Credit scores affect almost every aspect of your financial life, but what affects them?
While some factors that impact your score are obvious, like your payment history, others might surprise you.
You’ll never have to puzzle over your credit report again, wondering what could have changed your score or how to strategically work to repair it.
In the article below, we’ll walk you through the 5 factors that influence your credit score, as well as a few that don’t, providing you with tips to boost your score along the way.
What Affects Your Credit Score?
There are five main factors that affect your credit score:
We’ll break down exactly what each of these factors encompasses below.
Payment History: 35% of Credit Score
This one should come as no surprise. Your history of making timely payments on debts has the biggest impact on your credit score.
In fact, it accounts for 35% of your overall score, on both the FICO and VantageScore scales.
Every 30 days, creditors report to the major credit bureaus, telling them whether you make your payment or not.
One late payment won’t make or break your credit score, but multiple missed payments can seriously hurt your score.
The longer you wait to make a payment, the harder it is to improve your score in the aftermath.
Payment history mostly pertains to debts from mortgages, loans, and credit cards.
However, after several missed payments on services like your phone, internet, and medical bills, those accounts can be turned over to a debt collection agency and placed on your credit report.
Pro Tip: Automate your payments wherever possible to ensure none of your payments slip through the cracks and prioritize catching up on late payments ASAP.
Credit Utilization Ratio: 30% of Credit Score
In basic terms, your credit utilization ratio is a calculation based on how much of your available credit you use. Second, only to payment history, it makes up 30% of your credit score.
This number is calculated by dividing the total amount of credit that has been extended to you by the amount you’re actually using.
Both the FICO and VantageScore models place a heavy emphasis on your credit utilization.
So how much of your credit limit should you use each month?
Experts suggest keeping your credit utilization at 30% or less, at a maximum. To see even better results, you can limit your credit use to closer to 10%.
Pro Tip: It’s all about risk. In addition to keeping your credit utilization low, to begin with, you can improve your credit score by paying down large credit card balances, which shows lenders that you aren’t a risky borrower.
Length of Credit History: 15% of Credit Score
Another factor lenders use to assess your risk is the age of your credit.
As you might suspect, the longer your borrowing history is, the better your chances of getting approved for loans or credit cards are.
Younger borrowers with limited credit histories can run into trouble here, which a secured credit card can help with.
While less significant than your payment history or credit utilization, your credit age still accounts for a substantial amount of your score, at 15%.
The length of your credit history is calculated using:
- The age of your oldest account
- The age of your most recent account
- The average of the age of all of your credit accounts
Pro Tip: Ask a trusted friend or family member to add you as an authorized user on an account with a long and successful payment history.
Credit Mix: 10% of Credit Score
Composing 10% of your FICO score is your credit mix, or the variety of types of credit accounts you have.
Credit accounts can basically be boiled down into two categories: installment debts and revolving debts.
Revolving credit accounts are more flexible, allowing you to make additional charges to your account rather than just paying it down.
Examples of revolving credit include home equity lines of credit and credit cards, among others.
Your credit mix is based on both the types of credit accounts you have and the number of accounts.
Pro Tip: You don’t have to stress over taking out every type of loan under the sun, as credit mix only makes up 10% of your score, but taking out a variety of loan types (as long as you need them) can help your score.
New Inquiries: 10% of Credit Score
When you apply for a new line of credit, the prospective lender will run a credit check. These credit inquiries come in two forms: soft inquiries and hard inquiries.
Only hard inquiries appear on your credit report and have the ability to lower your credit score.
Hard inquiries constitute the final 10% of your credit score.
While a single hard credit pull might only drop your score by a point or two, applying for several lines of credit could have the potential to lower your score more drastically, suggesting to lenders that you may be living beyond your means.
Fortunately, the damage done by hard inquiries is only temporary, hence the title of “new inquiries.”
Hard credit checks only affect your credit score for a year, and they’re removed from your report altogether after two years.
Pro Tip: If you’re looking to comparison shop for a specific type of funding, like a mortgage, try submitting all your applications within 14 days to lessen the impact on your score.
Unexpected Factors that Affect Your Credit Score
The way you use credit has a major influence on your score, as you can see from the five components of your FICO score above.
But there are even more factors that can have an impact on your score.
While you’re probably aware that missing a student loan payment will lower your credit score, some of the factors below might surprise you.
You may have a history of responsible credit use, but the identity thief that steals your financial information probably won’t be as trustworthy.
