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Strategies for Building Credit

Broadly speaking, the best way to build credit is actually quite straightforward: Be the kind of borrower you’d want to lend to. While that might sound simple, it isn’t always second nature to know exactly how to go about doing that. For instance, you might know it’s critical to make payments on time, but you might not be aware that it’s important to keep your unused credit cards open.

If you’re setting out on your journey toward building credit, here’s a rundown on how to build credit, with 10 strategies you can stick to.

Strategies for Building Credit

1. Acquire Credit

Perhaps the first crucial step in how to build credit is to acquire credit accounts. For someone who does not have a credit history of their own, getting a co-signer or becoming an authorized user on an established cardholder’s account can help you get started. You might also consider a secured credit card or a credit card designed specifically for students, or look into a credit-builder loan.

In the long run, however, you’ll be in a much stronger position if you can borrow in your name alone. Establishing credit of your own can make it easier to borrow in the future for such things as an auto loan, a personal loan, or even a mortgage.

2. Pay Bills Consistently and On Time

Timely payments are crucial, and making at least the minimum payment each month on a revolving credit line can make a positive impact on your credit score.

That’s because payment history makes a bigger impact on a person’s credit score than anything else. A borrower’s credit score summarizes their health and strength as a borrower, and payment history makes up 35% of that score on a credit rating scale. So the most important rule of credit is this: Don’t miss payments.

Many lenders will actually allow you to customize due dates so they line up with pay dates, and most let you set up automatic payments from a checking or savings account. Take the time to find what works for you to make your payments in a timely fashion.

Recommended: When Are Credit Card Payments Due

3. Manage Your Credit Utilization Rate

The further away a person is from hitting their credit limit, the healthier their credit score will be, in most circumstances. A borrower’s debt-to-credit ratio, also known as the credit utilization rate, should ideally be no more than 30%. Higher utilization rates can negatively affect a person’s credit score.

Paying revolving credit lines in full each month can have a positive impact on your credit score because doing so essentially lowers your credit utilization rate. Additionally, keeping tabs on your credit utilization rate before continuing to swipe is key to using a credit card wisely.

Recommended: Does Applying For a Credit Card Hurt Your Credit Score

4. Keep Unused Credit Cards Open

Lenders want to see accounts maintained in good standing for a long time. As such, a credit history looks better when it has a solid number of accounts in good standing that have been open for a while. When debt accounts are closed, that history ends, and eventually closed accounts drop off your credit report entirely.

To keep this from happening, avoid closing old credit cards — even if you’re not using them anymore. You might consider using these accounts to automate a few bills, like car insurance or a monthly subscription account, to avoid account closure due to inactivity.

5. DiversifyYour Credit Mix

Having a diverse mix of credit products can also have a positive impact on a person’s credit, accounting for 10% of a credit score calculation.

Opening at least one credit card is a good step for most borrowers. Using a personal loan to finance a large purchase with a relatively low interest rate, and paying off that personal loan on time, can also have a positive impact on a person’s credit. Student loan refinancing can be another way to diversify your credit mix, while potentially lowering your interest rate.

However, while having a mix of credit can help your standing as a borrower, it’s not a good idea to open a line of credit that’s not needed just to increase your mix of credit types. Instead, stick to applying only for credit you actually need and that you’re confident you can afford to pay off.

Recommended: How to Avoid Interest On a Credit Card

6. Check Your Credit Report

It’s recommended to check your credit reports from the three major credit bureaus at least once a year. Doing a regular review of your reports is a good way to monitor your overall credit health and understand the impacts of different activities. It’s also important to make sure that everything listed in your credit report is accurate, and to flag any errors or fraudulent activity.

Where Can You Track Your Credit Score?

You can get a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). Request your copy online by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com. Note that you can also request a copy anytime you experience an adverse action based on your credit report (like being denied for a loan), among other circumstances.

Checking your credit score is even easier. While it’s not included in your credit report, you can get your current score from your credit card company, financial institution, or on a loan statement. Another option is to use a free credit score service or site. If you’re tracking changes to your credit score, it’s helpful to know how often your credit score updates and then check in accordingly.

7. Limit Credit Applications

When making major life changes, like starting a job, getting married, or having children, sometimes multiple lines of credit might be helpful to get through it all. Financial institutions understand that, but they also know that, historically, people who borrow a lot of money at once from multiple sources tend to have more difficulty paying them back. Spreading out credit applications over time whenever possible typically has a lower impact on an overall credit score.

