Good morning friends! If you think credit is sexy, you’re gonna love today’s post. And if you don’t, well, you’re going to be convinced by the end of it ;) And hopefully learn how to increase your credit score too since the better it gets, the less you pay over time! Which can literally save you thousands!
We’ll start with a handful of myths that Experian recently dispelled (they’re one of the largest credit reporting agencies), and then I’ll spill the tricks my wife and I personally used to get our own scores pretty high too – currently at 821 and 806 respectively. Which I now see for free every time I log onto USAA – Woo! Thanks guys.
(I also hear other places are starting to offer this for free to their customers too, like Discover Card, Ally Financial, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, the State Employees’ Credit Union, and hopefully more as time goes on. We’re definitely headed in the right direction!)
Let’s get started…
Myth #1: All debt is equal
Technically true, but credit card debt hurts your credit much more than a mortgage. It tells future lenders that you’re at larger risk than a “responsible” homeowner, even though you don’t actually own your home until you pay it off – hah. The bank does ;)
Myth #2: Checking your report will hurt your score
“A notation called an “inquiry” goes on your credit report every time someone (including you) looks at your file, and rumor has it that inquiries can hurt your score. Well, yes and no. An inquiry affects your score only if it’s related to a credit application that you have submitted. If you apply for a loan or a credit card, your score might fall, because that application suggests you’ll be adding debt. But if you simply look at your own credit report, the resulting inquiry won’t affect your score. If anything, checking your report is a sign of responsible credit management, though you don’t get points for doing it.”
Myth #3: Closing a credit card will help your score
It’s actually much better to KEEP THE CARD OPEN than to close it – which can actually hurt your score. Credit scoring models don’t measure risk by how much credit you have available, but rather by how much of that credit you’re using. AKA “credit utilization.” When you close a card with $0 balance, you reduce your total available credit you had and thus your credit utilization goes up.
For example – if you have a balance of $500 on one card with a limit of $1,000 and a balance of $0 on another card with a $1,000 limit, you’re “utilizing” 25% of your $2,000 available credit. However, if you nix that second card w/ $0 balance, you’re now at $500 for just the one $1,000 limit card effectively jacking up your utilization to 50% – even though it’s the exact same debt.
So in a nutshell you always want your ratio to be super low. Though of course if there’s a chance you’ll be tempted to rack up more debt keeping it open, then it’s MUCH better to just kill the thing and move on. Your finances always come first!
Myth #4: There is only a single credit score
Nope. There’s like a billion. Awesome, isn’t it? ;) According to Experian, “There are more than a thousand scoring models in use in the credit marketplace. A consumer could therefore have dozens or even hundreds of different credit scores.” So really what you want to do is just stay consistent with the model/score you’re checking over time so you can track progress. It’s not so important which one you’re using, but more so making sure you’re aware of where you stand and what – if anything- you can do to raise it more. The score I listed for myself up above is a VantageScore, with 821 being on a scale from 330 to 850.
Here are some examples of popular ones taken off USAA’s FAQs when I was poking around:
- VantageScore 3.0: Scores range from 300-850. Created by the nation’s three major Credit Bureaus and used by some lenders to approve loans. Most influential factors include: payment history, age and type of credit, percentage of credit limit used and total debt.
- FICO Score: Scores range from 300-850. Created by Fair Isaac Corporation and used by some lenders to approve loans. Most influential factors include: payment history, amounts owed and length of credit history.
- PLUS Score: Scores range from 330-830. Educational score developed by Experian for consumers to gauge their credit worthiness and not used by lenders.
Myth #5: Credit bureaus give “good” and “bad” scores
Nope! They just give out your score. It’s up to the lender to determine if they think your score is “good” or “bad” (i.e. “Do we need to worry they’re going to pay us back and need to hit them with a super high interest rate?” or “Are they totally responsible, so let’s just charge them 1% for that new home mortgage” – that would be dreamy ;)) Also, keep in mind that scores are usually just one factor in their decision. A great score might not mean much if you don’t have a job or any assets, just like having a high income and stack of gold bars might outweigh a bad score!
Myth #6: If you get a better job you’ll get a better score
I’ve never heard of this one before, but no – it doesn’t matter what your job is. It matters how good you are with your money! I like what Experian says about this mid-way down, haha… “Your report includes a lot of information about your use of credit and your management of debt. But, it doesn’t include your income. In fact, it may not even indicate whether you have a job (nor will it tell you to get off the couch and get one). That said, your employment situation can affect your score indirectly, in terms of your ability to pay your debts. And when you apply for credit, lenders will probably ask about your income.”
