Photo of a man with young children.

How to read a credit score (and why it matters)

It’s a simple three-digit number, but your credit score matters to all sorts of financial goals. Take a mortgage: Improving your credit score by more than 100 points may help knock a half point off your interest rate. And a careful review of your credit report can alert you mistakes—even instances of identity theft. (More on all the reasons your credit report matters later.)

Ready to learn more?

Credit scores and credit reports: the basics

Three essentials help you understand what others think of your credit reliability and why a credit report can help you strengthen your financial foundation.

Graphic showing that a credit score is a 3 digit number from 300 to 850-950, and the higher the number the better. Graphic showing that a credit reporting agency is a business that gathers credit information on individuals and businesses. Graphic showing that a credit report is a summary of your credit accounts.

What a credit report looks like

A credit score is a single number; your credit report is a snapshot of your credit history and outlook. Here’s what you’ll find on a credit report.

Graphic showing what a credit report looks like.

Getting your credit reports

Good news: You can get a copy of your credit report once every 12 months—at no charge. Here’s how to request it and what to do with it.

Graphic showing how and were to request a credit report. Graphic showing how a better interest rate is better for you.

Next steps

  • Work with your tax or credit professional to create a plan to improve your credit score.
  • Ready to work on the rest of your financial picture? Learn how to create your own financial plan, step by step.


Equifax, Transunion and Experian are not affiliates of any company of the Principal Financial Group®. is referenced as a courtesy and is not an endorsement of Principal.   

The subject matter in this communication is educational only and provided with the understanding that Principal® is not rendering legal, accounting, investment advice or tax advice. You should consult with appropriate counsel or other advisors on all matters pertaining to legal, tax, investment or accounting obligations and requirements.