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FRA Today - February 2011


NED Perspective 3

shipmate forum 5

On & OFF Capitol HILL 7

Understanding the Legislative Process 10

Credit Score Reality Check: Is 760 the new 680? 12

membership matters 14

Member Benefits 16

Feature: USO Supporting Military families 18

The Value of Life Membership 23

History and Heritage 26

Reunions 30

Looking For … 32

taps 34

Auxiliary of the FRA NEWS 38


FRA — Your Information Source

Members value the Association’s legislative agenda very highly, and it is a great draw to prospective members. Understanding the legislative process is the first step to participation and influencing the outcome, so this month, we wanted to elaborate on how the legislative process works. An overview is on pages 11–12, including how you can be actively engaged in what happens on Capitol Hill.

Members, prospective members and families are encouraged subscribe today to NewsBytes (FRA’s free weekly legislative e-mail update) so you can get the latest news from Capitol Hill related to items affecting you and your future. To subscribe, just e-mail with “Subscribe” in the subject line. Include your name and address in the body of the e-mail so we can be sure your subscription is marked in the correct database record. If you do not have email access, you can listen to NewsBytes by phone at 1-800-FRA-1924, ext. 112.

The information provided in NewsBytes is yet another way you will see the value of FRA!

Details of a new agreement with USAA will be announced in the coming issues of FRA Today. One very exciting aspect of working with USAA is their understanding of how legislative issues affect our members. For example, the past year has seen many changes in financial legislation, and those changes can have direct impact on your ability to get a loan or even the insurance rates you are charged. This month we are excited to share information provided to us by USAA to help you understand how your credit score is determined and how you can take better control of your score. We are grateful to USAA for providing wonderful information, and eager to bring you more from USAA in coming months.

Your Mission - Your Voice” Teleconference

On the second Wednesday of each month at noon EST, FRA hosts a free teleconference. These are marked on the calendar along with the instructions for calling in (dial 1-800-391-1709 and enter bridge number 444143). We hope you will join us for the calls and enjoy hearing our speakers and participating in discussions. This is yet another benefit to FRA shipmates and their families. We record the calls and post on under Member News (follow the link to the right when you login to the site) for those who are unable to attend at the designated time.

This month our call topic is programs to support families during deployments. Please join us if you have a deployed loved one, or if you are interested in volunteering your time to support those affected by deployments.

Eileen Murphy is the Director of Marketing and Communications and serves as the Managing Editor of FRA Today. Please contact her at
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NED Perspective
Growing Pressure to Hike Health Care Fees

Last month I wrote about the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform report and recommendations from the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Debt Reduction Task Force, both of which include proposals to fix the faulty formula by which Medicare and TRICARE physician reimbursement rates are determined. Reductions in these rates could dramatically affect access to care for many retirees throughout the U.S. Other proposals, if enacted as legislation, would increase healthcare costs for working-age military retirees and TRICARE-for-Life beneficiaries, defer receipt of retired pay cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) until age 62, revamp the Consumer Price Index (CPI) calculation for measuring inflation and institute a new formula for determining military retired pay that would use an average of the highest five years of earnings vice the current high-three calculation.

As an addendum to that column, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced (on January 6, 2011) an unexpected directive from the Obama Administration to cut an additional $78 billion from the defense budget over a five-year period, beginning in 2012. This is in addition to previously announced plans to reduce DoD spending by $100 billion over that same time period, with the services retaining the savings to fund programs with higher priorities. Gates proposes a number of cost-saving initiatives that are expected to be detailed in the Administration’s FY 2012 Budget request that’s due to Congress by mid-February.

Gates also referenced cuts in Army and Marine Corps personnel, the elimination of government contractors (including 780 at the TRICARE Management Activity — or TMA), eliminating some commands (including Joint Forces Command in Norfolk/Suffolk, VA), and major changes to weapons and equipment programs.

