Points & Miles 101: Getting your FREE Credit Report

I like to think the following is not only good advice for those about to get into points and miles but also solid, sound personal finance advice that everyone should be aware of.

In the United States, there are 3 major credit bureaus that report an individual’s FICO score. The three credit bureaus are Equifax, Transunion and Experian. Each of them uses its own database of information to determine an individual’s FICO score. The FICO score is the most commonly referred to metric for measuring a person’s credit score and it ranges from 300 to 850. Interestingly enough, the three bureaus generally have slightly different FICO scores for an individual so your credit score will vary based on what credit bureau it is obtained from.

The biggest factors that contribute towards your credit score is your payment history (35%) and current outstanding balances (30%). The FICO website does an excellent job of breaking down the formula to determine your credit score in more detail. In short however, someone who makes on-time payments, has not filed for a bankruptcy or does not have a massive amount of debt outstanding in relation to their total credit available (the credit utilization ratio), will generally have a high credit score.

While the FICO score ranges from 300 to 850, it is foolhardy to try and obtain a perfect credit score of 850. While it is basically unattainable to begin with, there is absolutely no need for a credit score that high. The range of excellent credit is generally regarded to be from 720 to 850. If you fall within that range, then it makes no difference if your credit score is 750 or 830 as you would qualify for the best interest rate on a loan.

Did you know that by federal law every American is entitled to a copy of their credit report from each of the 3 credit bureaus listed above? Every 12 months, you can obtain your credit report from www.annualcreditreport.com, which is run by the federal government.  These reports will show your complete credit history and show your current balances as the credit bureaus know them. Please do note though, there is a lag of  information so if you recently paid off a credit card or loan, it might not yet be reflected on your report.

FTC_Annual_Credit_Report1

The tieback of this to points and miles is that I strongly recommend an individual obtain copies of their credit reports before applying for a series of credit cards. You will want to get a sense of what your credit report entails and to check for any misstatements. On my credit report, I noticed a Discover credit card which was wrong as I have never had any type of Discover card. While it was slightly annoying to call them and have them investigate it, they did remove that account from my credit report after their investigation a few days later. You could easily imagine there might be wrong information on your credit report which could weigh down your credit score considerably. Don’t let that be you!

The most common complaint I’ve heard about these reports is they do not include your credit score and that’s absolutely correct. The law states only the report, not the score, must be made available to consumers once a year. The credit bureaus will happily sell you your credit score for a nice fee but stay tuned for the next post in Points & Miles 101, as I talk about a few tools that will show you your credit score for free!

Points & Miles 101: Creating Your Travel Bucket List

Today, I’m going to offer the single best piece of advice yet in my Points & Miles 101 series and it has absolutely nothing to do with points and miles! Additionally, I’m giving my readers some homework or at least permission to take a few minutes out of their day to think about the following:

I want everyone reading this to construct a travel bucket list – that is a list of at least 5 places you want to visit in your lifetime (feel free to share yours in the comments below!). 

Sounds simple enough but I know you’re thinking why – what does this have to do with points & miles? Before we get to that, let’s take a look at some sample bucket list items, including some of mine.

These all sound great with one major problem – all of these places are really freaking expensive!! I would love to scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef just as much as anyone but between flights and hotels alone it could easily cost $2,000 to $3,000 a person just to get there! I’m not made of that kind of money but I do have an easy solution – points and miles (c’mon you all saw that coming!)

Points and miles can allow you to experience trips that would otherwise be impossible for most people. The reason I think this is the most important piece of advice I’ve given yet is by writing down or creating your travel goals, it’s going to make you more interested and inclined to partake in the points and miles game. If I told you 150,000 miles and 100,000 hotel points later you could travel somewhere, that sounds fine and all but without a set goal in mind, you might not appreciate the value of those points and miles.

But if I told you two years and several credit cards later, you could be on your way to Bali, that sounds a hell of a lot better. In fact, I’d be willing to bet your going to work harder and become more involved in this game to take advantage of not only earning miles for that trip but all your future travel goals. And trust me once you get that one big free trip, you’re going to want more.

There is a reason most people consider some of these “bucket list trips” as once in a lifetime – they really are expensive and most people would be lucky to do this once in a lifetime. However, points and miles could allow you to do most, if not all of these trips for almost nothing! 

P.S. Even if your travel bucket list doesn’t have crazy, exotic goals on them, it doesn’t mean points and miles can’t help you. If your bucket list includes going to Disney or driving the Pacific Coast Highway, let points and miles take care of the flights and hotels for you!

Points & Miles 101: Introduction

*This is the beginning of a series of tips and other information geared towards beginners in the points and miles world. It will also contain some good personal finance tips that are applicable to everyone. There is no set order to this series but all posts will be tagged with “Points and Miles 101” so you can quickly search all the posts in this series.*

This might sound strange but I view points and miles as a form of currency just like the US Dollar, British Pound, or Indian Rupee. It’s kind of true – the most common and by far the most valuable use of points is towards free travel – I can “buy” a roundtrip flight to San Francisco for 25,000 miles. That’s not the only use though – did you know you could use or exchange them for merchandise, concerts/shows, sporting events, memorabilia, and more, including selling them for cash? Now points and miles obviously can’t replace good old cash but if you have any desire to travel, they are a valuable currency to hold in your (virtual) wallet.

The reason I recommend having a collection of points and miles is for travel experiences that might otherwise be impossible paying cash. And this is something that effects all levels of society to some extent (unless your in the 1%, then you can stop reading). It’s not hard to picture a struggling family that hasn’t take a family trip in 5 years due to financial struggles but would kill for a weekend beach getaway. Or how about a middle to upper class couple who wants to honeymoon in Bora Bora but can’t afford the $20-$30k price tag. This is where points and miles can make a big difference.

As we go through this series, you will see how simply it can be to rack up hundreds of thousands of points and miles at little to no cost. You’re going to be kicking yourself once you see how affordable travel can be – I know I was before I got involved! The days of complaining travel is too expensive IS OVER. Traveling can be a truly amazing experience and if you have even the littlest bit of desire to travel, you owe it yourself to find a solution to make your travel dreams a reality. And I propose that solution, is with points and miles.