Recommended: What is the Average Credit Card Limit

8. Avoid Overspending

Perhaps one of the most effective ways to ensure you keep building your credit in the right direction is to only spend what you can afford to pay off. This will help you more easily maintain a lower credit utilization rate, and it can prevent you from racking up a balance and falling into a debt spiral.

Plus, if you pay off your balance in full each month, as opposed to only making the minimum payment, you can avoid incurring interest charges. This is a perk that’s foundational to what a credit card is.

Recommended: What is a Charge Card

9. Get Credit For Other Bills You Pay

If you’re early in your credit building journey, it can help to get credit for other payments you’re making on time, such as your rent payment, utility bills, or even streaming services fees. For instance, Experian Boost adds on-time payments in other accounts to your Experian credit report. There are also a plethora of rent-reporting services out there that will report your timely rent payments to the credit bureaus.

10. Pay Off Any Existing Debt

Another important strategy toward building credit is to pay down any debt you may currently have. Especially important when it comes to the time it takes to repair credit, saying goodbye to existing debt allows you to lower your credit utilization rate, which in turn builds your credit score. There are a number of tactics out there for paying off debt, from a debt consolidation loan to a balance transfer credit card.

What Is a “Good” Credit Score?

A “good” credit score is considered within the range of 670 to 739 under the FICO Score, the credit scoring model most commonly used by lenders. “Very good” is considered anywhere from 740 to 799, while “exceptional” is 800 and above.

Keep in mind, however, that these exact ranges can vary a bit from model to model. For instance, in the VantageScore® range, a score of 661 to 780 is considered “good.” In general though, anything in the upper 600s is generally within the range of a “good” credit score.

How Long Does it Take to Build Your Credit Score?

According to Experian, one of the three major credit bureaus, it generally takes anywhere from three to six months of data to generate an initial credit score.

Credit card issuers typically don’t report account activity until the end of the first billing cycle, so it’s worth waiting a month or two before you check in on the status of your score. If you’re anxious to ensure your activity counts, it’s also a good idea to check with your issuer to make sure they report to the credit bureaus.

What Can You Do with “Good” Credit?

The importance of having good credit can’t be overstated. By building credit, you’ll have easier access to borrowing opportunities in the future, whether that’s an auto loan for a new car or a mortgage for a new home. A better credit score also allows you to secure better terms, such as lower interest rates and a higher borrowing capacity.

Recommended: Tips for Using a Credit Card Responsibly

The Takeaway

As you can see, there are a number of ways to build credit. First and foremost, you’ll want to make sure you’re following the tenets of responsible credit usage, as these are arguably the best ways to build credit. From there, you can consider additional credit building strategies, such as ensuring that your on-time rent and utility payments count.

Whether you're looking to build credit, apply for a new credit card, or save money with the cards you have, it's important to understand the options that are best for you. Learn more about credit cards by exploring this credit card guide.


Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .

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Guide to Avoiding Interest Payments on Credit Cards

In most cases, carrying a balance month to month on a credit card will trigger interest charges, which is essentially the cost of borrowing money from a credit card company. Compared to other types of debt, such as mortgages and car loans, credit cards tend to have higher rates of interest, which can make them an expensive way to borrow money.

One thing that people who use credit cards to their advantage have in common? They know how to avoid paying interest on credit cards. You can learn how, too. Here are some ways you might avoid interest on credit cards.

What’s an APR?

To understand how to avoid paying interest on credit cards, it helps to start by learning about credit card APR, or annual percentage rate. Basically, the APR is the rate of interest you’ll pay if you carry a credit card balance. Unlike the APR for other loan products, the APR for a credit card does not include any fees you may owe for using the card — it’s simply your interest rate.

Your APR on a credit card will depend on your creditworthiness as well as the current prime rate. Generally, borrowers with better credit will have better credit card APRs, meaning they may fall below the average credit card interest rate.

Recommended: Does Applying For a Credit Card Hurt Your Credit Score

When Is Interest Charged?

Credit card interest is charged if you don’t pay off your balance in full each month. If cardholders pay their entire statement balance by their due date, interest charges are typically waived.

When you carry a balance, interest accrues on a daily basis. Your daily interest charge is determined by dividing your APR by 365, the number of days in the year. Then, at the end of each day, the interest is calculated based on your average daily balance. Because this continues throughout the billing cycle, the interest you’re charged yesterday then becomes part of the balance on which interest is charged today.

Your lender will then tally up all of your daily interest charges at the end of the month and put that amount onto your card as a finance charge.