Gates also cited his intention to recommend “modest increases to TRICARE fees for working-age retirees with fees indexed to adjust for medical inflation” and stated that “savings from these initiatives could amount to nearly $7 billion over the next five years.” He offered no details and its unclear what “modest” adjustments means — particularly since the department repeatedly requested approval for drastic fee hikes beginning in 2007. It’s also unknown which index would be used to determine medical inflation and future Medicare rates, but some experts estimate a six to eight percent increase annually.

A decade of significant active duty, Reserve, retired and veterans’ pay and benefit enhancements is apparently over, as indicated by the 1.4-percent active duty pay hike for 2011 (compared to the House-approved 1.9 percent increase). We’re facing major challenges to not only maintain adequate funding to protect pay, health care and other benefit improvements enacted since 2001, but to also secure further improvements associated with FRA’s Legislative Agenda.

New budgetary rules established by House leadership in the new 112th Congress are intended to reduce government spending. A Wall Street Journal editorial references these new rules, stating “Democrats required that any tax cut or spending increase had to be offset with other tax increases or spending cuts.” The article continues to say that “Republicans are giving that ‘pay-go’ rule the heave-ho and substituting a new budget rule called ‘cut as you go,’ which will require that mandatory spending increases must be cut by an equal or greater amount elsewhere in the budget.” These rules will further complicate efforts to enhance benefits for all beneficiaries — just as mandatory spending caps prevented legislation expanding concurrent receipt and other benefits from advancing in the House last year.

As previously stated, these are serious issues that will be addressed in 2012 and beyond. FRA is closely tracking legislative proposals in the new Congress that may threaten hard-earned pay and benefits, and we will immediately alert our membership to mobilize in opposition to such proposals. We’re also meeting with key congressional staff regarding our priorities for the year and strategizing with our Military Coalition partners about the hard work that lies ahead. Now, more than ever, it’s important to stay informed and weigh in with your respective U.S. Representative and Senators. In doing so, you complement our work at NHQ on behalf of all FRA shipmates in advancing the Association’s legislative agenda. I invite all readers to subscribe to NewsBytes, our weekly electronic update on legislation that impacts your benefits (e-mail to subscribe) and use the FRA Action Center at to share your views with your elected officials.
Joe Barnes is FRA’s National Executive Director and Chairman of the National Committee on Legislative Service and a member of the Special Committee on Future Strategic Planning. A member of Navy Department Branch 181, he is also an advisor to the National Committees on Budget and Finance and Membership and Retention.

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shipmate forum

Veterans’ Rights

I would like to weigh in on activist judges who disregard the rights of veterans and abuse the tenants of their profession. This problem has been growing over the years and my case is certainly another example of abusive judgments in a West Tennessee District Court.

After my service career, I undertook homebuilding as an endeavor to build upon my retirement. After 30 successful years, an unscrupulous buyer used a minor crack in a concrete porch to extort over $300,000 from my retirement assets, by virtue of an errant district judge who paid no heed to the merits of my case.

Veterans and citizens at large need their voices heard. We need judges who interpret the law fairly and do not create new laws and senseless judgements. We must protect our constitutional rights that we paid for so dearly, when we vote and then take responsibility to hold elected representatives accountable to all citizens, especially veterans.

William Teague
Why do vets who did not retire from military service and who have no service-connected health problems obtain free medical treatment and prescription benefits from the VA? Retirees and those with service-connected disabilities should get free care, but I don’t feel that others should. This would reduce the costs that are threatening to reduce the care given to retirees and those who have service-related problems.

Mrs. M. W. Gerhardt

FRA Response: All honorably discharged military veterans are entitled to receive a variety of healthcare services through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA), but not all receive the benefit free of charge. Priority for service and associated cost shares are determined by a variety of factors, only one of which is a service-connected health concern. Income, service in Vietnam, receipt of a Purple Heart, being held as a prisoner of war and a myriad of other considerations are used to determine the level of benefits and patient’s out-of-pocket costs.