Myth #7: Your credit score accounts for demographics
Nope. It doesn’t include anything on race, national origin, religion, profession, disabilities, sexual orientation or even military veteran status.
Myth #8: Married people have joint credit reports
That would be awesome or scary depending on who you’re marrying :) But nah – each human has their own specific score. I encourage all y’all to ask about it on your first date ;)
Myth #9: Paying off debt erases them from your report
It erases the debt, yes, but not the info on your report. Most negative stuff can remain for up to seven years, and even longer if you file bankruptcy (sometimes up to 10 years). However, you typically want those debt pay offs on your report as it’ll help make you look good and pump up your score! And regardless, it means you’re now DEBT FREE – woohoo!
Myth #10: Companies can ‘fix’ your credit
“There’s nothing that a “credit repair” company can do for you that you can’t do yourself. No one can remove accurate information from your credit report. Reputable credit reestablishing services can help you come up with a plan to repay your debts, but the only legitimate way to enhance your credit score is to practice good credit management.”
Myth #11: Your credit score measures your value as a person.
Hah! It may seem like that in the world of personal finance blogs, but thankfully this is not the case ;) Credit scores are designed to do one thing, and one thing only – evaluate how big of a risk it would be to lend you money. It doesn’t show how awesome and generous you are as a human being. Your actions do that!
So that’s it for the myths… Any catch you off guard? Did you already know most of these? I love what they said about credit overall too – the same can be said about money!
“Credit is a tool. Like any tool, it’s neither good nor bad in itself. What matters is how you use it.”
Some things I’ve done to increase my own credit score:
(FYI not so long ago I SUCKED with credit stuff. I was always paying my bills late and never cared if I had any balances on them or not (though they were thankfully always small). These were the main things I did over time that dramatically improved my score/report.)
- I started paying all my bills on time.
- I stopped keeping balances! (Even though I now charge everything to my cards for the rewards)
- I increased the limits on all my cards as high as possible to improve that gap between debt and available credit (similar to the story with Myth #3). I literally went from $15,000 in credit lines to $55,000 within a 5 minute phone call! Though I only did this AFTER I got a better grip on my finances… You obviously don’t want to try this route if you’re just going to get into more debt – it’s not worth the risk.
- And lastly, I left my longest cards open even though I stopped using them
We also did the following when I first met Mrs. BudgetsAreSexy and she barely had a score. She wasn’t bad with money, she just didn’t have anything in her name and thus no history on the books to tell lenders whether she was responsible or not. So we did the following:
- I had her open up two store cards under her name to start establishing history (Target and TJ Maxx)
- I advised her to then buy something every few months on the cards and then pay it off right away to show “good” history (or else NO history would have been better – hah!)
- And then when we started living together we made sure to put all the bills in her own name to continue establishing the trail. Which I’d only do if you really trusted and loved the other person ;) You don’t want to put your own name on stuff if there’s a chance the other person will screw you in the end! And I mean that figuratively! (Bah dum ching)
Doing these few things, along with the ultimate rule – being smart with your money! – got her score up to 806 over time. Though she likes to put it in my face that she beats me from time to time, haha…. Now how that happens I have no idea ;)
But here’s the most beautiful part: once you figure out this stuff (just like with money), you don’t have to worry about it anymore! You just keep letting time do it’s thing and compound how good you look.
And speaking of good looks, according to a poll a while back by freecreditscore.com, the way you handle your money is apparently hotter than the # of your abs:
- 96% of women find financial responsibility more important than physical attractiveness (same with 91% of men)
- 88% of women find “spending beyond your means” and “having debt” the least attractive (as do 52% of men)
- 75% of women find credit scores important vs 57% of men
- 48% of respondents discuss their credit score with their partner, and 39% within the first year
- 30% of women indicated they wouldn’t marry someone with a poor credit score vs 20% of men
So there you have it. Credit scores are proven to be sexy!
And while there is a lot of factors that go into them (payment history, age and type of credit, percentage of credit limit used, total debt, etc), it really does comes down to paying attention overall and limiting the mistakes. Something I now y’all are already working on or else you’ve landed on the wrong blog! (You Googled “sexy” didn’t you?? Tisk Tisk…)
Hope this helps :) As my dear friend Brad likes to say, none of this even matters if you’re never taking out debt again anyways – Hah! Something good to strive for, eh?
PS: The best place to grab your credit report is from AnnualCreditReport.com – Authorized by the federal gov’t, and free to grab one time each year.