Recommended: When Are Credit Card Payments Due

How to Avoid Interest on a Credit Card

There are several strategies you can use to help avoid credit card interest.

Pay Off Your Balance in Full

If you’re wondering how to avoid credit card interest, one of the easiest methods is simply paying off your credit card balance in full each month. So long as you don’t carry a balance from month to month, you should never face purchase interest charges on credit cards.

To make paying off your full balance easier to do, you might consider making multiple payments throughout the month. That way, you don’t have to fork over one lump sum on your statement due date. Or, you could plan to check in on your balance regularly to ensure you’re going to be able to pay it off in full. The other benefit of paying off your full balance each month is that it can help you to build credit over time.

Recommended: How to Avoid Interest On a Credit Card

Take Advantage of Your Grace Period

Paying off a credit card in full each month creates an additional opportunity to avoid interest on a credit card. Remember the grace period, mentioned in the last section? The grace period is the stretch of time between the end of your billing cycle and when a payment is due. During this time, no interest is charged on new purchases.

Confused? Let’s look at a hypothetical example: Say a cardholder’s billing cycle for the month ends on January 15, and they pay their credit card bill on February 10. On February 10, they are only required to pay the “statement amount,” which includes only the purchases made from December 15 to January 15.

However, the grace period applies to any purchases that are made after January 15, but that won’t technically require payment until March 10. In this way, a purchase could remain interest-free for longer than just one billing cycle.

Credit card issuers aren’t required to offer a grace period, but plenty do. However, many require the balance to be paid off in full during the previous one or two billing cycles to qualify. If you lose your grace period because you haven’t paid your balance in full, you’ll be charged interest on any unpaid portion of the balance. In addition, you’ll lose your grace period, and all new purchases will accrue interest beginning from the date the purchase is made.

Utilizing the grace period to its full extent is one way to avoid paying interest on a purchase for longer than just one month (or whatever the billing cycle happens to be). Before going this route, just make sure your card has a grace period, and second, that you qualify. If you have questions, never hesitate to call your credit card company to ask how and when you’re billed.

Recommended: Tips for Using a Credit Card Responsibly

Use a Balance Transfer Offer or 0% Interest Credit Card

A balance transfer credit card, or a credit card that temporarily offers a 0% APR, could be an enticing option for those who want to make major headway toward paying down a credit card balance. Keep in mind, however, that good credit (meaning a score of 670+) is typically needed to qualify for these offers.

If this is an approach you’re interested in, calculate how much you’d need to pay off each month in order to eradicate your balance. For example, if you have $6,000 you want to pay off during a 12-month 0% offer, you’d need to pay $500 each month. You’ll want to make sure you can realistically pay off the full balance before the promotion ends and the standard higher APR kicks in.

Also note that many balance transfers carry a balance transfer fee, which is usually around 3% to 4% of the amount transferred. Using our example from above, a $6,000 balance transfer with a 3% balance transfer fee would cost $180. Generally, this amount is added to the card’s total outstanding balance. Before pulling the trigger and transferring a balance, analyze how much you’d save in interest compared to the cost of the balance transfer fee.

There are a couple other potential pitfalls to balance transfers to keep in mind as well. For one, a balance transfer won’t get to the bottom of why you’ve racked up credit card debt in the first place. Some might find it too tempting to keep spending, and if more spending were to occur on top of the balance transfer, it could lead to unwanted interest charges. This could make it even harder to escape high-interest credit card debt.

Avoid Overspending

This may sound obvious, but it’s worth mentioning: To put yourself in a position where you can pay off your credit card balances every month, make sure your monthly spending doesn’t exceed your income.

This is easier said than done sometimes, but once you start racking up credit card interest, it can become even harder to pay off your full balance. You might consider making a budget and then vowing to stick to it to ensure you stay on track with your spending each month.

Plan Out Major Purchases

On a similar note to budgeting, another method for how to avoid paying interest on credit cards is by planning ahead for big purchases. If you know you have a pricey purchase coming up that you may need to spread out in smaller payments across a period of time, be strategic about how you’ll do it.

This could mean simply saving up ahead of time until you have enough stashed up to promptly pay off your balance. Or, you might time opening a 0% APR credit card with completing your major purchase.

Tips for Reducing Interest

Sometimes you can’t avoid interest entirely. Even in those instances, you shouldn’t give up entirely and give into interest. Here are some tips for reducing the amount of interest you pay.

