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5 Credit Card Myths Hurting Your Wallet and Credit Score

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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There are many myths and rumors out there about how to spend on a credit card, when to pay it off and whether or not to even have a card. Unfortunately, some of these credit card myths, if followed, will cause more harm to your wallet – and your credit score – than good.

Here are five of the most common credit card myths – and the reality.

1. The myth: It’s better to never get a credit card

There is a common misconception that carrying a credit card will ultimately lead to damaging credit card debt. Sure, some people don’t understand how to handle credit cards, and end up overspending and getting into deep, unmanageable debt.

Reality check: For the responsible individual, however, a credit card offers one of the easiest ways to establish and build a credit history.

Instead of just listening to scare tactics, consider your time perspective (which you can test here), responsibility levels and history with debt. If you’re the kind of person who understands how to budget and manage your finances, you can probably handle a credit card. After all, having a credit card in your wallet doesn’t just mysteriously incur debt, but it can  help you improve your credit score.

And remember: Having no debt or payment history at all, which means you will have no credit score, can be just as damaging when you are trying to get a loan as having a low credit score.

2. The myth: Carrying a balance on your credit card helps your score

You may have heard that carrying a balance on your credit card and only paying the minimum due each month will help your credit score, as it shows lenders you have debt and can manage to pay it off, even if slowly.

Reality check: This is 100% untrue.

Each month, you should pay your credit card bill on time and in full. Sure, if you can’t afford to pay off the balance in full, then pay at least the minimum (preferably more than the minimum) on time. But it does not boost your score if you keep the debt and chip away at it slowly.

If you’re carrying a balance on your credit card and paying the minimum month-to-month because you heard you should, you aren’t damaging your score, nor are you improving it. But you are losing money each month in interest to your lender. Why throw away money? And carrying a high balance from month-to-month can actually hurt your score, because you look irresponsible to lenders and have a higher credit utilization rate (the amount of debt you have in relation to your total credit limit). It’s ideal to have a utilization rate below 30%, at least. The lower, the better in this area.

If you’re struggling with credit card debt, consider  a balance transfer to cut the interest rate and cost of paying down the debt.

3. The myth: You should only have one credit card

This myth is linked with the notion that people can’t have a credit card in their wallet without incurring debt. This is valid for some, but not everyone.

If you feel you can’t handle paying off bills on multiple credit cards because you’ll either a) forget b) rack up too many purchases or c) get overwhelmed, then stick with one.

Reality check: If you are organized, responsible and like to take advantage of cashback rewards, however – go ahead and get more than one credit card. This can even help boost your credit score, as it can lower your overall utilization rate.

We recommend finding a card that matches your particular spending habits, which may help you to get money back on your purchases. We make this easy with our cashback rewards tool.

4. The myth: Opening a credit card will drastically lower your credit score

You may believe that opening a new credit card will cause your credit score to automatically plunge.

Reality check: Opening a credit card will only drop your credit score by a handful points. If you have a score resting comfortably in the 700s, this is no big deal.

If you’re in the 500 to 650 range, then you should focus on improving your score, and you likely won’t be eligible for many of the better credit cards, anyhow. Instead, you may need to focus on getting a secured card first, to help improve your score.

One exception to the rule: If you’re applying for a mortgage or another loan, you should hold off on applying for any forms of credit, or doing anything that may cause even a small dip in your score. The higher your credit score when applying for a loan, the lower your interest rate will likely be.

If you are in the market for a new card, here is a roundup of some low-interest credit cards.

5. The myth: You should never accept a credit limit increase

Did you recently get an offer to increase your credit limit? You may think your lender is trying to lure you into a spending trap.

Reality check: You can use a credit limit increase to your advantage.

To understand why, let’s recap how your FICO credit score works:

  • Payment history (35%)
  • Amounts owed (30%)
  • Length of credit history (15%)
  • New credit (10%)
  • Types of credit used (10%)

“Amounts owed,” which accounts for 30% of your score, includes utilization. As discussed before, that’s the amount of your credit limit you use. As discussed above, a lower utilization rate is ideal.

Consider this scenario when thinking about getting a credit limit increase:  If you  have only one credit card with a $2,000 credit limit and spend $800 a month on your card, that’s a 40% utilization ratio.

Now let’s say your bank offers you a $1,000 increase on your credit limit. If you keep your monthly spending the same at $800, but have a limit of $3,000, your utilization will decrease to about 27%. This small change should help boost your credit score.

Of course, if you tend to overspend and know you’ll just max out a card with a higher credit limit, you might want to avoid getting an increase. However, the idea that you should never accept an offer to increase your credit limit is simply wrong.

