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According to a recent survey by the Consumer Federation of America and VantageScore Solution, Americans don't fully understand how their credit scores are determined or how the scores may be used.

From the interest rate and features you are offered on a credit card to your ability to qualify for a mortgage, your FICO® score plays a large part in a lenders decision making process.

An important part of staying credit ready is knowing your FICO® score, which is a numerical calculation of your credit report calculated by Fair Isaac Corporation. Scores range from 300 to 850 points and your score is calculated based on credit history compiled by credit bureaus with monthly updates. Information is kept on your file for up to seven years on your payment history, types of credit you use, new credit, amount owed and length of credit history.

Here are the five factors that determine your FICO® score:

Your payment history: what is your track record?

The most significant impact on your score is whether you have paid bills on or before their due date. If you have missed payments, get current and stay current. The longer you pay your bills on time, the better your score.

Amounts that you owe: how much is too much?

In some cases having small balances without missing payments shows you've managed credit responsibly, and may be slightly better than having no balance at all. But owing a lot of money on numerous accounts suggests to lenders that you may be overextended and more likely to make late payments - or make no payments at all.

Length of your credit history: how established is it?

In general, a more seasoned credit history will increase your FICO score. Lenders want to see that you can responsibly manage your credit over time.

New credit: are you taking on more debt?

Opening several credit accounts in a short period of time can represent a greater risk, especially for those with newer credit histories. Fico scores generally do not associate higher risk with multiple inquiries or shopping for the best interest rate.

Types of credit in use: is it a "healthy mix"?

Your FICO score will reflect your mix of credit cards, retail accounts, finance company and mortgage loans. While a healthy mix will improve your score, it's not necessary to have one of each, and it's not a good idea to open accounts you don't intend to use.

Lenders look at many things when making a credit decision, including your income, employment history and the kind of credit you're requesting. Self inquiries do not affect your score as long as you order your credit report directly from the credit reporting agencies or through an organization authorized to provide credit reports to consumers. Any Maine consumer can request one free copy of his or her credit report annually. And it's a good idea to check your credit report annually to make sure there are no mistakes.

The information provided is general in nature and may not apply to your personal investment situation. Individuals should consult with their chosen financial professional before making any decisions. Investment products and services are offered through Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC member SIPC. Neither Wells Fargo Advisors nor its financial professionals are legal or tax advisors.

Online Resources not affiliated with Wells Fargo Advisors:

www.creditscorequiz.org25 online questions to test your knowledge

www.myfico.comFICO score a numeric calculation of your credit report calculated by Fair Isaac Corporation.

Request your credit report online at www.annualcreditreport.com

"Consumer Guide to Credit Reports" information is available at www.maine.gov/pfr/consumercredit/credit_report.htm