All veterans are encouraged to enroll in the VA system to determine what benefits they are eligible to receive. Veterans can apply for enrollment online at , by calling the VA at 1-877-222-VETS (8387) or with the help of a VA health care eligibility specialist at any VA medical center. Go to for locations. For more information regarding eligibility, visit .
Thank You

It is time (I’m 90 years old) to express my appreciation for your many years of continuing assistance to us Sea Service personnel. Thank you to the Fleet Reserve Association!

Claire Smith-Grubbs
Wartime Service

If a shipmate joined the Navy in 1952, made a Med cruise in 1953 with VF72 onboard the USS Bennington and received the Navy Occupation Medal with Europe clasp, is he eligible to claim service in WW II?

Charles Beersdorf

FRA Response: According to the VA, wartime service for World War II is considered from the time periods of: December 7, 1941, through December 31, 1946, extended to July 25, 1947, if continuous with active duty on or before December 31, 1946. While the award received is for post-war occupation, the VA only recognizes the above dates for WW II service.

Service for the Korean Conflict, which is considered wartime service by the VA, is designated from June 27, 1950, through January 31, 1955. As a result, the Shipmate is considered a “wartime” veteran for benefit purposes.


USCGC Blackthorn Memorial Service

In our recent tribute to the USCGC Blackthorn, we neglected to mention that a memorial service for the ship’s lost crewmen is also held in Galveston, Texas. Members of the Galveston Chapter of the Chief Petty Officers Association (CPOA) maintain a memorial there and support the annual tribute. According to Dennis James, president of the Galveston Chapter, “We feel the annual service provides the opportunity for junior personnel to learn the history of the USCGC Blackthorn and to remember the ultimate sacrifice made many of her crew members. It’s also an opportunity for all in attendance to understand the inherent dangers of duty in a sea-going service and the responsibility of all members, both senior and junior, to be safe and take special care to look out for their shipmates.”

Agent Orange Question

In January we published a letter from Shipmate Schiralli’s daughter in Shipmate Forum regarding her father’s service in Vietnam. The ship referenced should have been USS George K. MacKenzie (DD836). The MacKenzie is also not on the list at this time, however the advice given remains the same.

Submissions: Send Shipmate Forum letters to: Editor, FRA Today, 125 N. West St. Alexandria, VA 22314. E-mail submissions may be sent to Please include “Shipmate Forum” in the subject line. FRA reserves the right to select and edit letters for publication. Letters published in Shipmate Forum reflect the opinions and views of FRA members. They do not necessarily reflect the official position of FRA as a whole. FRA is not responsible for the accuracy of letter content.
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On & OFF Capitol HILL

112th Congress Begins; SecDef Requests Higher TRICARE Fees

As the 112th Congress convened in early January, Defense Secretary Robert Gates called for a “modest” TRICARE fee increase for military retirees under age 65 and future increases tied to health care inflation. The proposals are part of a broader Pentagon budget-reduction plan totaling $178 billion over five years, but specifics on how “modest” the increases will be are not yet available. FRA has strongly opposed drastic TRICARE fee increases since they were first proposed in 2006 and believes DoD must investigate and implement all other cost-saving options as alternatives to shifting costs to TRICARE beneficiaries. The Association believes these benefits are earned through 20 or more years of arduous military service, for many, with low pay.

This proposal is the first in what will apparently be a series of belt-tightening efforts to reduce federal spending. For example, Rep. John A. Boehner (Ohio), the new Speaker of the House, wants Congress to be more fiscally responsible and supports “cut as you go” budgeting that requires any new expenditures to be offset by commensurate reductions elsewhere in the budget. All legislation introduced and not enacted into law in the last Congress expired when the 111th Congress adjourned in December 2010 and must be re-introduced in the 112th Congress.

As new bills are introduced, those related to FRA’s legislative agenda will be listed on the Action Center at so shipmates can weigh in with their support. Shipmates using the FRA Action Center to contact their legislators complement the Legislative Team’s efforts. Shipmates sent nearly 53,000 messages to their elected officials on important issues during the last session of Congress, which greatly strengthened FRA’s collective voice on Capitol Hill. Bravo Zulu, shipmates!

