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7 Costly Credit Score Myths

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Your credit score can make a huge difference in your finances, from helping you qualify for loans and low interest rates to accessing utility services and renting the home you want. As much as people want to have good credit scores, there’s a lot of confusion about how they work.

The more you know about credit scores, the more likely you are to make better financial decisions, but basing your choices on incorrect information can have the opposite effect. Here are some credit score myths that can hurt your efforts to improve your scores.

1. Carrying a credit card balance helps your credit score.

Keeping a balance on your credit card doesn’t give you an advantage with credit scoring models. Paying your credit card bills on time and using a small portion of your available credit will have the best impact on your credit score, so carrying a balance could actually hurt your score, if doing so means you’re using more of your available credit than you would if you paid the balance every billing period. On top of that, you’re accruing interest on that balance, which means you’re going to pay more in the long run for the things you bought with the card.

2. Credit reports and credit scores are the same thing.

Credit scores are based on the information in your credit reports, but these products deliver information in completely different ways. Lenders use credit scores to measure the risk they’re taking on when extending you credit, and credit reports give the details on your credit history: payment habits, number of accounts, age of accounts and so on. You should regularly review both your credit scores and reports, and you can do that for free. You can get two credit scores for free with updates every 30 days on Credit.com, and you can request your free credit reports once a year on AnnualCreditReport.com.

3. Declaring bankruptcy will hurt your credit forever.

Negative information has less of an impact on your credit score as it gets older. In the case of bankruptcy, it will remain on your credit report for 10 years, but that doesn’t mean your credit score is ruined. Yes, it’ll be low while you have bankruptcy in your history, but as with all negative items on your credit report (including collection accounts, judgments, foreclosure and others), you need to focus on other things you can control as you work to rebuild your credit.

4. Checking your credit score costs money.

You can buy credit scores, but you can also get free ones, like the two you can get on Credit.com. Keep in mind you have many credit scores, and you never know which score a potential lender may use in evaluating your credit risk, but routinely checking the same score will give you a good idea of how your actions generally affect your credit standing, no matter the scoring formula.

5. The perfect credit score is 850.

Different scoring models have different point scales. With FICO Scores and VantageScore 3.0, 850 is the best score you can get, but an 850 on the VantageScore 1.0 and 2.0 scale isn’t as great, because the best you can do is a 990. Make sure you understand where your number fits in on the scale you’re using.

6. Checking your credit score hurts your credit.

When you request your credit score, it results in a soft inquiry on your credit report. Hard inquiries — when a potential creditor runs a credit check to help in their lending decision — have a negative impact on your credit score, but it’s small. However, applying for a lot of credit in a short period of time adds up and can knock dozens of points off your credit score, so only apply for credit when you need it.

7. You can’t get a credit card with a bad credit score.

There are credit cards for people with bad credit, but don’t expect them to have the same terms as credit cards available to consumers with great credit. Sometimes these cards carry high interest rates or require an annual fee, but if you’re trying to rebuild your credit, one of these cards might be a great choice for you, because it’s one of the easiest ways to start your credit-repair journey.

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