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Skip Navigation LinksHome > Services > More Resources > Understand Your Credit

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A good credit history can be one of your most valuable assets. Therefore, it is extremely important that you understand what credit is and familiarize yourself with the ways to maintain and build good credit. If you are well informed on how your credit can work for you, you will find that it will help you significantly in managing your finances and building your future.

What is Credit?
Credit is the arrangement for a deferred payment (or payments) of a purchase or a loan. Credit can also be defined as the ability of a person or a company to borrow money.

Do You Need Credit?
Some people choose to pay cash for all their purchases, however, the vast majority of people typically need credit. Credit is often used as a convenient way to buy cars, computers, appliances and other high priced products. If an individual or company always pays cash for their purchases, they will never establish any credit history and it will be difficult for them to obtain credit.

What is Credit History?
Credit history is the record of how well you have managed to pay back your loans. In other words, it is your payment history. It is important to have a good credit history since lenders (banks, financial companies, credit corporations, etc) use your credit history to help determine whether or not to make a loan to you. Your credit history can be found in a credit report.

What is a Credit Report?
A credit report is the factual record of your credit payment history. The credit report will tell potential lenders whether or not you have made your payments on time. Companies that you have set up credit with or have taken out loans supply the information found on the credit report. Private companies called credit bureaus collect the information for the credit reports.

What Information is on a Credit Report?

  • Personal Information: Name, current and previous addresses, telephone number, date of birth, current and previous employers.
  • Credit History: Your record of paying bills (utility bills, department store bills, phone bills, cable bills, etc), bank loans, student loans, car loans, mortgage payments.
  • Public Records: Judgments, tax liens, or bankruptcies are examples of information found in public records that will severely impact your ability to obtain credit.
  • Credit Inquiries: Every time you apply for credit, the lender acquires your credit report and the inquiry is recorded on your credit report.

What if You don't have any Credit History?
A lack of credit history will make it difficult for you to obtain a loan or be extended credit. Consequently, it is important that you establish credit. There are several ways you can establish credit. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Put bills in your name: Set up your utility bills (electric, water, gas, phone, cable, etc) in your own name. Lenders like to see that you are able to manage your bills and maintain your accounts.
  • Set up a bank account: A bank account shows lenders that you have established some security. Whether it be a savings account, a checking account or both, setting up a bank account will help you record your income and expenses and it should help you balance your budget.
  • Reduce your debt: It is particularly important that you make your payments on time and pay off your loans. This includes any credit card payments that you might have. Paying just the interest only on your credit card can sometimes lead you into financial problems. Furthermore, lenders like to see that you can control your debts. Managing your payments, paying off your loans and reducing your debt. More than anything else, these actions will show lenders that you are credit-worthy.

What are Examples of Bad Credit?
Delinquencies, bankruptcies and charged-offs are all examples of bad credit.

  • Delinquencies: A Delinquency is the most common kind of bad credit. Failing to pay your bills on time will cause a delinquency, which will tarnish your credit history.
  • Charged-Offs: A charged-off occurs when a debt is not paid. Credit is typically extended under terms of a contract. When the debtor does not meet the obligations of the contract with the lender and does not payback the debt this results in a charged-off. Charged-offs can severely hurt your ability to get credit in the future.
  • Bankruptcies: There are two types of bankruptcies, both of which negatively impact your credit. When a Chapter 7 bankruptcy is filed, most or all of the debts are canceled. However, the impact on the individuals credit report as a result of the bankruptcy is damaged indefinitely. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy allows the debtor to repay part or all of the debt under a court-approved payment plan.

How Long Does Bad Credit Stay on the Credit Report?
Bad credit leaves a lasting impression on your credit report. While delinquencies can negatively affect your credit history and rating, they are not as long lasting as a charged-off account or a bankruptcy.

  • Charged-Offs: A charged-off account stays on the credit report for seven years. The date of the first delinquency leading to the charge-off is the beginning date.
  • Bankruptcies: A chapter 7 bankruptcy will remain on the credit report for ten years while a chapter 13 bankruptcy remains on the credit report for seven years.

How to Re-Establish, or Rebuild Good Credit
The single most important way to improve or establish good credit is to make up-to-date payments and keep them current. Paying your bills on time and over a period of time helps you build a positive credit history.

If you have had a bad credit report in past and are trying to re-establish your credit, keep in mind that this is not an overnight process. However, if you can build up some good recent credit history, this can sometimes help you obtain new credit even before your older negative credit information has cycled off your report.

It commonly takes about two years to repair bad credit. The number one rule when trying to re-establish your credit is to always pay your bills and to always pay them on time. Negative information such as delinquencies do lose their potency over time so a late payment from three years ago will not do nearly as much damage to your credit history as that of a recent late payment. Here are some other ways to help you re-establish your credit.

