Thursday, March 10, 2011

Confusing Credit Terminology

The creditor hath a better memory than the debtor.
James Howell
John Ulzheimer, President of Consumer Education at, explains seven pairs of confusing credit terms at

I'll paraphrase and elaborate and try not to make any mistakes.

Credit Report vs Credit Score

A credit score is a financial "grade" based upon an interpretation of your current credit report by a credit agency. (See FICO score below)

Credit Report vs Credit File

A credit file is all the information about you that is floating around a credit bureau’s database waiting to be compiled into an official credit report. No one outside a credit bureau should see your credit file while your credit report can be purchased by banks, auto dealers, etc.

Credit Reporting Agency vs Consumer Reporting Agency
“Consumer reporting agency” is a legal term describing any organization that regularly compiles information about consumers for the purposes of selling it to a 3rd party. 

A credit reporting agency is just one example of a consumer reporting agency. A non-credit example is LexisNexis; they collect personal data and create consumer reports for employment screening, resident screening, insurance underwriting, and volunteer background checks.

Credit Score vs FICO Score

FICO is an acronym for the Fair Isaac Corporation, the creators of the very popular FICO credit score. There are other credit scores like NextGen and VantageScore but hardly anyone uses them. It is important to know which type of score you have because the ranges are different: A FICO score is between 300 and 850. A VantageScore score ranges from 501-990.

Home Equity Loan vs Home Equity Line

A home equity loan is a loan with a fixed payment for a fixed number of months. (Ignoring for simplicity variable rate loans.)

A home equity line is a revolving line of credit, just like a credit card. You can borrow against it, pay it back, and borrow again.

In both cases the loan/line is secured by your home, which means if you default on your payments you could lose your house.

Credit Card vs Charge Card

A credit card is a revolving account, which means you have a variable payment depending on your outstanding balance for the month. 

A charge card (like American Express) requires payment in full each and every month. There is no minimum payment and no rolling the rest over with interest to be paid in the future.

Chapter 7 vs Chapter 13

Both are types of consumer bankruptcies.  Under Chapter 7, “liquidation”, any "statutorily dischargeable debt" is eliminated. 

Under Chapter 13 the debt is "adjusted." The consumer pays to a trustee who then distributes the money to the consumer’s creditors.

Bottom Line

When my wife got a home mortgage she had a great lawyer. He made her read the entire contract with the bank. She said, but that's your job.

He replied, no. It's your money and your home. You must understand what you are signing. His job was to make sure the contract was fair and to help her to understand the language of the contract she would have to live with for the next 20 or 30 years.

Always read and understand any financial document you sign.

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