By Lina Martinez

Yes, it is a truly silly number. It ranges between 300 and 850. Who picked those numbers? Is it possible to be below 300? I haven't any idea.

It gets even more ridiculous when one considers that this uniquely American number can affect your ability to get loans, rent an apartment, qualify for a job and boast to others about how creditworthy you are. Yes, even the rate you pay for auto insurance is tied to your credit score. The insurance companies make the assumption that your credit score reflects how responsible you are on the road. It doesn't matter if you disputed a horrible dental treatment and they put you into collections, apparently you aren't responsible enough to drive cheaply.

We Americans like to base things on numbers. The measurements might be inconsistent, constantly changing and unbelievably convoluted, but we still have to have numbers to compare to. As infantile as it is, your credit score matters even if you have no idea how it is calculated.

So watch it.

In the old days of the early and mid-2000’s, we were regaled with catchy commercials that tempted you to get free credit score with funny songs. Later, they would charge you and never let you escape the black hole of unwilling membership hell. Now, truly free credit scores abound.

If you have a major credit card, access to your credit score is usually included for free. Discover has provided it for years and now many major banks are adding the service. Wells Fargo has just added it for their credit card account holders.

Some may be building toward someday having a credit card and for them Credit Karma is perfect. The app is slick and utilizes your fingerprint to log in on certain smartphones. You will have access to your TransUnion and Equifax credit scores, as well as credit tips and offers for credit cards and loans.

Credit scores are great, but seeing the whole convoluted report can be valuable too. Congress mandated the existence of in 2003, and many Americans still aren't aware that they have free access to their credit report from all three credit bureaus. Yes, credit bureaus totally mess up credit reports and checking them is crucial. It is great to know your credit score, but if all you know is the score and not what might be behind its creation, you are getting nowhere.

Whatever you do, take advantage of these free resources. It is a stupid number but an important number nevertheless. Americans now have at least some access to understanding what the number is and what is affecting it. Use it or you might be deemed irresponsible behind the wheel of a car and unfit for a specific job.

Lina Martinez in a regular contributor to the zenruption life and money sections. She knows her way around money, likes whiskey sours and zenrupts the shit out of life. Occasionally, she gets really serious and then we buy her a shot. Maybe it is just a game to get free shots? 


Feature photo courtesy of Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license