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Credit Scores: Busting Myths and The Truth About Them

Understanding credit scores can be complex, especially with the myriad of myths surrounding what affects your score. As a high school graduate stepping into financial independence, it’s crucial to separate fact from fiction to build and maintain a healthy credit score. This guide will debunk common credit score myths and clarify what impacts your score.

What is a Credit Score?

Before diving into the myths, let’s define a credit score. A credit score is a numerical expression based on a level analysis of a person’s credit files, representing the creditworthiness of an individual. Scores are primarily based on credit report information typically sourced from credit bureaus. The most common credit scores in the United States are FICO scores, ranging from 300 to 850.

Myth 1: Checking Your Credit Report Hurts Your Score

One of the most persistent myths is that checking your credit report can lower your score. This is false. When you check your credit score, it’s considered a “soft inquiry” and does not affect your score. In contrast, “hard inquiries,” which occur when lenders check your credit to make lending decisions, can impact your score slightly. It’s essential to regularly check your credit report to ensure its accuracy and to understand your financial standing.

Myth 2: Your Income Influences Your Credit Score

Another common misconception is that your income directly impacts your credit score. Your credit score does not take your income into account. Instead, it focuses on your debt repayment history, the amounts owed, length of credit history, new credit, and types of credit used. However, while your income doesn’t affect your score directly, it can influence a lender’s decision to extend credit, as they may consider your income for debt-to-income ratios.

Myth 3: Carrying a Balance on Your Credit Cards Boosts Your Score

Some people believe that carrying a balance on your credit cards and only paying the minimum due each month will improve your credit score. This is not advisable. Carrying a balance means paying interest, and maintaining high balances can lower your score by affecting your credit utilization ratio (the ratio of your credit card balances to credit limits). Ideally, you should aim to pay off your balances in full each month.

Myth 4: Closing Old Credit Cards Will Improve Credit Scores

Closing old or unused credit cards might seem like a good way to manage your finances, but doing so can hurt your credit score. Closing a credit card account can increase your credit utilization ratio and shorten your average credit history, negatively impacting your score. If the card doesn’t have high fees, it might be better to keep it open and use it occasionally.

Myth 5: All Debts Are Equally Damaging to Credit Scores

Not all debts are viewed equally in the eyes of credit scoring models. For instance, high levels of credit card debt can be more detrimental than a mortgage with the same balance because credit cards are considered revolving credit with higher interest rates and different risk profiles. Additionally, some debts like student loans can be seen positively if managed properly, as they can demonstrate responsible long-term borrowing behavior.

How to Build and Maintain a Good Credit Score

Now that we’ve cleared up some common myths, here are a few tips on how to build and maintain a good credit score:

  • Pay Your Bills on Time: Late payments can significantly negatively impact your credit score.
  • Keep Credit Card Balances Low: Keep your credit utilization ratio under 30%.
  • Manage Different Types of Credit: A mix of credit types (credit cards, auto loans, student loans) can help your score.
  • Limit New Credit Inquiries: Too many hard inquiries can quickly decrease your score.
  • Monitor Your Credit Report: Regularly checking your credit report can help you catch and rectify errors or fraudulent activities early.

Conclusion

Understanding what truly affects your credit score can help you make informed financial decisions as you navigate adulthood. By debunking these myths, you can focus on the behaviors that genuinely improve your credit score. Remember, a good credit score is a stepping stone towards securing your financial future, enabling better terms for loans and credit cards and even affecting renting decisions and employment opportunities. Start cultivating good credit habits today, and watch how they pay off in the long run!

Tom Rooney

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