Shannon Nealey | Clearwater Real Estate, Largo Real Estate, Seminole Real Estate


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.    

Did you know that you could drastically improve your credit score in just a year? Or that there are things that you can actively be doing to keep up your good credit score and make it to excellent? Improving your credit score involves improving many pieces of what makes up a credit score. The tips here are twofold. If your score is low and you are looking to greatly improve it, then you must first figure out why. Review the tips below to see if any listed can help you deal with your credit pitfall(s). If you have an average to good score and just want to improve it as much as possible then each of the steps below can give you insight into how to do so. Balances: The amount of revolving credit you have compared to the credit that you are using is a large factor in your credit score. It’s best to keep your balances from all of your credit cards under 30% of your revolving credit. Even if you pay off your credit cards every month, the amount of credit you are utilizing is recorded. In short, keep balances low, but also keep paying them off each month so you do not end up with a balance than can’t be immediately paid off. Credit Inquiries: Hard credit inquiries show up on your report for 2 years, but only affecting your score for around a year. Hard inquiries show that you are looking to use additional credit and too many hard inquiries in a short amount of time can negatively affect your credit score. One or two within a year’s time will not significantly affect your score but as that number gets higher it will. One way around this is to make those couple of inquiries within a 30-day period. FICO will count those inquiries as one since oftentimes multiple inquiries in a short period of time results in one loan— meaning you are not in search of multiple lines of credit/loans. But it’s best to be cognizant of this and strategic in how you view your credit report or apply for loans and credit cards. Payment History/On-Time Payments: If you have struggled with paying your bills on time and have seen a suffering credit score then this then would be a main reason behind your low score. And it’s time to take action and change that. This is one of the main factors in your credit score and therefore significantly impacting your score, either negatively or positively. It’s important to do everything in your power to pay all bills on time. Even being just a couple days late on payments will have affect. Length of Credit History: Length of credit is not necessary something that you can completely control. But it does have an affect on your credit score. As the length of your credit increases, and given that you are responsible with your credit, your score will improve. The most important piece to remember here is to be responsible with your credit. So what are you waiting for? If you haven't already, sign up for a free credit score site or find out if one of your credit card companies offers it. Frequently checking and seeing your score rise will provide you with the gratification you need to keep on track.