FRA sent congratulatory letters welcoming the 109 newly elected legislators to Capitol Hill, introducing them to the FRA and offering our Legislative Team’s expertise on health care, compensation, benefits, and quality-of-life issues. The House is comprised of 242 Republicans and 193 Democrats, while the Senate has 51 Democrats, 47 Republicans and 2 Independents.

Your Legislative Team is also working to advance FRA’s legislative priorities for 2011. These have been selected from FRA’s extensive legislation agenda (available at and published in the December issue of FRA Today) based on the concerns of its members, the number of personnel affected, and the potential for legislative action during the session. Related to this, shipmates are encouraged to participate in FRA’s online survey at to help us prioritize quality-of-life concerns.

The Association also continues its work to advance other initiatives that will benefit active duty, Reserve, retired and veteran Shipmates, their families and survivors.

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Unfinished Budget for New Congress

While much was accomplished during the 111th Congress, much was left unfinished when Congress adjourned on December 23, 2010, with the bulk of the federal government being funded at FY 2010 levels with a continuing resolution until March 5, 2011. As a result, the 112th Congress must complete work on the remainder of the current budget year (March 5-September 30, 2011), which includes the annual defense spending bill (S. 3800), which is normally considered must-pass legislation, especially in time of war, and all the other spending bills for FY 2011. They must also start work on the FY 2012 budget that takes effect on October 1, 2011.

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Modified Defense Authorization Passes

In the closing hours of the 111th Congress, lawmakers eliminated controversial provisions before passing the FY 2011 Ike Skelton National Defense Authorization Act and sending the measure to President Obama for approval (P.L. 111-383). Regarding priority personnel issues, the bill prohibits any TRICARE fee increases for FY 2011, extends TRICARE dependent coverage to age 26 (but requires a premium), provides a 1.4-percent pay raise and extends various allowances, bonuses and death benefits for active duty military personnel.

The measure also authorizes a monthly stipend under the DoD family caregiver program that is equal to the caregiver stipend provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs, and authorizes dependent survivors to enroll in TRICARE dental program even if they were not enrolled prior to death of their sponsor.

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DoD’s Top Doc Confirmed

Dr. Jonathan Woodson was confirmed as the new Assistant Secretary of Defense (ASD) for Health Affairs during the final days of the 111th Congress. He has over 20 years of Army service and is a brigadier general in the U.S. Army Reserve, where he’s served as the deputy commander of the Army Reserve Medical Command and assistant surgeon general for reserve affairs, force structure and mobilization in the Office of the Army Surgeon General. Woodson has also served as Associate Dean for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs and Professor of Surgery at Boston University School of Medicine, and as senior attending vascular surgeon at Boston Medical Center.

Woodson was introduced at the quarterly meeting of military association executive directors in mid-January by RADM Christine Hunter, USN, Deputy Director of the TRICARE Management Activity. As ASD, Woodson is responsible for administering the Military Health System, serves as principal advisor to the Secretary of Defense on health issues and is responsible for care provided to 9.6 million TRICARE beneficiaries.
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Congress Passes One-Year Doc Fix

President Obama signed another extension of current reimbursement rates for doctors seeing Medicare and TRICARE patients that will delay proposed rate cuts from taking effect until January 1, 2012. This was the fifth extension of the so-called “doc fix” approved during 2010, and will hopefully give legislators time to reform the current Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula to provide adequate reimbursement for doctors. FRA continues to advocate for a permanent resolution that ensures TRICARE and Medicare patients have access to quality healthcare providers.

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New Bills for a New Congress

South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson, who chairs the House Military Personnel Subcommittee, wasted no time in introducing several measures in the early days of the 112th Congress, three of which potentially impact FRA members:

Early Reserve Retirement: H.R. 181 seeks to expand the authority for Reserve Component personnel to receive retirement age credit (90 days active duty = 3 months reduction in retirement age) for active duty service since September 11, 2001. (Currently, retirement credit is only available for Reservists who served after January 28, 2008.)