Taking Out a Personal Loan

Though not an interest-free option, there are other ways to potentially lower how much you’re paying in interest on your credit card debt. One such option is taking out a debt consolidation loan that has a lower rate of interest.

A debt consolidation loan allows you to roll your debts into one monthly payment that’s a set amount and stretched over a predetermined amount of time. This can make budgeting easier. Plus, if you manage to secure a lower interest rate, you might be able to pay off your debt faster, thanks to saving money on interest.

Making Multiple Payments Each Month

Another tactic to reduce the amount of interest you pay is to make payments on your credit card balance throughout the month, instead of waiting until the due date. This helps because credit card interest is calculated on a daily basis, based on your average daily account balance. If you lower your balance with more frequent payments throughout the month, your average daily balance will be lower, thus reducing the amount of interest you’re charged.

Recommended: What is a Charge Card

Trying the Debt Avalanche Method

If you find yourself staring down a mountain of debt, you might consider trying a popular debt payoff strategy: the debt avalanche. With this approach, you focus on paying off your debt with the highest interest rate first. Over the long run, this can save you on interest.

The debt avalanche method instructs that you apply any extra funds to your highest-interest debt, while maintaining minimum monthly payments on your other debts. Then, once that debt is paid off, you’ll move your focus to paying down your debt with the second-highest interest rate.

The Takeaway

If you were wondering how to not pay interest on a credit card, you can now see that there are several ways to do so. This ranges from paying your balance off in full each month to taking advantage of a 0% APR offer. And even if you can’t avoid interest entirely, there are ways to reduce the amount of interest you pay on a balance you’ve accrued.

It also helps to find a credit card with a competitive APR just in case you ever end up needing to carry a balance. With the credit card offered by SoFi, you can have your APR reduced by 1% after making 12 monthly on-time payments of at least the minimum due.

Find out today if you qualify for the SoFi credit card!


Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.



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Does Applying for Credit Cards Hurt Your Credit Score?

Does Applying for Credit Cards Hurt Your Credit Score?

Applying for credit cards isn’t something you should take lightly because it absolutely can hurt your credit score. One credit card application can ding your score by just a few points, but multiple applications could raise red flags for lenders and drag down your credit score accordingly.

Still, while applying for a credit card can hurt your credit, there are a number of potential pluses to credit cards, from allowing you to build your credit history to earning rewards. Here’s how to navigate the effects of applying for credit on your credit score, as well as some alternatives to consider if you don’t think your score can currently weather it.

Hard vs Soft Credit Inquiries

To understand how applying for a credit card can hurt your score, it’s first important to know the difference between hard and soft credit inquiries.

A hard inquiry, also known as a hard pull or hard credit check, generally occurs when a lender is determining whether to loan you the funds you’ve applied for. This might happen if you’ve applied for a mortgage or a new credit card, for example.

On the other hand, a soft inquiry, or soft credit pull, tends to happen when someone runs a credit check to gather information without the express purpose of lending you money. For instance, a credit card issuer may do a soft pull in order to make a preapproval offer, or a potential employer might perform a soft inquiry as part of the application process. A soft credit inquiry also may happen when you check your credit report.

Perhaps the most important difference between a hard pull vs. a soft pull is how it impacts your credit scores. While hard credit inquiries show up on your credit report and affect your score, soft inquiries do not. Further, while soft pulls can be done without your consent, creditors need your approval to do a hard inquiry.

How Applying for Credit Cards Can Hurt Your Score

While your credit score won’t take a huge hit when you apply for a credit card, it will get dinged. Why? When you apply for a credit card, the card issuer will perform a hard inquiry to determine whether you’re a good candidate to lend money to.

Hard inquiries can lower your credit score because a new application can represent more risk for the card issuer. According to FICO, a hard credit inquiry will generally affect your score by less than five points. Those with few accounts or a thin credit history can experience a greater impact on their score. Additionally, multiple inquiries within a short period of time can exacerbate effects on your credit score.

Hard pulls stay on your credit report for two years, though their impact on your credit scores typically vanishes after a year. It’s important to note that your score will see an impact whether or not you’re approved, as the hard inquiry is conducted either way.

Should You Apply for Multiple Credit Cards at Once?

Simply put, no. This is a bad idea for your credit score. While it might make sense to apply for more than one job at a time, that’s not the way to go with credit cards. Instead, you should approach applying for credit cards strategically.