The bottom line

The myths we discussed here should, for once and for all, be vanquished. If you take them as gospel, you may cause unintended harm to your credit score, and end up paying more than you should for items charged to your credit card. The most important thing when it comes to credit cards is being a responsible user and not incurring debt you cannot manage.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Erin Lowry
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Erin Lowry is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Erin at [email protected]

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Know About the Different Credit Scoring Models

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Did you know that there are hundreds of credit scoring models being used today?

With different lenders creating different credit score models based on their own credit criteria, it is very possible that you could have a hundred credit scores. While it is impossible to obtain or keep track of all your credit scores, you should be aware of the models most used by lenders.

FICO score

The FICO score is the most commonly used credit score when applying for credit or a loan. FICO is an abbreviation for Fair Isaac Corporation, the first company ever to offer credit scores. You have different FICO scores at each of the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. Your FICO Score ranges from 300 to 850, and is based on several factors:

  • 35% Payment History – The most important factor in determining your FICO credit score is your payment history. Delinquent payments could stay on your report for seven years.
  • 30% Debts/Amounts Owed – Your total debt. The lower your debt, the more likely it is that your score will be higher.
  • 15% Age of Credit History – The longer your credit history, the more likely it is that your score will be higher.
  • 10% New Credit/Inquiries – The number of accounts you have opened recently, as well as the number of hard inquiries you have.
  • 10% Mix of Accounts, Type of Credit – The more varied your accounts, the more favorable your score.

However, the FICO model is not as simple as the above breakdown may seem. FICO often makes changes to its credit score model to make it a better reflection of how creditworthy individuals are. As a result, there are currently more than 50 FICO credit score models that are used for different types of debt. A different version of your FICO credit score is used for a mortgage, auto loan, credit card and more.

The latest version of the FICO score is FICO 9, which allows unpaid medical bills to carry a lower weight than other unpaid debts, disregards collections accounts that have been paid off in full and factors in rent payments that are reported.

FICO 9 was developed because unpaid medical debt may not be an indicator of financial health, as an individual may be waiting on insurance payments before paying the debt, or may not even know a bill has been sent to collections.

FICO score 8 is still the most commonly used by lenders. This model does not allow for the lower weighting of medical debt.

Consumers should also be aware of the newly launched UltraFICO Score. This score is the result of a partnership by FICO, Experian and data aggregator Finicity. The key difference between it and other FICO scoring models is that it allows bank account transactions to be factored into the final score. This is a score for which consumers will have to opt in by linking their deposit accounts to their credit profiles. This can help consumers with a sparse credit history to boost their scores based on their banking behavior, which includes a history of positive account balances, frequency of bank transactions, length of time the accounts have been open and evidence of consistent cash on hand.

As this is a very new feature, there will be a slow rollout of availability. You can sign up here to receive news and updates on the UltraFICO score.

VantageScore

VantageScore is the main FICO credit score competitor, and in a similar manner, the VantageScore is constantly evolving to portray a more accurate picture of a person’s financial health. It was developed by the three major credit bureaus. While still not as widely used as the FICO score, an October 2018 study by consulting firm Oliver Wyman found the use of VantageScore rose over 20% year over year, and was up more than 300% over the past five years. Like the FICO score, VantageScore has a scale of 300-850.

  • VantageScore 4.0 was designed with these changes in mind, and it gives those records less negative impact when calculating scores for consumers who have those records in their credit files. VantageScore 4.0 also penalizes unpaid medical collections less than other types of unpaid collections, and ignores unpaid medical collections less than six months old, to give insurance companies ample time to make payments. Consistent with the VantageScore 3.0 model, paid collections (including paid medical collections) are excluded in the VantageScore 4.0 model.

The most recent version is VantageScore 4.0. As is the case with FICO score 9, VantageScore 4.0 puts a lower weight on unpaid medical debt (medical debt less than six months old is completely disregarded). Both VantageScore 3.0 and 4.0 exclude paid collections from their model.

While VantageScore 4.0 debuted in 2017, 3.0 is still the most widely used model. The score takes the following factors into consideration:

  • Extreme Weight: Age and Type of Credit – This refers to your length of credit history and your account mix, and is also factored heavily into your 3.0 score.
  • Extreme Weight: Credit Utilization – The V3 score calculates your utilization percentage by dividing your balances by your available credit. Generally, you should keep your utilization under 30%.
  • High Weight: Payment HistoryVantageScore uses your payment history as the number one predictor of risk. Late payments can appear on your report for seven years.
  • Medium Weight: Total Balances – Refers to your total debt, both current and delinquent. As with credit utilization, the more you lower your debt, the higher chance you have of increasing your score.
  • Low Weight: Recent Behavior – How many accounts have you recently opened? Your recent behavior includes newly opened accounts and the number of hard inquiries recently.
  • Extremely Low Weight Available Credit – The amount of credit you have available to use.