  • Start Small: Try applying for credit with a local store or credit union. Sometimes, a local business may not have as high of standards as that of the larger merchants. Make sure though that the lender reports credit history to one of the mayor U.S. credit bureaus to that you can receive recognition for your positive efforts.
  • Get A Cosigner: If you are having difficulty opening a credit account, you might want to consider finding a cosigner for your loan. Your cosigner (usually either a friend or family member) can use their credit worthiness to help you obtain credit. The cosigner actually signs on the loan with you and becomes obligated to the contract for the life of the loan along with you. If you don't pay, the cosigner is responsible to payoff the loan.
  • Don't Avoid Creditors: There are times when people are faced with financial problems. During difficult times, personal or family illness, a loss of job, it is not uncommon to miss a payment. If a problem does arise due to one of these unforeseen incidents, do not avoid the creditor. Contact the creditor immediately. If you ignore the creditor and wait until your account has been turned over to a collection agency, your trouble will only grow. More often than not, if a creditor is aware of your problems, the creditor will work with you and will try to work out a plan of action.
  • Put Together a Budget: Recognize how much money you have coming in either on a weekly or monthly basis. Match this income against the money that you spend (rent or mortgage payment, utilities, car payment, gas, groceries, insurance, clothes, entertainment, etc.) There is nothing more important than understanding your disposable income (how much money you have left after you take out all your expenses). By living within your budget you can take control of your future.
  • Avoid Impulse Purchases: Impulse purchases are usually items bought without thought or awareness of the consequences. Impulse purchases can build up your debt fast and this can cause serious problems in the long run. Think about what you need, stick to your budget and only use your credit when you really need something. After all, planning is the major factor in successfully using credit.

What is a Credit Score?
A credit score is the computer-generated score used to judge an individuals or company's credit worthiness. The score is derived from information compiled in a credit report (the record of the credit history), which is put together by a credit bureau.

The credit score is based upon the credit history and current credit accounts of the consumer. The scoring system awards points for such matters as how much money is owed and whether the payments were made on time. Other factors included in the score are if there were any delinquencies, charged-offs, or bankruptcies in the credit history. Scores are evaluated against the credit performance of other consumers with similar profiles to help predict who is a good credit risk and who is not.

How Can You Improve Your Credit Score?
There are approximately 30 factors that influence a credit score. Basically, these factors can be organized into five categories.

  • Payment History: Nothing is more important than paying your bills on time and keeping them current. Your credit score looks at your payment history and your score is determined by such matters as; how many accounts show no late payments, how many accounts are late, how recent are they, how late they are, how much is owed on the accounts, and are there public records regarding judgments or bankruptcies? Payment history counts more towards your credit score and rating than any other category.
  • Outstanding Debt: The amount that you owe on each of the accounts that you have an open line of credit with as well as how close the accounts is to being paid off. Accounts that you have already paid off also count positively in the credit score.
  • Credit History: The credit score is ranked according to how long the consumer has had a history of credit. The consumer is also evaluated on how long it has been since each account has been used and also when the accounts were first opened.
  • Pursuit of New Credit: Too aggressively seeking out credit can sometimes come back to hurt your credit score. Lenders frequently take the pursuit of new credit as a warning sign that you could be on the path to overextending yourself financially. Consequently, it's important to take into consideration how many inquiries are on your report as well as how recent they are.
  • Credit in Use: The credit score takes into consideration how many accounts are being used as well as how many accounts are unused. Having several types of credit being used at the same time (car payments, credit cards, department store cards, installment loans, entertainment cards, etc) could put your credit score at risk. On the other hand, access to large amounts of credit can also make you conceivably a poorer credit risk. It's important to have good balance and simply put, you need to keep your debt reasonable.
Keep in mind, certain factors such as payment history, have more weight than others, such as the length of your credit history. However, if there are negatives in one area, they can be outweighed by positives in another. Also, never underestimate the power of ones character. By making a commitment to your obligations, and showing that you can re-pay your debts, you can control your financial future and build trust with lenders.

Credit Report Fraud and Errors
Now and again, credit reports can contain mistakes. These mistakes are usually created by either fraud or error. You should make it a habit to review your credit report every year or so. By making sure your credit report is clean of errors, you can ensure that your report is accurate.

It is up to you to make sure your credit report is correct. Fraud occurs when someone else uses your name or social security number. This is a serious crime and if you suspect that you are a victim of fraud, contact the police or a lawyer immediately.

Use your credit wisely. Stick to a budget and put together a plan on how much credit you think you'll need now and in the future. Do not make the critical mistake of overextending yourself. You want to be comfortable with your debt load and always be in a position to be able to payback your debt.

The credit agreement with the lender is a legally binding document. You must always payback your debt as you agreed according to the terms of the contract. If you cannot, contact your lender immediately and discuss your options regarding working out a new payment plan.

Remember rule number one, always pay your bills and always pay them on time. As simple as it sounds, nothing is more important to your credit than this. By building a history of paying your debt on time, your good name will continue to improve and your status as a capable and credit worthy individual will become well established as you grow in the future.

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