By applying for several cards over a short period, you might send the signal that you’re desperately seeking funds and headed for — or already in — trouble. You’ll appear risky to lenders and that will likely be reflected by a dip in your credit score.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t have multiple credit cards. You’ll just want to take your time and space out your acquisitions. If you get rejected for a card, pause to figure out why, and then take steps to address the suspected weak spots. Once you’ve had time to build your credit, consider trying again.

How Often Can I Apply for a Credit Card Without Hurting My Credit?

Per Experian, one of the three major credit bureaus, it’s wise to wait at least six months in between credit card applications. If you apply for a number of credit cards within a few months, you could see more than the usual ding to your score that new credit inquiries typically cause. While the effects may be brief, Experian states that you could see a “potentially significant drop” in your score.

While six months is the minimum waiting period suggested, how often it’s appropriate to apply for new credit cards also depends on your financial specifics. For instance, if your application was denied due to your credit score and you still haven’t improved it, then it may not make sense to apply again, even if six months have passed. Similarly, you might not choose to apply for a new card if you know you have another big lending application coming up, such as for a mortgage.

On the other hand, if you have a strong credit profile, your score may not take as much of a hit if you decide to apply for another card sooner to try to cash in on generous rewards or a hefty welcome bonus offer. Those who don’t yet have a credit history and are beginning to build a credit profile may also find it’s worthwhile to wait less time between applications.

Recommended: What is the Average Credit Card Limit

Can Applying for Credit Cards Help Your Score?

There are two sides to a coin and so it goes with applying for credit cards — there can be some upside when you apply for a new card.

This is partly because opening a new account effectively increases your credit limit. In turn, this can lower your credit utilization ratio, which is your outstanding balances compared to your overall credit limit. Credit utilization accounts for 30% of your credit score and is second in importance only to your payment history.

Another potential plus to opening a new card is that if you make on-time payments on your new card, your positive payment history can build your score over time. However, if you’re a credit card newbie and still working on establishing credit, you may not see the uptick in your score as quickly. This is because FICO requires you to have at least one account that’s been open for six months and one account that’s been reported to the credit bureau within the last six months to qualify for a credit score.

If you don’t already have a handful of credit card accounts, a new card also can positively impact your score because it’s adding another revolving account to your lineup. While your mix of account types only comprises 10% of your credit score, credit scoring models do look at this.

Recommended: When Are Credit Card Payments Due

Does Applying for a Credit Card and Not Getting Approved Hurt Your Credit?

Your credit will be affected whether or not you’re approved for a credit card. That’s because when you submit a credit card application, a hard credit inquiry is conducted to determine if you’re eligible. The effects of that hard pull will apply regardless of the results.

However, your credit won’t face any consequences for the fact you were denied a credit card. That information won’t be reflected in your credit score, nor will it show up on your credit report.

Recommended: Tips for Using a Credit Card Responsibly

Things to Consider Before Applying for a Credit Card

Before you rush to apply for credit, make sure you’re ready. Here’s what to consider doing prior to applying.

•   Check your credit report: The first step is to get a copy of your credit report. To get your free report each year, go to AnnualCreditReport.com . As you review your credit report, look for any errors. If there are any, take steps to fix them before you approach a credit card issuer. Also check to see if you’ve had any other recent hard inquiries.

•   Consider any other upcoming credit applications: Be mindful about what’s on your horizon before moving forward with applying for a new credit card. For example, if you think that you will be applying for a mortgage or car loan soon, you may not want to apply for a card and rack up multiple inquiries at once. It may make sense to get your mortgage or car loan first and wait for a little while to go after the credit card.

•   Don’t plan to ditch your old cards: Just because you hope to get a new card, don’t start canceling the other cards in your wallet. Remember, length of credit history makes up 15% of your credit score. By canceling old cards, you’d also reduce your total available credit, which could drive up your credit utilization ratio if you have hefty balances on other cards.

•   Think about why you want to apply for a credit card: Lastly, have a little talk with yourself. A credit card rule of thumb is just because you can get a credit card doesn’t mean you need one. If you already have a credit card, what’s driving you to apply? How are you managing your existing credit card? If you’re not 100% sure you’ll be able to pay off the balance in full each month, think twice about getting it. When balances linger from month to month, it becomes costly due to interest racking up.

Recommended: How to Avoid Interest On a Credit Card

Alternatives to Credit Cards

If you’re worried about the effects that applying for a credit card may have on your credit score, know that you have other options. Instead of getting a credit card, you may also consider the following alternatives for financing:

•   Debit card: If you’re simply looking for another way to easily make purchases and avoid carrying around a wallet full of cash, consider a debit card. While a debit card does not allow you to build your credit score, applying for one does not require a hard pull and is often as easy as opening a bank account. Do note that debit cards tend to have less robust security protections compared to credit cards though.

