What Affects Your Credit Score: Some Surprising Factors You Might Not Know About

You probably feel like your credit score rules your life—they control your ability to get a credit card, loan and much more. But how much do you actually know about credit scores? You might have a general idea, like what a good credit score is, but there are a few things about credit scores that might surprise you. Discover what affects credit score the most as well as a few unexpected things that could be derailing your number

The 5 Main Factors That Impact Your Credit Score

The main factors that go into how your credit score is calculated are:

  1. Payment history
  2. Amount of debt, also known as your credit utilization ratio
  3. Age of credit accounts or history
  4. Mix of credit accounts
  5. New credit inquiries

1. Payment History

Payment history has a pretty big effect on your credit score. It accounts for about 35% of your credit score for each of the scoring models. (The main credit scoring models are FICO and VantageScore). Your payment history is basically the record of whether you’ve paid your bills on time—or not.

Creditors report your payment activity—good or bad—to the major credit bureaus. A single late payment won’t likely hurt your score, especially if it’s a one-time thing. But multiple late payments do affect your score, and the later you are, the more it can impact your credit score. Missing a payment on any debt can affect your credit score negatively, including payments for:

  • Credit card bills
  • Student loans
  • Mortgage loans
  • Car loans

Other types of payments, such as your utilities or phone bill, don’t typically impact your credit score if they’re late. However, they may impact your score negatively if you’re multiple months behind and the provider turns your debt over to collections.

2. Amount of Debt

The amount of debt you owe accounts for 30% of your credit score. That debt, also called your credit utilization ratio, is calculated by comparing how much revolving credit has been extended to you—AKA your credit limit—to how much you’ve used.

For example, if you have a single credit card with a $200 balance and a $1,000 credit limit, your credit utilization rate is 20%. It’s best to keep your overall credit utilization to 30% or less.

3. Credit Age or Credit History

Credit age affects 15% of your overall score. When it comes to the age of your credit accounts, there are two main things that a lender looks at:

  • The age of your oldest credit account.
  • The average age of your combined accounts—calculated by adding up the age of each account and dividing it by the number of accounts you have

As you probably guessed, the older your accounts, the more that affects—and helps—your credit score. Because of this, try to avoid closing your older accounts unless there’s a good reason to do so.

4. Account Mix

Credit mix accounts for 10% of your score. This refers to having a good mix of both revolving and installment accounts. In other words, try to have a good mix of accounts like credit cards and loans.

5. Credit Inquiries

Credit inquiries occur when someone checks your credit, and they can be either soft inquiries or hard inquiries. Soft inquiries don’t impact your credit score. A hard inquiry occurs when a lender checks your credit to see if you qualify for a loan—or not. These can bring your score down a bit, and hard inquiries account for around 10% of your credit score.

Surprising Things That Affect Your Credit Score

Seems pretty straight forward, right? Pay your car payment and credit card bill on time, keep your old credit accounts open and don’t run up your balances or apply for a bunch of loans, and your credit score will be fine. In reality, it’s a bit more complex than that. Here are a dozen specific scenarios that can impact your score negatively.

1. Reporting Errors

Inaccurate negative information on your credit reports can impact your score. Errors can happen due to data entry mistakes, identity theft or other issues. Keep an eye on your credit report via services such as ExtraCredit or the Credit Report Card, or order your free credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com.

If you do find an error on one of your credit reports, ask for verification with the credit bureau(s). If you have multiple errors, you need to dispute each one separately with the bureau reporting the errors.

2. Parking Tickets

Leave a parking ticket unpaid long enough, and the city will likely send it to collections. Because collections involve outstanding debts, they can appear on your credit reports and do damage to your credit scores.

3. Utility Bills

Similarly, unpaid utility bills can affect your credit score negatively when the debt is sold to a third-party debt collector. The third-party collector can report the account to the credit bureaus.

4. Medical Bills

While medical bills are treated differently by credit bureaus and scoring models, they can still impact your credit if they go unpaid. Typically, credit bureaus won’t report unpaid medical debt immediately when it’s reported to them, giving you some time to work with your insurance company and the provider to pay the bills. But eventually, unpaid medical bills are likely to show up on your report.

5. Delinquent Child Support

Unpaid child support is considered debt. And it can be reported to the credit bureaus by the municipality or agency responsible for collecting the payments.

6. Paying Off a Loan

If you pay off your auto loan and it’s the only installment loan you have on the books, your credit score can take a small hit. That’s because you could be reducing your credit mix.

7. Closing a Credit Card

If you close a credit card, you lose a part of your credit limit that is calculated in your credit utilization. That could cause your credit utilization rate to increase, and that can mean your credit score goes down.

8. Not Paying Your Rent

For a long time, on-time rental payments did nothing for your credit. And, in many cases, they still don’t. But the credit reporting industry is moving to include rental data on certain versions of your credit reports. And the industry lets landlords report payment data.

Still, even if a lender or service provider isn’t looking at that data, a missed rental payment can wind up going to collections. And the collection agency might report your debt.

9. That Old Gym Membership

An unpaid gym membership can wind up in collections, so it’s important to cancel the one you’re no longer using. Don’t just close or cancel the card you were using to pay the membership. Cancel the membership itself.

10. Bank Overdrafts

Checking and savings account information isn’t included on traditional credit reports. Even so, if you opt for overdraft protection tied to a line of credit and don’t resolve the overage, you could wind up hurting your credit score.

11. Requesting a Credit Limit Increase

When you ask your issuer to change the terms and conditions associated with your credit card, that issuer is likely to pull your credit to see if your current situation supports a change. That could put one of those hard inquiries on your credit report.

However, in the case of a credit limit increase, the minor damage done by the inquiry could be easily mitigated by an improvement to your credit utilization rate, so there are certainly times when asking for an increase is worth it.

12. Opening a CD

A certificate of deposit (CD) is a savings account, so how can opening one affect your credit? Oddly, some financial institutions, but not all, do a hard inquiry on your credit when you open a new CD.

Know Your Score

If you’re still confused about what affects your credit score or want to know your score, sign up for the free Credit Report Card. You’ll get the scoop on all five major areas that impact your score and where you stand with them. And for access to even more details about your credit, check out the credit services offered by ExtraCredit.

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