MagnifyMoney’s parent company, LendingTree, offers a free credit monitoring service that uses the VantageScore 3.0 model.

Where can you obtain your credit score for free?

It used to be pretty difficult to obtain your credit score across all three bureaus for free. Now, several financial institutions offer consumers the chance to obtain their FICO scores at no cost. Here is a sampling of banks and credit unions that offer this service:

For Experian: If you have an American Express card, a Chase Slate account, or a credit card with Wells Fargo or the First National Bank of Omaha, you can get your FICO score from Experian. Discover offers an even better service, as anyone can sign up to view their Experian score at Creditscorecard.com, even if they do not have an account with Discover.

For Equifax: If you have a Citibank card, or an account with DCU Credit Union or PenFed, you can access your Equifax score for free. Keep in mind that Citibank uses a scoring model from 250 to 900 based on Equifax and the FICO Bankcard Score 8 model, which emphasizes credit card behavior.

For TransUnion: If you have a Barclays card, select credit cards with Bank of America or a Walmart Credit Card, Walmart MasterCard, or Sam’s Club Credit Card, you can access your TransUnion score.

Knowledge is power

The credit scoring system has a long way to go before it becomes transparent and accessible. Currently, it is up to lenders to use a national score, like the FICO score, their own internal credit score, or a mix of the two.

While it would be impossible to monitor all of your credit scores, there are ways to monitor the most important factors in every score. It’s your right to get annual access to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three bureaus. You can do this at annualcreditreport.com.

Even though no lender uses the same credit score model, all scores look at the same basic information, so taking steps to build and keep strong credit will benefit you no matter which score is being used.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Gretchen Lindow
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Gretchen Lindow is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Gretchen at [email protected]

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What Factors Affect Your Credit Score?

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The 5 factors that determine your FICO score
There are five major components FICO uses to determine a credit score. Understanding the secret sauce can help you build a strong score and healthy credit report. While FICO is not the only credit scoring model out there, it is the most widely used by lenders. So a score in the 700s, along with a healthy credit report, should enhance the rest of your financial life by enabling you to get approved for top-tier financial products at a lower interest rate.
Here’s everything you need to know about the five pieces of the FICO-scoring pie.

35%: Payment history

This is the single most important part of your credit score. Quite simply, this looks at how many on-time payments you make. You will:

  • Get rewarded for on-time payments.
  • Be punished for missed payments. Not all late payments are created equally. If you are fewer than 30 days late, your missed payment will likely not be reported to the bureaus (although you still will be subject to late fees and potential risk-based re-pricing, which can be very expensive). Once you are 30 days late, you will be reported to the credit bureaus. The longer you go without paying, the bigger the impact on your score, so 60 days late is worse than 30 days late. A single missed payment (of 30 days or more) can still have a big impact on your score, shaving off anywhere from 60 to 110 points.

If you don’t pay a medical bill or a cell phone bill, your account may be referred to a collection agency. Once it’s with an agency, they can register that debt with the credit bureaus, which can have a big negative impact on your score. Most negative information will stay on your credit report for seven years. Positive information will stay on your credit bureau forever, so long as you keep the account open. If you close an account with positive information, it will typically stay on your report for about 10 years, until that account completely disappears from your credit report and score. If you don’t use your credit card (and therefore no payment is due), your score will not improve. You have to use credit in order to get a good score.

However, there is a big myth that you have to borrow money and pay interest to get a good score. That is completely false. So long as you use your credit card (it can be a small charge) and then pay that statement balance in full, your score will benefit. You do not need to pay interest on a credit card to improve your score. Remember: Your goal is to have as much positive information as possible, with very little negative information. That means you should be as focused on adding positive information to your credit report as you are at avoiding negative information.

30%: Amount owed

This part of your score will look at a few elements:

  • The total amount of debt you owe across all of your accounts. If you have a lot of credit card debt, your score can be hit.
  • In addition to the total amount of debt that you have, your utilization is very important.

To calculate utilization, divide your statement balance (across all of your credit cards) by your available credit. For example, if you have credit limits of $40,000 across four credit cards, and you have a total balance of $20,000 – then you have a utilization of 50%. That is high, and a high utilization rate is not good.

To have a good utilization score, you will want your total to be below 30%. However, the lower the, the better, so aim as low as possible here.