Concurrent Receipt: Legislation (H.R. 186) that would expand concurrent receipt for service members who were medically retired with less than 20 years of service was also introduced. The bill seeks to phase in the benefit enhancements for these so-called Chapter 61 retirees over a five-year period. In 2008, Congress voted to expand eligibility for Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC) coverage to Chapter 61 retirees, however the plan was not enacted. This new initiative would, in effect, extend eligibility for Concurrent Retirement and Disability Pay (CRDP) to all Chapter 61 retirees. FRA supports immediate payment of concurrent receipt of full military retired pay and veterans’ disability compensation for all disabled retirees, and this proposal, which is similar to the Administration proposal from last year, is a positive step in that direction.

SBP/DIC: H.R. 178 seeks to eliminate the Survivor Benefit Plan and Dependency Indemnity Compensation (SBP/DIC) offset experienced by survivors who are eligible for both benefits. SBP is purchased by the retiree and is intended to provide a portion of retired pay to the survivor. DIC is a special indemnity compensation paid to the survivor when a member’s service causes his or her premature death. In cases where a SBP annuitant is also eligible for DIC, a pro-rata share of SBP premiums is refunded to the widow/widower in a lump sum, but with no interest. Passage of the bill is particularly important this year as the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) now demands repayment, with interest, of refunded premiums from the survivors who have chosen to remarry after age 57. FRA believes when a survivor is eligible for both benefits, the VA indemnity compensation should be added to the SBP annuity for which the retiree paid, not substituted for it.

Shipmates are urged to use the FRA Action Center at to contact their U.S. Representative on these important issues.

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GI Bill Improvements

Lawmakers passed and the President signed the “Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act” (S. 3447), which improves educational assistance for those who served in the military after September 11, 2001. The bill expands the existing program to include vocational training and some on-the-job-training programs, provide a living stipend for distance learners and authorize active-duty service members and their spouses to receive the $1,000/year book stipend. (The book stipend was previously available only to veterans and retirees.) For more information on the GI Bill, please visit

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VAS Not Part of VA

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) wants veterans to know that an organization called Veterans Affairs Services (VAS) is NOT affiliated with VA in any way. VAS is providing benefit and general information on VA programs and gathering personal information on veterans in the process. Vets should also be aware that the Department of Veterans Affairs does not randomly call veterans, nor does it ask for personal information, such as Social Security Numbers.

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The FRA Legislative team is Joe Barnes, National Executive Director; John Davis, Director of Legislative Programs and Branch 181 President; Bob Washington, Health Care Advisor and Outreach Manager; Chris Slawinski, National Veterans Service Officer and Ed Dockery, Assistant Director of Legislative Programs.

Understanding the Legislative Process
Lawmakers in the 111th Congress introduced more than 10,600 bills, yet only about 300 were actually enacted into law. The process by which a bill becomes a law can be fraught with filibusters, funding challenges and a variety of other legislative hurdles. Here’s a brief summary of the legislative process and how you can play an active role in it:

Ideas for new laws originate from many sources, but only a member of Congress can introduce legislation. Constituents, either as individuals or through organizations such as FRA, may ask or “petition” legislators to introduce a bill. FRA sends an annual legislative agenda to Capitol Hill and frequently meets with lawmakers and their staff to propose legislation that will benefit our members.

Once legislation is introduced, it is referred to the committee or committees with jurisdiction over the subject of the bill. A committee will usually pass the legislation on to a subcommittee, which is smaller and has a more narrow focus than the full committee.

The subcommittee can amend, or “mark-up,” the legislation to make it more specific or address specific concerns. When the mark-up is complete, the final version of the bill is voted on by the subcommittee. If the bill fails to get a majority vote in subcommittee, it dies. If the measure is approved by the subcommittee, it is sent back to the full committee, or “reported out.” The full committee may further amend the measure or vote on it as it was approved by the subcommittee.

