Of all of life’s greatest financial mysteries, credit scores are right at the very top. And yet, 54% of the respondents of a survey said that they never check their credit score. This week, we aim to demystify your credit score and give you clear, actionable steps to improve your score. Keep reading below for seven things you may not know about your credit score.
The first step to clearing up misconceptions around credit scores is to lay out all the factors that go into making up the score:
An easy rule of thumb to remember is that your credit utilization ratio should be less than 30%, which means if you have a $10,000 credit limit, you’re only carrying a balance of $3,000 or less. Keep in mind this means across all cards—you might be okay to have one credit card that goes over 30% utilization as long as you’re under on your other cards.
As a student, you probably got used to the idea of actions = results. The relationship between your finances and credit score, however, is not as linear.
Our finances are impacted by many decisions we make about life, as well as many factors that are entirely out of our control. For example, education level, bank account balance, stock portfolio, employment status, and salary are all not factored into your credit score. Immigrants who move to the US may have cash available to them, but do not have an established credit score. Correlating a credit score to a financial “grade” (even if you aim for A+) may end up doing more harm than good.
Ensuring that the information on your credit score is correct is your responsibility. If you spot errors—like an account that isn’t yours or a late payment you know you made on time—you should not ignore them in hopes that the banking system will realize their mistake. Here’s a guide on how to get rid of errors in your credit report
Credit scores are not perfect, but they are important. Whenever you need to borrow money from a financial institution, whether its for a mortgage on a home or education or anything else, your credit score is one of the first things to be checked.
Your credit score also helps determine your interest rates. A bad credit score means higher risk for lenders, so they’ll charge you higher interest rates. A survey from a loan comparison site suggests as an example that individuals who take out an auto loan of $25,346 with a “fair” credit score could pay up to $3,847 more interest than a person with a “very good” credit score taking out the same loan.
Similarly, someone with a “fair” credit score may pay a total interest amount of $8,640 for tuition at a university, but another student with a “very good” score might pay as much as $4,707 less for the same tuition to the same school.
To make matters more confusing, each of the three major credit bureaus (as well as the newer VantageScore) has their own scoring model with differing ranges. Your score changes depending on which one you’re looking at:
Another reason why credit scores can be very frustrating to deal with is that they can fluctuate over time. It’s important to know that fluctuation is normal when it comes to credit scores. Here are some of the reasons why this might happen:
You will find many, many websites online which offer services to check your credit score for a small fee. This fee, however small, can be a deterrent to people who want to stay on top of their credit score. There are ways to check your credit for free, so you should never have to pay for checking your own credit score periodically.
Most credit card issuers allow you to check your credit score for free through their online banking portal. There will typically be a dashboard listing your score and the factors that influence it.
Most credit card issuers provide free credit score access to their cardholders making it easier than ever to check and know your score.
In addition, here are some free credit score resources that you can access, whether you’re a cardholder or not:
Credit scores don’t have to be as scary or intimidating as some finance experts make them out to be. No matter where you’re starting from, even if your credit is nonexistent, there are surefire ways to build a high credit score without letting the process take over your life. The advice typically boils down to: Seek out credit and use it responsibly. Avoid these missteps while you’re at it.