Turns out, even regularly checking your credit score can still leave you confused about it. That’s according to TransUnion’s second annual survey, which found more than half of consumers who checked their credit score in the past 30 days wrongly identified salary (58%), employment history (56%) and age (52%) as major factors that determine their score.
TransUnion’s online survey gathered responses from 1,615 U.S. consumers ages 18 and up between June 16 and June 21 of this year.
Not only did only the participants who regularly check their score believe that salary raises (54%) would improve it, 33% thought boosting their personal savings would help. And the misconceptions are only increasing. “In 2014, only 47% of consumers who regularly checked their credit score believed a higher salary would equate to a healthier credit score,” TransUnion said in a release.
What Goes Into Your Score
Consumers who check their credit scores frequently probably want to take charge of their finances. But they won’t get very far if they don’t know what behaviors factor into their score. Here’s an overview of what really matters.
Amount of Debt: There’s a reason people warn you not to max out your credit cards. Swipe until you blow past the available credit limit, and credit issuers will not only flag you as a risky-with-a-capital-R customer, your debt-to-credit ratio — that is, how much debt you’re carrying relative to your total available credit — will soar. (Experts generally recommend keeping the amount of debt you owe below at least 30% and ideally 10% of your total available limits(s) for best credit scoring results.)
Variety of Credit: From revolving to installment to open accounts, the credit bureaus want to see a robust mix of credit accounts in your profile.
Age of Accounts: This refers to the age of information in your credit profile, not your actual age (though many consumers believe just the opposite). Like anything, your profile has an age. The age of your oldest account and the average age of your accounts are two important aspects of this, and in general, the older they are, the better.
New Inquiries: Whenever you apply for new credit that creates a hard inquiry, which dings your score. The more hard inquiries you rack up in a short span of time, the more you’ll be viewed as a potential red flag.
Payment History: Not paying your bills on time — or at all — is a serious no-no in the credit world. That’s because this piece of information helps agencies determine whether you can manage credit responsibly.
Remember, while it’s admirable, and sometimes even necessary, to get a raise or ramp up your personal savings, those aren’t the factors that determine your credit score. Focus on adjusting your behavior according to the criteria outlined above and you’ll be on the right track. You can chart your progress in all five categories by viewing a free summary of your credit report on Credit.com.