After a lifetime of using credit, where did my score go?

This post originally appeared September 8, 2016 on CreditCards.com as “If credit score disappears, here’s how to get it back

By Barry Paperno

Dear Speaking of Credit,
How does a credit report disappear? I have used credit for most of my life. I am 75 years old and when I recently applied for a loan, I was told I had no credit score. I had one a few years ago. I needed it for something and it was available. What makes the report go away? – Patricia

Dear Patricia,
Let’s begin by clarifying that often-blurred line between credit reports and credit scores, since it sounds like you probably still have a credit report — just no credit score.

Credit report
Your credit report is a listing of credit accounts reported by your creditors, public record items gathered from local courthouses, inquiries into your credit bureau file within the past two years, and personally identifying information provided by your creditors.

For credit accounts, your credit report typically shows the name of the creditor, type of credit, current and highest past balance, credit limit for credit cards, and dates opened, last reported and last active. Public record information includes filing dates and amounts due on court judgments, tax liens and bankruptcies. Inquiries result from applications for credit, consumers requesting their own credit reports and scores (which only you can see when pull your report), companies looking to make credit offers, and any time a credit report is accessed for any reason.

Along with your credit account information, creditors also report personally identifying information, such as name, current and previous addresses, Social Security number, date of birth and employer. There are three major U.S. credit bureaus that maintain these credit files – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

Credit score
Your credit score is a three-digit number, usually ranging from 300-850 points. It comes from a mathematical formula that relies on credit report information known to be predictive of how likely you are to pay all of your credit obligations on time. For a rather extreme example, consumers with no missed payments and low card balances are more likely to make all future payments on time than those with maxed-out cards and a history of late payments. Only your credit account information and none of your personally identifying information is included in your score.

Credit scores are used by creditors in lending decisions to gauge how creditworthy you are. The way they see it is the higher your score, the better their chances of being repaid as agreed. There are two companies that create these formulas, FICO (formerly Fair Isaac Corp.) and VantageScore, with FICO being the oldest and most commonly used by lenders – and the one we’ll focus on here.

Your situation
Why don’t you have a credit score? The most likely reason is that, while having used credit most of your life, you probably stopped using credit some time ago. Before the FICO scoring formula can determine your creditworthiness, your credit report must include at least one credit account reported recently to the credit bureau.  This shows that not only have you have used credit responsibly in the past, but you have done so recently.  No matter how many years of credit history your credit report shows, if you don’t have at least one account reported to the credit bureau within the past six months, you won’t have a FICO credit score.

When consumers like you with many years of credit experience run into this problem of having no credit score, it’s often the result of having put their credit cards aside after having paid off the mortgage and any car loans. And though you may not have specifically requested any of your cards closed, when not used for an extended period of time the card companies tend to close and stop reporting them to the credit bureaus – often without notifying you.

The solution
To revive your score and avoid this predicament in the future, you’ll need to establish, or re-establish, at least one open credit account that regularly reports to the credit bureaus and is included in your credit score. Though opening a new unsecured card or loan typically requires the credit score you don’t have, each of the following easily available options can quickly lead to its return:

  1. Reactivate an old closed card. Despite not having a score, some creditors – particularly department stores and other retailers – will reopen your account with a low credit limit, based on past years of good history with them.
  2. Open a secured credit card. Requiring a cash deposit held as collateral in the amount of a credit limit, most card companies offer secured cards that contribute to credit scores in the same ways as the typical unsecured kind.
  3. Be added as an authorized user. Once a spouse, family member or friend adds you to their credit card as an authorized user, you remain free from responsibility for the balance, while the card’s history is reported to the credit bureau in your name each month and instantly becomes part of your FICO score.

From the moment one of these accounts appears on your credit report – typically about 30-45 days after opening, re-opening or being added as an authorized user – your credit score will reappear automatically. Fortunately for consumers like you with a long, though not recent, track record, all those years of responsible credit management will not have been forgotten. Your revitalized score will not only include any recently reported account(s), but also any credit history still on your credit report from years past.

Going forward, plan on using at least one credit card occasionally to keep it open and active, and you’ll keep that score alive and well long into the future.

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