There are a surprising number of credit score misconceptions out there. We all have some familiarity with certain credit score facts like what a credit score is and that we should have a higher number to get good loans. In recent years, most of us have even become more aware of our score, thanks to an increasing number of tools allowing us to access that information. Nevertheless, recent research indicates that most people have no clue about the details of their credit score.
What is a Credit Score?
Your credit score is a three-digit number. It represents your history of loans and repayment. Therefore, it’s the number that most lenders use to determine whether or not to lend money to you.
If you have a good credit score, then you’re more likely to be able to borrow money. Moreover, you’ll get better rates. The worse your credit score, the harder it is to get a loan, and the more you’ll pay in interest when you do find a lender.
Your credit score is based on a variety of factors, including:
- The length of your credit history
- Your on-time payments vs. late payments
- The types of loans that you have
- The amount of money that you owe on those loans
- How much credit you have
There are actually many different credit scores – more than you might think as you’ll discover below. But for the most part, you get a three-digit number that’s between 300 and 850. The higher it is, the better your credit.
If that’s all that you know about credit scores, then you’re in the same position as many people. But if you think that you know more then you might want to check out the following seven credit score misconceptions. Your information might be incorrect.
Credit Score Misconceptions
Credit Card Insider recently published the results of a 1000+ person survey about credit scores. The results indicate that there are a lot of credit card misconceptions out there. People think that they know things about credit scores and may be surprised to learn just how wrong they are.
1. There Are Hundreds of Different Credit Scores
If someone asked me how many credit scores I have, I’d probably say three. Like many Americans, I’ve been well-trained to think immediately of “the big 3” credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. I’m not alone in this belief. Nearly half of those surveyed thought that we each have three credit scores. Another 30% thought it was less than that – either 1 or 2 credit scores.
However, we actually each have hundreds of different credit scores. There are both big and small credit scoring agencies out there. There are different tools used to calculate credit scores: FICO and VantageScore are the primary methods. Although your scores should be similar across all tools, they can differ some from one to the next.
2. Your Income Doesn’t Impact Your Credit Score
Almost 60% of people surveyed believe that your income impacts your credit score. However, that’s not the case. The reason people get confused about this is because income does play into whether or not a lender will offer you a loan. After all, if you don’t earn enough money to repay your loan, then it’s a huge risk for them to lend you that money. Therefore, the lender will look at your income as well as your credit score and other factors.
However, the score itself doesn’t take your income into direct consideration. If you have no income at all but use a credit card that someone else pays off for you, then you might have a great credit score. If you have a seven-figure income but lots of late payments, then you might have a terrible credit score. The only way that income matters is that of course, it’s easier to make on-time payments in full if you have a steady, good income. But the number of your income itself is irrelevant to your credit score.
3. Applying for New Cards Does Affect Your Credit Score
I was surprised to learn that more than one-quarter of respondents didn’t know this. When you apply for a credit card, the institution you’re applying to makes a hard inquiry on your credit report. That decreases your credit score. The decrease is minimal and doesn’t last long in terms of your credit history. However, if you’re teetering on the edge between a “fair” and “good” score (or any two scores) or you are working hard to build your credit then you might want to avoid applying for new cards for a while.
4. Your Debit Card Doesn’t Help Your Credit Score
Your credit score is a reflection of your credit history. Remember: your debit card is basically cash. It doesn’t count towards your credit history. Therefore, if you use your debit card to pay for things, then you’re not building your credit. If you want to improve your credit score, then you need to use your credit card (and pay it off on time). Even if you select “credit” at checkout, your debit card is still a debit card, and it doesn’t change your credit score.
5. Closing Accounts is Not Good for Your Score
More than one-quarter of people surveyed thought that canceling a credit card would improve their credit score. I’m guessing that the thinking behind this is as follows:
- If I cancel my account, then I can’t use the credit card.
- If I don’t use the credit card, then I can’t accrue more debt.
- Moreover, I won’t potentially make late payments because I won’t owe anything.
- Therefore, it’s better for my credit to cancel the card.
It’s certainly true that having no card is better than having a card you run up a high balance on and then pay late. However, canceling the card altogether isn’t your best course of action. It can decrease your credit score. Instead, just put those cards out of reach, avoiding the problems without compromising your credit.
Notably, if you don’t use your card for a long period of time, then the credit card company might cancel it or reduce your available credit. This isn’t great for you either. Therefore, you should pull the card out periodically, charge something inexpensive on it, and immediately pay it off.
6. No Debt Isn’t Necessarily the Same as a Good Credit Score
One of the keys to maintaining a high credit score is to utilize your credit regularly. You have to use it, but then pay it off quickly. You do want to keep your overall debt low. The ratio of your debt to your available credit is one factor in your credit score. However, having zero debt doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll have a good credit score.
Consider this: if you’ve never had any debt before then you don’t have a credit history at all. Therefore, you can’t have good credit. This is what teenagers face when they first try to get loans. So, although more than one-quarter of people surveyed assumed that having no debt means you’ll have a good credit score, that’s not necessarily true. It may be true, but it may not be. There are other factors to consider.
7. Your Credit Score is Not On Your Credit Report
More than three-quarters of people surveyed believed that if they ordered their credit report today, then they would see their credit score. They would be surprised once they got that report, then. Your credit score is based on the information in your credit report(s). However, you won’t find the score itself anywhere on your credit report. These are two related, but entirely separate, things. You can get your credit score from a variety of different places, often for free, but you can’t get it from your credit report.
How did you fare? Did you know the right answer to these seven credit score misconceptions?