Credit scores can be a stressful topic. It’s hard enough trying to make all the right decisions with our money – but then to have people scoring us on our money decisions? Yikes.
If you feel stressed out about your credit score, just remember: credit scores are nowhere near as complicated as they seem. In fact, the only reason they seem so complicated is because of the insane amount of credit score myths out there today.
For your peace of mind, we’ve put some of the biggest credit myths to rest, once and for all. Below are 20 credit score myths you should stop believing ASAP.
20 credit myths you should ignore
1. Carry a credit card balance
This is one of the worst credit card myths out there – that you have to carry a balance over from month to month on a credit card to build credit.
However, it’s simply not true. You have to use credit to build credit, but carrying a balance on your credit card is a recipe for debt.
Not only do you not have to carry a balance from month to month to build credit, your credit will actually be better if you keep your balances as low as possible.
That’s thanks to the concept of a credit utilization ratio – how much credit you use in relation to how much credit you have access to. An ideal credit utilization ratio is 30 percent or less. The smaller your credit balance, the lower your credit utilization ratio and the higher your credit score will be.
Go ahead and use that credit card to build credit. Just be sure to pay it off in full each month.
2. Avoid applying for new credit
One credit scoring factor is new credit inquiries. Since this is a factor of your score, many people fear that having too many inquiries on your credit report will hurt their score. This ultimately morphed into the idea that you should avoid new credit inquiries on your report.
While it’s true that you don’t want to have too many new inquiries, don’t let that prevent you from applying for credit when you need it. Like all things, just don’t go overboard.
3. Rate shopping hurts your credit
Again, don’t let the fear of too many new credit inquiries hurting your score prevent you from getting the best interest rate you can on a new loan.
If you’re shopping for a loan, you can rate shop without getting dinged by too many inquiries. Simply keep the shopping window short (apply for all within 14 days) and always apply for the same type of loan and amount.
If you do this, the credit scoring bureaus will batch your loan applications so they don’t come up as separate hits on your credit. They’ll understand that you’re not trying to get approved for all of these loans, you’re looking for the best deal. And there’s no reason to be penalized for that!
4. You have one credit score
It’s pretty easy to fall for this credit score myth that we all have one score, but it’s not true.
As it is, there are two popular credit scores (FICO and VantageScore) and they each have a variety of models that are still in circulation. On top of that, lenders can use their own algorithms based on the products they’re selling. Therefore, we all have upwards of 30 or more credit scores.
That’s why it’s so important to pay more attention to your credit score range rather than your three-digit credit score. Even though your score will vary, it should basically stay within the same range.
5. You can achieve a “perfect” score
Since we all have more than one credit score, that’s the same reason you shouldn’t worry about striving for the “perfect” score.
As fun as it may be to aim for the top, trying to get a perfect score isn’t useful or possible. Even if you hit the top of one type of score, you may not hit it in others.
Again, focus on the range. Get yourself into the best range you can and you won’t be wasting your efforts.
6. Checking your credit hurts your score
There are a lot of things that affect your credit score, but checking your own score or report isn’t one of them.
In the world of credit reports and scores, there are “hard credit inquiries” and “soft credit inquiries.” Hard inquiries happen when you apply for credit; they do affect your score. Soft inquiries happen for a variety of reasons and don’t affect your credit.
When you check your own credit it generates a soft inquiry and won’t affect your credit score.
That’s why it’s important to keep checking your credit reports for errors and to measure your progress. You won’t be penalized for either of these actions.
7. Income impacts your credit score
Because of the nature of credit scores, it’s easy to forget that they’re not a score of your entire financial picture. A credit score is merely a score of how well you handle money that is lent to you.
A credit score is merely a score of how well you handle money that is lent to you.
Things like your income aren’t on your score. It simply has no bearing on how well you manage credit.
8. Student loans hurt your credit
As long as you’re current on your payments. your student loans will not negatively affect your credit score.
However, defaulting on your student loans (on any debt) can be disastrous for your credit score. But if you’re making your payments on time every month, then your student loans can actually help your score.
That’s because your student loans help you build a long-standing relationship with a creditor. Plus, they help you build a payment history. These are two big things that affect your score in a good way!
So if you have a debt load that makes you uncomfortable, at least know that it’s not going to hurt your score as long as you keep paying on it (and doing so on time).
9. Co-signing won’t impact your score
Even if you don’t have student loans yourself, your children or someone else could someday ask you to co-sign on theirs. Understand that you can’t co-sign on someone else’s loan of any kind without potentially affecting your score.
If you co-sign a loan for someone who ends up going into default, that default is going to show up on your score, too. You could also be held responsible for repaying the debt if they don’t end up doing so themselves.
Never enter into a co-signing agreement lightly. And only co-sign on loans that you could afford to repay if necessary.
10. Married people have the same credit score
While we’re on the topic of joint credit, it’s important to note that you and your spouse do not have the same credit score.
Therefore, if you’re afraid the student loans your spouse took on before you got married will hurt your score, don’t be. They’ll only affect your score if you refinance the loans under both of your names.
As for what can affect both of your scores, it’s anything that you’ve signed on for jointly.
