Your credit score impacts many of your important life decisions. From your ability to open new credit cards, to taking out loans for cars and houses, your credit will be checked by many companies throughout your life.
Credit scores are mostly a mystery to the people who have them. Sure, you can check your credit score for free online, but when it comes to understanding your score, most consumers are in the dark.
In a perfect world, we would be taught in high school and college exactly what goes into your credit score, how to build credit, and how to avoid credit missteps. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world and many of us don’t find out what makes up a credit score until we’re in debt from student loans or credit cards.
In this article, we’ll teach you what a credit score is, what it consists of, and how it is affected by your financial decisions. And, we’ll do it in an easy-to-understand way that skips all of the jargon and acronyms that are used by banks and lenders. Read on to learn everything you need to know about your credit score.
What is a credit score?
Simply put, your credit score tells lenders how safe it is to lend money to you, i.e., the likeliness of you paying back your debt to them. In the United States, credit scores are awarded by three major companies. Since they use slightly different methods of scoring your credit, your score can vary slightly between them. What they all have in common, however, is that they put together your score based on your financial history (or lack thereof). How do they come about your score?
Parts of a credit score
Think of an Olympic diver who just took a perfect dive. The judges off to the side are going to score her on a few different factors: her approach, her flight, and her entry into the water. They’ll award her a number based on her dive and then those numbers are averaged to give her a score.
Credit is scored in a similar way. You aren’t judged just based on your payments or just based on how long you’ve had a credit card. Rather, you’re judged based on a combination of five main things. For your FICO score (the score used by the majority of banks and lenders) those are:
- 35% – payment history
- 30% – current debt
- 15% – how long you’ve had credit
- 10% – types of credit
- 10% – new credit
As you can see, the most important factors that make up your credit score revolve around how much you owe and if you pay your bills on time. Having high amounts of debt or credit cards that are maxed out (meaning you hit the spending limit), your score can be lowered. Similarly, your score can be lowered every time you miss a bill payment. However, if you do miss a payment and your score is lowered, it can be recovered by making on-time payments.
Your credit score is also influenced by the length of your credit history (15%): when you opened your first credit card or took out your first loan. The longer you’ve been making on-time payments the better.
The last two factors that make up your score are the types of credit you have (10%) and new credit (10%). Having many different types of credit (home loan, credit card, student loan, auto loan, etc.) will improve your score so long as you’re making on-time payments. However, opening up new credit rapidly is a red flag for lenders that you might be in financial trouble, hurting your score.