This post was written as part of a sponsored program for ConsumerInfo.com, Inc., an Experian Company. As always, all views expressed here are entirely my own and were not influenced or directed by Experian. This article is provided for general guidance and information. It is not intended as, nor should it be construed to be, legal, financial or other professional advice. Please consult with your attorney or financial advisor to discuss any legal or financial issues involved with credit decisions.
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My score is north of 800, saw it jump once we paid off our debt and increased our income to debt ratio. I always check my credit report periodically to make sure nothing strange is going down.
Being debt-free definitely helps!
My score was above 800 last time I checked a few months ago. It’s been rising as we’ve been busting butt on paying off our student loan debt!
When I paid off my student loans, my score actually dipped a little bit (a few points for a year or so) because I wasn’t paying a loan anymore. It felt counter-intuitive but FICO is about your ability to pay and they stopped having information about it!
It went up after a year or so and the dip was minor, just something to know whenever you hit a balance of $0 and to not be discouraged. :)
Credit cards are so funny. I never had one all throughout college (my parents wouldn’t pay for school if I got one), but I did have loans so that gave me a credit score. My wife didn’t have one either and didn’t have any loans, so she had trouble even getting a store credit card! We ended up getting a secured one for something stupid like $250 from PNC. Converted it to a regular one a year later (and got that money back). Well worth it becuase it got her on the map. We’re both in the upper 700’s now, and I”m sure it’ll keep going up as. Only bills I’ve ever accrued interest on were student loans and our mortgage though!
“That said, your employment situation can affect your score indirectly, in terms of your ability to pay your debts.”
This part bugs me though. What are you supposed to do if you’re retired? If you have a ton in the bank, the mortgage company should take that into account!
I think it’ll be a good problem to have at that point ;) Let’s see who can reach it first!
I’ve definitely heard some of these myths so it’s nice to get the facts. We have a lot of college students ask us how to build their credit score so this will add to the info we give them.
Occasionally and consistently requesting increases pays off big in terms of increasing a credit score, from my experience. It’s really convenient how most companies let you do this with a click of a button rather than having to plead your case to a person.
Ooh that’s nice! I just picked up a phone the two times I did it, but clicking a mouse is even easier :)
I can’t wait for Canadian banks to get on the “providing your credit score for free” train. Seriously, that’s the dream. (I dream big, I know.)
The interesting thing for me, as someone who only has one kind of credit to her name (credit cards) is that it seems like my score is stuck in perpetual mid-700-land. The “best” advice I’ve heard to fix is it to diversify my debt… But to me that just sounds like taking on additional, new types of debt like a car loan to show that I’m good at paying off multiple debts? Sigh.
I’ll keep on trucking with my monthly routine of paying off my cards in full and on time for now, haha. Awesome post, as usual!
Yeah, no point in going into more debt just to have a better score! Banks are cray…
I have noticed that some companies to advertise to ‘remove’ your bad credit score. It’s good to know this is just false advertising and you do need to take some serious measures to improve your score. The great thing is that it’s possible to do this, even if it does take some time and effort.
Yeah – stay away from those EVERY TIME!!!
The person who owes the debt can often get a better rate or discount on the balance than someone else charging you a fee to “remove” negative credit. I would rather not pay someone to do something that I can do myself :).
About to move to the US, starting off with no credit score. Going to see how quickly I can go from 0 to 800. Guess I didn’t do anything in my student days from the 80’s that still counts for a score.
That’s a fun challenge! :)
Last time I checked, both my wifes score and mine were over 800, but that was several years ago. We haven’t had to pull any new credit in a while. We still check our credit reports through the annual credit report site, every four months or so using one of the three bureaus each time so that it’s spread out.
I have always been lucky (?) to have a credit score over 800. I learned at a very young age that it was important to pay your bills on time, keep your credit limits high enough so you don’t spend over 25% of it at any one time and I have paid my balances off every month for about 30 years unless it is a 0%. When I purchased a vehicle the salesman told me he had never seen someone my age (35) with a credit score so high…..when I purchased my 2nd home the real estate women asked if I ever paid a bill late because she hadn’t see a credit score that high in years for someone my age (38). I have instilled these lessons to my children as well because “money” does matter in life! You never know when you will need to loan to cover a major expense in this journey of life.
What a great thing to instill in your kids!! So impressive!
Not that long ago, my husband and I had a LOT of credit card debt, all in cards in my name. We took out a home equity loan to consolidate it and get a much better interest rate. My score immediately shot up to over 800, which was a nice surprise.
Congrats! Hope the debt paying off is a lot easier too now w/ less %% and simplified :)
Myth#2 is clearly wrong. For me, checking regularly your credit report is a total responsible thing to do.