During this process, committees and subcommittees conduct hearings to facilitate a full and open discussion about a pending bill. Witnesses with expertise on the subject at hand are invited to testify about the merits and shortcomings of particular bill, either in person or in writing. FRA is regularly invited to share its views during hearings and in written statements presented to the committee or subcommittee holding the hearings. This discussion often results in improvements to a bill or in the eventual defeat of the measure if it’s determined to be an unwise proposal.

If approved at the committee level, the bill is reported out to the House or Senate and is placed on the House or Senate calendar for debate by the full chamber. The House Rules Committee sets the parameters of the debate in that chamber, determining what, if any, floor amendments shall be considered and what length of time will be set aside for floor debate. The Senate has fewer restrictions on floor debate, but any senator can filibuster a bill indefinitely. A filibuster (endless debate on the bill) can be stopped by a cloture vote that requires 60 votes. When debate concludes, the bill is voted on by the full chamber.

Often similar bills move through the House and Senate at the same time. For example, the House and Senate usually have their own versions of the annual the defense authorization legislation. After each chamber approves its respective version of the bill, a conference committee is appointed to reconcile the differences between the two bills.

Both chambers must approve identical legislation before it can be sent to the White House for final approval, so it is the conference committee’s job to find common ground and draft a compromise measure, or “conference report,” that is presented to the House and Senate for a final vote. If approved in both chambers, the bill is sent to the President, where he may do one of the following:

  • Sign the bill into law;

  • Veto the bill and send it back to Congress with suggested changes;

  • Take no action while Congress is in session, in which case the bill will become law in 10 days; or

  • Take no action and let the bill die after Congress has adjourned for the session (pocket veto).

If the President vetoes a bill, Congress may override his decision with a two-thirds vote in both chambers (67 votes in the Senate and 290 votes in the House).

Get Involved

It’s important for shipmates to remember there is no law protecting their military or veterans benefits. What Congress gives, Congress can take away. FRA was established in 1924 to protect military pay and benefits, and our mission hasn’t changed. Today’s FRA gives current and former Sea Service enlisted members a voice on Capitol Hill and, now more than ever, shipmates’ voices need to be heard. Through our combined efforts, FRA and its members have spoken out to halt health care fee increases, increase pay, significantly improve health care and other benefits, and enhance a variety of quality-of-life programs

The legislative process is complex and heavily influenced by grassroots pressure from advocacy groups like FRA and individuals communicating with their respective members of Congress. There is strength in numbers and this combined approach is more likely to persuade members of Congress to see, and act on, our point of view.

FRA encourages all members to be as informed as possible about legislative initiatives that impact them. In addition to the “On & Off the Hill” section of FRA Today, the Association offers several ways shipmates can stay up to date on new bills being introduced and their progress toward enactment.
NewsBytes: NewsBytes is FRA’s weekly e-mail update that provides a snapshot of what’s happening on Capitol Hill. It’s distributed each Friday afternoon to subscribers, or shipmates can listen to a recorded version by calling 1-800-FRA-1924, ext. 112. To subscribe, please e-mail with “Subscribe” in the subject line and your name and address in the body. If you are a member of FRA, please include your member number as well.
FRA’s Action Center: It’s easy to share your views with your elected officials using FRA’s Action Center at The website offers pre-written e-mail messages (or users can draft their own) that address specific legislative issues that can be sent to members of Congress or local media outlets with the click of a button. The Action Center also allows users to see which bills their legislators are supporting.
Making Waves: When you use the Action Center to weigh in on a particular issue, FRA works hard to keep you posted on the progress of that initiative. When legislative proposals threaten existing benefits, FRA sends Making Waves to those shipmates via e-mail, inviting them to reiterate their concerns to their elected officials.
It’s vitally important for FRA shipmates to be informed about legislative proposals that affect them and share their opinions on these proposals with their elected officials. Communicating concerns to your representative and senators is at the heart of FRA’s grassroots lobbying efforts and has a direct influence on the Association’s ability to effectively represent shipmates and their families on Capitol Hill.
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Credit Score Reality Check: Is 760 the new 680?
Courtesy of USAA

The bar has been raised for the three-digit number lenders use to determine your worthiness to borrow money.