Fortunately, you can place a fraud alert on your credit report and work with specialists to repair your credit.
Though you may have paid your credit card balance on time last month, your bank could have entered the data wrong, resulting in an inaccurate report to the credit bureaus.
Monitoring your credit with a free online service can help you to quickly catch these errors.
Missed payments on credit accounts aren’t the only ones that count. If you leave a bill unpaid, it could eventually make its way to the collections stage.
Collection agencies can be downright frustrating in their debt collection attempts, and they stay on your credit report for seven years unless you act to get the collections account removed.
Some of the unpaid debts that can result in a collections account entry on your credit report include:
- Traffic tickets
- Medical bills
- Utility bills
- Phone/internet bills
- Gym membership
- Child support
Likewise, if you fail to pay your taxes after an extended amount of time, a tax lien could be filed against you, which can have legal ramifications and tank your credit score.
Paying Off a Loan
Shouldn’t paying off a loan help your credit score, not hurt it?
It depends on your credit portfolio. Since credit mix accounts for 10% of your credit score, closing out an account could alter your credit mix.
While paying off your student loans might give you a sense of accomplishment and put you on the path to financial freedom, it can also lower your score slightly if it’s the only installment debt you had.
Closing a Credit Account
Much like paying off a loan, canceling a credit card account can result in a drop in your credit score.
In addition to hurting your credit mix, this action also affects your credit limit.
When your credit limit goes down, it changes your credit utilization ratio, which can have a more significant effect on your score.
In most cases, it’s wiser to keep a credit card account open, but if you do have to close it, make sure that your balance is $0.
Changing Your Credit Limit
Increasing your credit limit can both help and hurt your credit score.
When you request a change to your credit limit, the lender will do a hard pull to reassess your creditability.
That action will result in a hard inquiry. The good news is, increasing your credit limit can help to improve your credit utilization in the long term.
Loan and credit card applications affect your credit score, but so can applications for other products and services.
Depending on the provider, you could be subject to a hard credit inquiry when you apply for some of the following:
- Phone Plan: It’s become common for popular service providers to run hard credit checks before leasing you a smartphone and selling you a data plan.
- Bank Account: When you open a checking account, the bank or credit union may require a hard inquiry to gauge your likelihood of over-drafting your account and letting fees accumulate. Some CD and other savings accounts require a hard pull as well.
- Insurance Policy: While most insurance applications result in only a soft inquiry, some insurers may run a hard credit inquiry to assess your risk.
How to Improve Your Credit Score
Now that you know what affects your credit score and the level of impact they have, you can start working to improve it.
The 10 strategies below provide you with a great starting point for boosting your score and keeping it high:
- Monitor your credit: With a free online credit monitoring service like Credit Karma, you can stay up to date on your score, inquiries, and changes to your report. You’ll also get tailored advice for boosting your score and credit offers with high approval odds based on your score.
- Look out for inaccuracies: If a mistake is responsible for a drop in your credit score, it’s important to act quickly to dispute it so you can get the damaging entry removed from your report.
- Stay on top of payments: Set reminders, automate if you can, and make sure to factor payments into your budget each month to ensure they get paid fully and on time.
- Make up late payments: Late payments can kill your credit score and can stay on your credit report for several years. The later your payments are, the more harmful they can be.
- Pay off debt: If your credit utilization ratio is high, then one of the best (and fastest) ways you can improve your score is by paying down debts.
- Apply strategically for new credit: Don’t apply for too many lines of credit as hard inquiries will stay on your report for 2 years. If you shop for quotes from auto or mortgage providers, try to complete your applications in a couple of weeks’ time.
- Apply for a secured credit card: If you have a short-lived credit history with few accounts to stand on, or your credit is low, you may be approved for a secured card. They come with minimal fees and use your deposit as collateral.
- Become an authorized user: Once again, being added to the account of a dependable friend with a proven track record of timely payments can give your score the boost it needs. Just make sure that their lender reports authorized users to the credit bureaus to ensure this strategy has the intended effect.
- Report rent and utility payments: Paid services like Rent Reporters reward you by reporting your timely rent payments to the credit bureaus, like a mortgage. With Experian Boost, your utility and phone bills can work towards improving your credit score, too.
- Hire a credit repair company: Sometimes repairing your credit can be an overwhelming task. If you’re fighting collection agencies, bankruptcy, or liens, a trained team of experts might be just what you need to dispute claims, negotiate payments, and improve your score.
With the knowledge above in hand, you can confidently move forward and take your credit score to the next level.