AnnualCreditReports.com is awesome because you see all 3 of your credit reports for free, but you don’t get your scores via the free report. You do get to see everything else, so it’s a good resource for making sure the information the credit bureaus are reporting is accurate.
Yup! And at the end you have the option to still pay for your score too which is nice. I used to do that all the time – only costs like $7 or something (and knew if I didn’t pull it then, I probably wouldn’t later)
I always thought it was good to have a low credit utilization ratio, but if it is too low I thought that financial institutions won’t give you new CC’s because you are not using the credit you have to any substantial degree. So I always assumed it was not a bad idea to close a card every year or two years so I could re apply for the CC bonuses. Any thoughts?
Hah – I was about to say, why do you need more cards then if you already have some? But yeah – everyone and their CC bonuses these days… I don’t know what the answer is cuz I just keep my same cards and like a minimalist :) But I’d guess that if you’re able to get so many cards as-is, you’ll have no problem getting more… tons of c/c hackers have like 10 at the same time going.
my coworkers and I follow the cc rewards a lot since we don’t have corp cards. The plus of closing accounts is you can reapply for the same bonus in the future (usually after ~2 years) or to keep your avg age of account from getting too diluted. It’s less of a ding to have the credit inquiry than it is to have your account age become undesirable. Along those lines it’s better to close a newer card instead of an old card you don’t use, unfortunately.
Good credit & financial responsibility *ARE* sexy! I actually was on a date with a guy and for some reason the conversation turned to HSAs… which is when, of course, I started nerding out and explaining the contribution limits, how the money can be withdrawn tax-free for qualified medical expenses, etc. and he kind of just looked at me and shook his head. I said, I know, I just nerded out on you, I’m sorry! And his response? “No… it’s just that it is so. freaking. attractive that you know about this stuff” Haha!
I’m with him!!!
And why aren’t you married to him yet??? :)
Haha.. it’s complicated ;)
I have a pretty good credit score of 810 last I checked. I did this mostly by just not using the cards that often and paying every bill on time. I honestly didn’t pay much attention to it until last year. Once I understood how credit scores really work, I started really taking advantage of credit card rewards!
That being said, I don’t worry too much about my score. I don’t have any debt besides my house and plan to cash anything big that comes up.
“96% of women find financial responsibility more important than physical attractiveness”
No wonder I am such a catch!
Question – I’ll be refinancing a HELOC in the next month or two. If I contacted my credit card companies to increase my credit limits, would that negatively affect my refinance?
Great question! I’m not sure to be honest, but I do know that it takes some time for that trick to kick in… so I’d probably hold off until after just to be on the safe side. I doubt it would reflect that fast?
I had a wise uncle sit us down when we first got married and tell us that debt was the answer. “The only way to get a good credit score is to have debt.” We both informed him of his lack of judgment on the matter, but I think that’s a fairly common idea. People get all confused about credit lines and debt. You need to prove you can manage the fake money being handed to you. But proving that you can do it WITHOUT A BALANCE helps you so much more than going in to debt!
I know, right? The country’s been brainwashed!
One thing that’s surprising to me is that my husband has had no open lines of credit in over 15 months, and he still has a credit score (and a good one to boot). I would have thought by now his credit would start to drift off the map, but I think having most of our bills in his name keeps him at some level of “credit utilization”
One reason I close cards I no longer use, eventually, (at least most of them), is less ways for someone to commit fraud against me. I have had several instances in the last few years. Someone actually got a several hundred dollar cash advance on one of my cards. Thankfully, the credit card company covered it.
That’s a good point. You do have to worry about that stuff w/ multiple cards open, so I guess it’s a matter of which is more worth it to you in the end?
I recently had to do a short sale on a house. I never missed a payment or had a late payment. I ended up losing about 100 points on my credit score (from 825 to 725). It will probably take about two years (or more) to get my credit rating back over 800. I recently spoke to a lender about refinancing our other house (the one we live in) and he said that lenders will probably not want to give me a loan until four years have passed since the short sale. I am still glad I did the short sale. I would have had to spend probably about $10K (which I don’t have) to get that house to a “rentable” state. Also, the market in that area (Syracuse, NY) is not very good for house rentals. I am happy to no longer have the approximately $1800 per month going into that house.
It’s especially important not to have those bills now that I am unemployed. If I still had that house, we’d be living on credit cards and I’d be considering allowing that loan to go into foreclosure, which really messes up your credit for a long time. Anybody have some work for someone who is a not-too-shabby writer and knows a thing or two about finance? ;)
Yeah, anytime you do short sale or walk away or go bankrupt it puts you in a tough position. And rightfully so, really – cuz it means you broke the contract and tells future lenders it’s possible you’ll do it again. Not saying it wasn’t the best decision to do or I’m judging you, just that it makes sense why it changes the game.