For instance, your scores will both be affected if you both signed your mortgage or apartment lease. They’ll also both be affected if you signed on for the same credit card or auto loan. Your scores could even be affected if you add each other as authorized users on your own credit cards.
That said, your scores still won’t be exactly the same. You still have your own individual credit histories and those can cause variances in credit scores even if all of your credit is now joint.
11. Credit reporting errors won’t happen to you
Here’s a really important one: don’t fall for the credit myth that reporting errors are uncommon. They happen and they can happen to anyone.
From a simple accidental switch of a digit in a social security number to a loan or line of credit that you never took out, you have to keep an eye out for inaccuracies on your credit report. Doing so will enable you to spot errors before they can do too much damage.
You can also follow this step-by-step guide to dispute any errors on your credit report you find.
12. Don’t check your credit if you don’t have debt
Some people think that they don’t need to check their credit report if they don’t have debt. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
As mentioned above, it’s important to regularly check your credit report for errors. But that’s not all you’re looking for. Checking your credit report can also alert you to identity theft.
If you never check your credit report, someone could open an account in your name without you ever finding out. Don’t let this happen to you.
You can check your credit report for free three times every year (once from each of the credit reporting bureaus) at AnnualCreditReport.com. Debt or not, take advantage of your right to review your credit report.
13. Your credit score is on your credit report
As for what you can see when you check your credit report, don’t be surprised when your credit score isn’t there. As nice as it would be if these two things were on the same documents for you to view, they’re not.
When you check your credit report, you’re going to see an itemized list of all of your accounts. Your credit score will not appear on this list.
14. Paid accounts drop off your credit report
If you recently paid off debt, you might think that part of your celebration will be the accounts dropping off your report. However, it won’t be.
If you paid off an account that never went delinquent, then it will remain on your credit report for ten years. This isn’t a bad thing, however, as what’s staying on your report is a positive history.
As for settled debts, which usually means it went to collections and you and the collections company agreed to settle it for less than the full amount, they stay on your report for seven years. While it’s a good thing that you took care of the debt, it won’t drop off of your credit report overnight.
15. Close accounts you don’t use
If you have an account you’re not using anymore, it probably seems logical to close them. However, doing so isn’t the best thing you can do for your credit score.
One factor of your credit score is something called length of credit history. Essentially the longer your account history, the stronger your score. That means closing an account that you had a positive history with is robbing yourself of your best possible score.
Even if you’re not using the account anymore, keep it open and benefit from the history length.
16. All debt is calculated the same way
When you think about debts and your credit score, keep in mind that different debts will factor differently into your score.
If you have a credit card, that’s a revolving debt. You can use it and pay it and use it again.
But if you have a mortgage or auto loan, that’s an installment loan. You borrow a certain amount, pay it off, and then you’re finished.
The balance on revolving debt is going to factor into your credit score more than the balance on your installment loans. This goes back to your credit utilization ratio. Lenders want to see the lowest possible ratio because a higher one (such as a maxed out credit card) makes it seem like you’re stretching too far, financially-speaking.
You don’t have to worry about installment loan balances the same way. As long as you’re staying current on your payments, these loans won’t hurt your score.
17. A missed payment is no big deal
Everyone misses a payment at least once in their life, or so it seems. And while it may not seem like a big deal, it certainly can be.
Late payments can be reported to the credit reporting bureaus in as few as 30 days. How late a payment is can factor differently on your score, but the late payment can stay on your score for as long as seven years.
18. Pay someone to fix your credit
If you’re feeling the heat of bad credit, it can be incredibly tempting to fall for a promise that someone can “fix” your credit for a fee. Well, the truth is, they can’t.
There’s only one way to fix your credit – and that’s to do it yourself. No matter what someone wants to sell you, they can’t create an overnight solution to your credit score woes. If you want to improve your score, you’re going to need to work at it.
Pay off accounts that have charged off. Work to pay off current debt. And don’t make late payments. These are the actions that will lead to a better score – and no one can shortcut that for you.
19. Your score never recovers from bankruptcy
Sometimes things can be so difficult financially that bankruptcy is the only way out. But it can be a scary decision considering the damage bankruptcy inflicts on your credit score for many years.
That said, the damage isn’t irreparable. Yes, it will take seven to 10 years to get a bankruptcy filing it off of your report. But when it’s off, you can start fresh again.
20. You have no control over your credit score
And finally, the worst credit myth of all: you have no control over your credit score.
While you can’t erase past financial missteps right away, it’s in your power to pave the path to a better future. You do have control over your credit score.
Establish good credit habits today so you can start reaping the benefits as soon as possible. If you decide right now that you’re going to practice responsible credit behaviors, no matter what has or hasn’t happened in the past, you can make sure you earn a good credit score. It’s entirely up to you.
Want to fix your credit? Do this.
If you want to fix your credit, start paying down your debt and make sure you never miss a payment. Review your credit report every year to check for errors. And don’t be scared of using credit – just avoid falling into debt. Do these things and you’ll be on your way to a great score.
Even if you’ve never had a good credit score before, you can do it. It just takes time and persistence. You’ll get there.
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