score with a short credit history if the rest of your credit report shows responsible credit management.

4. New credit – about 10% of a FICO score

If you have recently applied for or opened new credit accounts, your credit score will weigh this fact against the rest of your credit history. FICO scores distinguish between a search for a single loan and a search for many new credit lines, in part by the length of time over which inquiries occur. If you need a loan, do your rate shopping within a focused period of time, such as 30 days, to avoid lowering your FICO score.

5. Other factors – about 10% of a FICO score

Several minor factors also can influence your score. For example, having a mix of credit types on your credit report – credit cards, installment loans such as a mortgage or auto loan, and personal lines of credit – is normal for people with longer credit histories and can add slightly to their scores.

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