Why is utilization such an important concept? If you use every bit of credit made available to you, then it looks like you do not have self-restraint. Maxing out all  your credit cards is a big warning sign to lenders.

If you are able to restrain yourself and have a lot of available credit (that you do not use), then you are showing self-discipline.

It may sound strange, but one key to having a good credit score is having a lot of available credit and not using most of it.

15%: Length of credit history

This is the easiest part of the credit score to get right. So long as you don’t close accounts, every day this part of your score improves (because all your accounts become one day older).

FICO will look at the age of your oldest account, as well as the average age of all accounts. Closing a long-time account can ding your score if it shortens the length of your credit history.

10%: Types of credit in use

If you have experience with different types of credit (installment loans, revolving loans, credit cards, etc.), it’s better for your credit score than if you don’t have a variety of experience.

The most important product is a credit card. If you have a credit card and manage it well, you will be rewarded.

Other forms of debt that will affect your credit score include your mortgage payment, auto loan payment and student loan payments. These fall under the category of installment loans, rather than revolving credit, like a credit card. A varied credit history will include both revolving debt and installment loans.

10%: New credit

If you open up a lot of new credit in a short period of time, you will be sending a warning signal to the credit bureau. But this aspect of the credit score has inspired some unwarranted fear in some people. They are afraid to shop for the best deals, because they are afraid of what shopping for credit would do to their credit scores.

The FICO score will look at credit inquiries from the past 12 months. Lets break a few of the myths down now:

  • Checking my own credit report will hurt my score: FALSE! If you check your own credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com, it will not hurt your score. You can get this report for free across all three major credit bureaus once every year.
  • If I shop around for a good mortgage or auto loan rate, my score will get crushed: FALSE! Multiple inquiries for a mortgage or auto loan are usually treated as a single inquiry.
  • If I shop around for a balance transfer credit card, my score will get crushed: FALSE! If your score does decline, it probably will not decline by much. You can expect 10 to 20 points shaved off per credit application. But remember: You can apply for a balance transfer to help reduce your balance faster. When you open a new credit card and transfer your balance, you will be able to:
    • Have a lower overall utilization rate, because you have new credit available (and of course you will not use all of it!)
    • Pay off your debt faster, because the interest rate is lower. At the end of 12 months, your score should be even higher than when you applied for the balance transfer or personal loan.

Remember, too, that you can check to see if you have prequalified for any credit cards without triggering a hard pull on your credit (this means it will not appear on your credit report).  This is a great way to shop around for cards you are more likely to be accepted for without risking any kind of ding to your credit score. Keep in mind, though, that when you actually apply for the card, there will be a hard pull of your credit history, and your application is not guaranteed to be accepted. But overall, you shouldn’t fear applying for new credit — it’s more likely to help your score over the long run, even if there is a short-term ding.

One exception is when you are aiming to get a mortgage; if this is the case, you should hold off on applying for new credit, because any small change in your credit profile can cause problems with getting a mortgage loan.

Quick steps to building and keeping a good credit score

  • Use your credit card every month, but keep your utilization at least below 30%, and even less if possible. In other words, never charge more than 30% of your available credit, and aim to charge a lot less. You can reduce your utilization by (a) paying down your debt and (b) increasing the credit that you have available.
  • Make your payments on time every month. If you repeat these two things over time, you should eventually have a score above 700. However, if your score is below 700 and you want to improve it, you need to focus on:
  • Adding more positive information to your credit report
  • Getting your utilization below 30%
  • Dealing with the negative information

Where can I monitor my credit score for free?

There are several ways to get your FICO score for free, from the three main credit bureaus. Here are just a few:

  • If you have a Citibank card, or an account with DCU Credit Union or PenFed, you can access your Equifax score.
  • If you have an account with American Express, Discover, Wells Fargo or First National Bank of Omaha, you can access your Experian score for free. You don’t even have to have a Discover card in order see your Experian score; you can simply sign up at Creditscorecard.com.   
  • If you have any Barclays credit card, you can gain free access to your TransUnion score.  Bank of America offers access with select credit cards, and you can also view your TransUnion score if you have a Walmart Credit Card, Walmart MasterCard or Sam’s Club Credit Card.

There are also several services that offer free regular credit monitoring. MagnifyMoney’s parent company, LendingTree, offers free credit monitoring for anyone who wants to sign up. You’ll have access to your credit score and receive alerts to changes you should be aware of. You should know that LendingTree uses the VantageScore model, which is slightly different from the FICO score, although the score range is the same.

 

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Nick Clements
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Nick Clements is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Nick at [email protected]

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