Debunking Common Credit Score Myths
Understanding how your credit score works may help you improve your financial health.
Navigating all the information out there about credit scores may seem daunting, especially if information seems contradictory or misleading. And if you happen to believe a credit score myth, it could cause you to make a costly financial mistake or not fully understand how your actions may impact your score.
To help clear up any confusion, let’s take a moment to debunk some of the most common myths about credit scores.
Your credit score provides lenders with a quick snapshot of your financial wellbeing, with higher scores indicating a history of positive financial habits.
Errors may appear on your credit report, but you’re able to dispute and correct them, potentially improving your credit score.
Credit scores change over time, and you could improve your score by engaging in positive financial habits like making payments on time, maintaining a low credit utilization ratio, and only borrowing what you need.
What Are Credit Scores?
Before we dive into the myths, let’s recap what a credit score is. Your credit score is essentially a snapshot of your financial habits. The exact score you see depends on whether you’re viewing your FICO score or your VantageScore. These two models weigh your habits differently, but both give you (and potential lenders) an understanding of your creditworthiness. When you use your credit responsibly and make on-time payments, your score tends to be higher. When you miss payments or borrow too much at once, your score may be lower.¹
A strong credit score may help you qualify for a wide variety of borrowing options, from new credit cards to mortgages. A higher score may also lead to more favorable lending terms or faster approval.
Landlords will likely check your credit prior to renting an apartment/home. In addition, many employers check your credit prior to offering you a job. So having a strong score could benefit more than just your borrowing!
If you’re interested in raising your score and improving your financial life even further, we’re here to help.
Top Credit Score Myths
Now that we’ve recapped credit scores, it’s time to look at some of the more pervasive myths about them.
Myth: Checking Your Credit Score Lowers It
When you check your own credit score or credit report you shouldn’t see a change in your score. For example, if you check your score through one of the credit bureaus like Experian, this credit check only triggers a soft inquiry.
Soft inquiries are designed to give you (and some lenders) insight into your general financial health and creditworthiness. For example, a lender may perform a soft inquiry to determine if you’re eligible for pre-approval on a personal loan or credit card.
Hard inquiries, on the other hand, may impact your score and too many hard inquiries may cause it to drop. These inquiries occur when you officially apply for a loan or other type of financing so that a creditor can do a full evaluation.
So go ahead and check your own credit score and read the report so that you understand how each debt and action impact the score calculation.
To access you credit report, visit AnnualCreditReport.com to get a free credit report from each credit bureau.
Myth: Closing Credit Cards Improves Your Credit Score
Closing a credit card probably won’t improve your score in the short-term. In fact, it may do the opposite and hurt your credit score. Why? Because closing a credit card lowers how much credit you have access to, which in turn impacts your credit utilization ratio.
This ratio compares how much credit you’re using (the numerator) against how much you have access to (the denominator). If you lower the amount of credit you have access to, the ratio actually increases.
If you’re thinking of closing a credit card, consider the following before doing so:
Does the card have an annual fee?
What is your current rate?
What benefits, rewards, or perks does it offer?
How long have you had the account open?
How would closing the card impact your overall finances?
If the card is fee-free, has a competitive rate, and offers rewards, keeping it may be a good idea. Consider using it for a small recurring charge, like a streaming subscription, to keep the card active.
That said, if the card encourages overspending or has an annual fee you don’t want to pay, closing the card may be worth the short-term hit to your score.
Myth: You Can’t Fix an Error on Your Credit Report
Creditors and credit bureaus may make mistakes and sometimes closed accounts, paid-off loans, or other errors end up on your credit report. Those errors could cause your score to drop if they aren’t fixed.
Luckily, credit report errors can be fixed. Contact the credit bureaus and report the error as soon as you catch it. They’ll investigate and correct the issue if they determine that it is a true error.
Remember, you can’t remove negative marks, like a bankruptcy or late payments, from your credit report, only errors.
Additionally, you may find accounts you didn’t open when reviewing your credit report. This may be a sign that your identity was compromised and someone opened an account in your name. If you don’t report these fraudulent accounts, you’re responsible for any charges associated with them.
Myth: You Can’t Improve a Bad Score
Credit scores change frequently and just because you have a bad score now doesn’t mean you can’t improve it. Here are a few quick tips for raising your credit score:²
Check your credit report and notify the credit bureaus of any errors you find.
Make at least the minimum required payment on all of your debts on time each month and focus on paying off what you owe to lower your credit utilization ratio.
Be patient if you have a history of bankruptcy or late payments as these affect your credit score for seven to ten years.³
Myth: All Debt is the Same
Depending on your experiences, you may have heard a variety of opinions when it comes to debt. Let’s start with the basics – there are two primary types of debt: revolving and installment.
Revolving debt refers to debt you’re able to access on a regular basis, repay and continue accessing over time. An example of revolving debt is a credit card. Installment debt, on the other hand, occurs when you receive a lump sum of proceeds and repay the debt with a fixed payment over a fixed time. An example of an installment debt is a personal loan.
Having a mix of revolving and installment debts shows you’re able to handle both and may help your credit score.⁴
Credit Score Truths
Now that we’ve busted some of the most common credit score misconceptions, let’s review some key truths about your credit score.⁵
Your payment history holds the most weight when calculating your credit score. By making consistent, on-time payments, you may see an increase in your score.
Your credit utilization ratio is also a large factor in your score. Opening and closing accounts impacts your ratio, and the lower your utilization ratio is, the more likely you are to have a high score.
A diverse credit mix helps your score. Opening a credit card, taking out a mortgage, financing a new or used car, or even paying for college with student loans diversifies your credit mix and may keep your score higher.
The older your credit history is, the less impact each individual ding or negative mark may have on your credit score.
Different marks stay on your report for different lengths of time.
Bankruptcies stay on your report for seven or 10 years, depending on the type of bankruptcy you file.
Late payments stay on your report for seven years.
Open accounts stay on your report as long as they’re open, and closed accounts in good standing stay on your credit report for 10 years.⁶
Though there are a lot of myths surrounding credit scores, know that engaging in positive financial habits is the first step in helping set yourself up for success. Building (or improving) your credit score takes time, but it is possible. Not sure where to start? Check out our financial wellness guide to get you on the right track.