When it comes to credit, people have plenty of questions. What is good credit? How does it work? And, most of all, how do you get it?
Debt, credit reports, and credit scores can seem mysterious and complex, so it’s no surprise that there are some persistent misconceptions around credit. It’s important to remember that everyone’s situation is different, so what helps one person’s credit may not help another’s. Credit reports and scores are the result of a combination of factors, so simply following one recommendation below may not be enough to raise or maintain your score.
Today, we’re dispelling the most comment credit myths and sharing the truth about your credit.
MYTH #1: You can’t get a credit card with low credit or no credit
Getting a credit card can be a challenge when you have no credit or a low credit score, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have options. If your credit is keeping you from pocketing a credit card, consider a secured card instead. A secured credit card requires a security deposit that will serve as collateral for the account. The security deposit reduces the card issuer’s risk, allowing them to offer cards to people who may not be approved for traditional, unsecured cards.
With responsible use of a secured credit card, and overall responsible financial decisions, you may see your credit score improve. And, if it does, you may be able to “graduate” to an unsecured credit card.
MYTH #2: Your credit score will drop if you check it
When you actively apply for loans or a line of credit, you trigger what’s called a hard inquiry. Lenders pull your credit history, which may lower your score. Reviewing your own credit report, however, initiates a soft inquiry, which should not affect your credit score.
So don’t be afraid to peek at your credit! In fact, check in periodically to see where you stand, catch problems early, and track your progress over time. The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau website states you are entitled to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three major consumer reporting companies.
MYTH #3: All debt is bad
In actuality, some debts may help build credit. But, debt can be complicated, so make sure you talk to a professional about your debt before making assumptions or taking on new debt.
There are types of debt that give you value. Your home loan gives you a place to live and ownership of a property with increasing value. Your student loan helps you graduate with marketable skills that translate to higher earning potential.
Other types of debt, however, wind up costing you. This includes debt that you are unable to pay or that doesn’t provide a return for the investment.
If you use a credit card, aim to keep your balance low — best practice is less than 30% of your spending limit — to help keep your credit healthy. So remember that not all debt is bad, and some may be necessary to achieve your financial goals, which is why it’s important to understand the different types of debt and to consult a professional about your own financial situation.
MYTH #4: For the right price, you can “fix” your credit
Some businesses promise to work magic on your credit, pumping up your score if you’re willing to pay a hefty fee.
But the truth is this: If the information on your credit report is accurate, no one can erase it.
The good news, however, is that you have a lot more power than you realize. If you spot damaging errors on your report, you may dispute that data on your own.
The best way to improve your credit score is through good credit management. As you use credit responsibly — making payments on time, decreasing your balances, and avoiding overspending, among other things — your credit report should begin to reflect your hard work.
MYTH #5: Carrying a balance improves your credit score
There is a common myth that carrying a balance on your credit card from month to month is good for your credit scores. According to Experian®, that simply is not true.
Carrying a balance will directly impact your utilization rate, and a higher utilization rate may negatively impact your credit score. To help build or maintain good credit, the best practice is to have a low utilization rate. And make it your goal to pay off your card’s balance every month.
MYTH #6: Paying off debts erases any trace of them from your credit report
Paid off or not, your past accounts stick around on your credit report for several years. Late payments can stay there for up to seven years and bankruptcies may appear for up to 10 years.
Fortunately, your credit report’s long memory works in your favor as well. When you pay debts on time or lower your balance, your smart financial choices are recorded. Over time, your report will show more and more of those good credit habits, while the impact of older, negative records will decrease.
MYTH #7: Improving your credit takes a very long time
Yes, the journey from low credit to an excellent credit score can take years. But, with the right responsible credit practices, you may see improvements in a matter of months.
Paying down a large credit card balance or getting a credit limit increase can lower your utilization rate and, in turn, may positively impact your score. The amount you owe generally has the second-largest impact on your credit score, and credit utilization is one of the most important factors evaluated in this category.
Payment history has a major impact on your score, so if you have delinquent accounts, focus on bringing them current and keeping them that way. Commit to paying your bills on time and keeping your balances low moving forward. Over time you’re likely to see an improvement in your credit score.
MYTH #8: Your income, age, and marital status are factored into your score
Your income and profession actually don’t appear at all on your credit report, which means your salary doesn’t matter. What matters to your credit score is how responsibly you manage debt.
Your age does not make a difference, but the age of your credit does matter. Your score will generally increase the longer you keep your credit lines open.
Finally, getting married will not change your score. Your credit report is your own — not one you share with a spouse. So, while your history will show any joint debts you incur together, it won’t reflect the debt your spouse has individually. One exception to this general rule may be instances where you are an authorized user on your spouse’s credit card account.
Gender, race, and ethnicity are also never used to determine your score.
Navigating the facts around credit can be tricky, but the truth is that you can take control of your finances. With a few simple strategies, anyone can work to improve their credit health.
Looking to learn more about secured credit cards? Visit your nearest M&T Bank branch or call us at 1-877-378-1276 to apply.
For access to additional financial education resources, for wherever you are on your financial journey, visit our Financial Education Center.