By Rob Schuette, The Real McCoy Staff
Everyone in the Fort McCoy community should review their credit
reports annually and know their FICO scores, said Bryan Clarkin.
Bryan Clarkin instructs a class
about how to properly check credit scores at Army Community
Service. Credit scores can be used to help determine loans and
hiring and promotions. (Photo
by Rob Schuette)
Clarkin, the Fort McCoy Army Community Service (ACS) Financial
Readiness Program manager, said it's important personnel know their
credit scores because they are used to help determine a number of
things, including credit approval for loans (personal, mortgage),
interest rate levels, insurance rates, and whether or not you are
hired for your next job or receive a promotion.
"With that much on the line, it is surprising that only 22
percent of people check their credit scores the recommended once a
year," Clarkin said. "(Astonishingly), 42 percent of
consumers 18 and older have never even checked their credit
The lack of oversight can lead to credit problems. Clarkin said
one survey indicated that 25 percent of the credit reports surveyed
had serious errors. Altogether, 79 percent of credit reports surveyed
had serious or other mistakes on them.
Most consumers also don't know the difference between good and
bad scores and how to improve them, he said.
"Beware of the companies that promise they can fix your
credit score or credit. They can range from giving you illegal
advice to a short-term fix..."
Fort McCoy Financial Readiness Program Manager
A BrightScore class offered through ACS Jan. 30 provided
members of the Fort McCoy community with information about their
credit reports. The BrightScore credit check was free for active-duty
military personnel and cost $19.95 for federal civilian and military
personnel. More information about this and other credit report reviews
can be obtained by contacting the Fort McCoy Financial Readiness
The Fort McCoy Financial Readiness Program also offers
information about credit reports and FICO scores, Clarkin said. FICO
stands for the Fair, Isaac and Company (model credit scoring).
The higher the score, the less risk personnel represent to a
prospective lender. Clarkin said FICO scores range from 300-850 points
and are used to determine if personnel are qualified for a loan or
credit offer and what interest rate they will pay.
Personnel with FICO scores less than 620, for example, are
considered to have very risky credit. They probably will have a hard
time qualifying for a loan, and if they do, the interest rate will be
very high, probably toward the maximum rate allowed. A FICO score
above 660 is considered acceptable, while the very good range starts
at 720 and the excellent range is 750 and above. Each level improves
the chances a loan will be approved. And as the score goes higher,
consumers will get a more favorable interest rate, as well, Clarkin
said. Any consumers seeking preferred interest rates need to have a
FICO score of 720 or higher.
scores available free to consumers
Personnel can request a free
copy of their credit reports from the major U.S. credit
reporting agencies, which are Experian, Equifax and TransUnion,
by going to the Web site http://www.annualcreditreport.com
or by calling toll-free (877) 322-8228.
If consumers contact the credit bureaus directly, they
will be charged for the services.
The direct contact information for the credit-reporting
information about the use of credit in the Fort McCoy community,
call Army Community Service at (608) 388-3505 or visit 2111
South 8th Ave.
Five factors are considered in determining a FICO score. The
most important is the repayment history, which comprises 35 percent of
the score. The next most important factor is the amount owed at 30
percent. The other 45 percent of the score is comprised of the length
of the credit history (15 percent), and new credit and types of credit
used (both 10 percent).
"Beware of the companies that promise they can fix your
credit score or credit," Clarkin said. "They can range from
giving you illegal advice to a short-term fix, after which consumers
can find themselves in the same situation they were before the
Personnel who want to build sound credit can take direct action
to improve their credit scores. The first is to pay all bills on time.
This includes such things as house and car payments, utilities, such
as electric, heat and water, cable/satellite television, credit cards,
medical bills, etc.
A study by the Experian Credit Agency revealed that 55 percent
of consumers had at least one delinquent payment on their credit
report, and 34 percent of consumers had a delinquency report within
the past year. Consumers with one delinquency score averaged a FICO
score of 598 verses 759 for those with no delinquent payments.
Personnel should monitor and restrict the number of credit
cards they have.
More credit cards does not necessarily mean better. If
consumers plan to open more credit cards, it is better to do it over a
period of time, rather than all at once, Clarkin said.
Credit card balances should be kept low. Debt should be paid
off rather than moving it around to new cards, such as those that have
a low introductory interest rate or perhaps a 0 percent rate, he said.
Consumers should read and understand the basic terms of credit
Clarkin said this includes the proper way to dispute account or
billing entries -- not just deciding not to pay an amount, which can
"Consumers need to realize they can improve their credit
report over time; there is no instant fix," he said.
A number of resources exist that can provide assistance. In
addition to ACS, personnel can contact their command financial
specialist, legal services, and Defense Credit Unions. The military
Web site http://www.militaryonesource.com
and the Consumer Credit Counseling Services, with a toll-free national
locator number of (800) 388-2227, can provide good information, he
Personnel also can stay on top of their credit by following a
budget, understanding their credit reports and obtaining them
annually, maintaining a high FICO score, continually managing debt and
expenses and opting out of all pre-approved credit offers by calling
(888) 5-OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688.)
For more information about credit or financial matters in the
Fort McCoy community, visit the Web site http://www.mccoymwr.com
and click on Army Community Service, Financial Readiness Program or
ACS Schoolhouse, Financial Management or call (608) 388-3505.