“Three years ago, a creditworthy borrower was someone with a 680 to 700 score. Now, to get the best rates, that score needs to be 760 and up,” says Greg McBride, senior financial analyst at

Your three-digit credit score generally ranges from 300 to 850, but can vary depending on the scoring model used by the lender. The higher your score, the better credit risk lenders deduce you are. No matter what the number, be sure you understand what in your credit score is most impacting your risk to lenders.

The sobering news is 60% of all Americans have a score below 750, according to data compiled by Minneapolis-based Fair Isaac Corp., which runs the FICO scoring system most lenders rely on.

Why should you care about your credit score? Lenders use it to determine your interest rate and whether to even lend you money. Many insurers use it as one factor to consider in setting the size of premium you pay on auto and home insurance. Landlords may use it when deciding whether to rent to you; and utility companies may use it to determine the size of deposit required for service.

Fortunately, you can improve your score and make it easier to get credit by following these six strategies:

1. Review your credit report. One of the biggest factors swaying your credit score could be a mistake on your credit report, including outdated data, paid-off loans listed as due and money owed by relatives or strangers with names similar to yours.

You can stay on top of your information by going to every 12 months to request a free credit report from each of the major three reporting agencies — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Your credit score isn’t included in the report. You’ll have to pay the agencies around $8 for it.

For unlimited access to both your credit report and score throughout the year, consider signing up for CreditCheck® Monitoring offered through USAA.

If you dispute your report, you’ll need to work with the individual credit agencies.

Be prepared: Allow plenty of time for this process. Credit reporting companies must allow creditors 30 days to check their accounts and respond. If the creditor doesn’t agree with you on how the account should be reported, you may need to contact the creditor directly to see why your records don’t agree. You may be asked for additional documentation about a payment.

2. Stabilize your credit. “If you know you’re going to buy a new car or be in the market for a home in three to six months, don’t open new accounts, close accounts or transfer balances.” advises Maxine Sweet, vice president of public education for Experian.

Also, stop applying for credit cards you don’t really need. For example, say no when a department store offers you 10% off the purchase if you open a new credit card account. Your score can temporarily drop 10 points when you apply for a store credit card.

3. Use the credit you have. “Your credit history is your credit reference when you go for a loan. You need to show that you know how to manage credit by paying balances and making payments on time,” advises Sweet.

4. Get a handle on your bills. Never miss a payment or due date. “That’s the ultimate rule,” says Sweet. All it takes is one late payment to crush your score and make lenders wary. If you’re 30 days late with a payment and your creditor reports that delinquency to one of the big three credit bureaus, your score can dive about 100 points.

Trim your credit card debt to below 30% of the available credit limit from your lender. Charging your cards to the max is an indicator of your risk to lenders.

Always pay at least the minimum amount due, preferably more. If possible, always pay credit card balances in full, so that you never pay interest or fees. That allows you to use credit for convenience, helps build great credit scores and ensures you aren’t spending more than you can afford.

5. Don’t co-sign for a credit card or other consumer loan. When you co-sign, the debt is also considered your debt. If the borrower misses payments, it will be reflected in your score.

6. Save. To get the best loan for a house or car, you’ll probably need sizable savings. In some cases, a down payment can be as much as 20%. For most home loans, lenders are eyeing an overall debt-to-gross income ratio (including total mortgage and housing costs, recurring monthly car and college loans) that falls at or below 36%.

What’s in the Mix

Each credit reporting agency uses a scoring system that calculates your number using slightly different variables based upon the credit data they have on you. Because they use differing numerical scales, your score could vary from one credit bureau to another.

These percentages used by Experian PLUS Score provide an example of how an agency determines your score:

Payment history and bankruptcy 31%

Credit card debt 30%

Length of credit history 15%

Type and number of credit cards 14%

Credit card applications, inquiries 10%

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