Congrats…..those are excellent scores….Probably higher then mine!
The first time I checked my credit since college was last year and I was pleasantly surprised that it was above 800 (sorry for the humblebrag). Honestly if you just use a credit card every month and never miss any debt payments, you’re pretty set!
Ours is over 800 as well. It seems like most everyone reading this blog has a high credit score just because of the demographic that enjoys personal finance.
I’d like to think it’s because everyone reads my blog and got better w/ their $$$ :)
That photo had me lost until reading that caption. I would say I have heard most of these before but never the getting the better job gives you a better score. I definitely know the power of lowering balances or increasing the limits. Not to mention having different types of credit: installment, revolving, etc. An 800 would be great right about now. Looking to purchase a new home.
Great post J$! So many people are confused by these credit score myths – it’s definitely time to set them straight.
Funny you should post this today, since I was just checking my scores yesterday! I’m around 777 for most of them. I generally use CreditKarma.com and CreditSesame.com, and I have a credit card that provides me with my FICO score, too. I’m pretty pleased with my score, since the only thing about my credit report that isn’t great is that none of my accounts are very old, but since I’m only 23, I figure I’ve got time for that to improve.
Same boat here. 23 years old, 730-740 credit (should changetowards the up, just paid off last couple K on my truck cause I got sick of interest) And end of September my Capital one $300.00 back of the wallet credit card FINALLY hit 2 years. My girlfriend rolls her eyes at how amped this stuff gets me. ;P
there’s worse things to get eye rolled at! :)
Great post. I’m working on upping my score at the moment, and paying off debt, so this is a great post. My fiancé, up until about a year ago, worked on a cash only system, so we’re looking to get him established with some history and going down a good path!
Hey, cash-only isn’t a bad system if it’s working for him! He’ll have to make sure to still rock it while dabbling w/ credit too (and hopefully not change his habits!)
I’ve worked in recruiting and HR for years and we never actually requested credit SCORES. For certain financial positions we’d check the credit report and consider it along with the background check, but never the score. And only for positions working in accounting and/or with money.
I’ve never broken 800 – I think I need some more years to accumulate credit history. But I’m solidly above the 750 mark so I can still qualify for all the good deals :)
American Express started showing me my credit score monthly, and I am loving it…..but what I’m not loving is my credit score dropping about 30 points from paying off my mortgage (sold my house and had no other credit changes). You would think that paying off your largest debt would help your credit, but it did not. It will be interesting to see if I get those 30 points back when I get a new mortgage on my next house…..
Interesting indeed! I wonder cuz it killed the available credit to you or something? Did you have any home equity lines of credit open maybe?
I thought once I paid consistently my debt, it automatically erased my bad reports. Oh my! I have to do it consistently for 7 years before all my details in my report become positive.
J$ – I just made my first payment on ONLY the second credit card I’ve ever had in my life. The first one was 20 years ago. Watch out FICO here I come! Thanks for your invaluable knowledge and motivation.
oh wowwww – good for you!
All a credit score is good for is to help you get a lower rate on more debt! Why not skip the credit score and buy with cash.
if only we were all so good about doing so w/ homes and cars!
I think I have read at least 15 different articles on credit score and what to do and not do to increase it, but you still had my full attention when reading your article! I can’t agree more that it doesn’t really matter how much you make but what matters is how you handle money! One of my friends has a low-paying job, but she has always been very responsible with her cash. When her car broke down, she was able to get an almost-new car for $0 down at an interest rate of 3.2%!
Another point in your article that I like is that no credit fixing company can do more for you than what you can do yourself. Just pass up this additional expense! Of course, unless your debt has gone to collections.
I personally use my credit card all the time and then pay it off. It’s because I get 2% cash back bonus and other rewards for using it. So every month I end up with an extra $20-30!
You’re a smart lady :)
I want to point out what everyone seems to miss – you can actually get THREE credit reports a year for free.
Annualcreditreport.com lets you access your credit report from the three main credit bureaus. You can order your report for free from EACH of them once a year.
So, you can either order your report from all three once a year, or you can get the report from each bureau at a different time throughout the year.
The latter is our preferred method, this way we get a look at our report three times a year to make sure everything is correct and looking good.
Yup! Exactly why I mentioned them at the end of the blog post – they’re bad ass! And while you’re in there you might as well pick up your credit score too and get it all done at once :) Though that part is not free, but it is cheap…