•   Loan from a family member or friend: If you’re wary of weathering a hard credit inquiry right now, consider approaching a close family member or friend about borrowing the funds you need. Make sure to clearly agree to the terms of the loan agreement, including when you’ll pay back the money. Also realize the potential implications for your personal relationship if you don’t make good on paying this person back.

•   Salary advance: Another option may be to ask your employer if you can borrow funds from a future paycheck. This can allow you to borrow money in a pinch without needing to go through the formal credit application process. Employers typically won’t charge fees or interest, though you may have to pay an administration fee or interest if your employer relies on a third party for the service.

Recommended: What is a Charge Card

The Takeaway

Applying for a credit card may be a simple process in terms of filling out the forms, but that doesn’t mean it’s something to take lightly. It can have very real effects on your credit score due to the fact that a formal application requires a hard credit inquiry. Thus, applying for a credit card is always something you should consider carefully and do responsibly.

Whether you're looking to build credit, apply for a new credit card, or save money with the cards you have, it's important to understand the options that are best for you. Learn more about credit cards by exploring this credit card guide.


Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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How Does Credit Utilization Affect Your Credit Score?

How Does Credit Utilization Affect Your Credit Score?

When it comes to improving your credit score, the term credit utilization should be on your radar. That’s because it’s one of the major factors that can affect your overall score. The lower your credit utilization — meaning the less of your total available credit you’re using — the higher your credit score could be.

Here’s a closer look at how credit utilization affects credit score, from how much lowering your credit utilization will affect your score to how long credit utilization affects a score.

Recommended: Does Applying For a Credit Card Hurt Your Credit Score

What Is Credit Utilization and Why Does It Matter?

Credit utilization is the percentage of your overall credit limit that you use on your revolving credit accounts — most commonly, credit cards. In other words, it’s how much of your available credit you’re using.

Credit utilization is one of the most important factors that scoring models look at when calculating your credit score, since it suggests the risk you could pose as a borrower. The lower your credit utilization, the more it will appear that you can handle debt or use a credit card responsibly. Thus, a lower utilization rate is reflected in a higher credit score.

To calculate your credit utilization, add up all of your credit card balances and then divide that amount by your overall credit limit across your credit cards. For example, let’s say you have three credit cards, with an overall credit limit of $15,000. You’re carrying a balance of $4,000 across all of those cards. Using the previously explained equation, your credit utilization would be around 26%.

Recommended: What is the Average Credit Card Limit

Factors That Affect Your Credit Score

Aside from your credit utilization, there are other factors that affect your credit score. These include:

•   Payment history: Another major factor aside from credit utilization is whether you pay your credit and debt accounts on time. If you consistently make on-time payments, the more creditworthy you’ll appear, and this will reflect on your score.

•   Credit history length: Credit scoring models typically take into account how long your current accounts have been open. They may even consider how long it’s been since you’ve used certain kinds of accounts. Generally, a longer credit history is a positive thing for your credit score.

•   Credit mix: Having different types of accounts may demonstrate to lenders how you handle different kinds of debt.

•   New credit: Opening multiple credit accounts or having a series of hard inquiries could signal to lenders that you pose a greater risk as a borrower. As such, it may negatively impact your credit score.

Recommended: When Are Credit Card Payments Due

How Credit Utilization Affects Your Credit Score

Your credit card utilization accounts for 30% of your FICO credit score, which is the scoring model used by the majority of lenders.

Since lenders look at your credit score to assess your creditworthiness, having a low credit utilization is key. That’s because if you’re using most of your available credit, it suggests to lenders that you could be a greater risk. A high utilization rate could signal to lenders that you may be stretched too thin financially and need to rely too much on credit, and therefore could have a hard time paying back what you borrow.

Your credit score is also dependent on other factors, such as the number of credit cards you have. For example, if you have one credit card with a low limit, having a high credit utilization may affect your score more compared to someone with multiple credit cards and high credit limits. Same goes for someone with a lengthy credit history that’s been mostly excellent, compared to someone who has no or a limited credit history.

All this to say: Credit utilization is an important factor in determining your credit score, but there are other aspects as well, such as your payment history.

Tips for Managing Your Credit Utilization and Credit Score

By managing your credit utilization, you can improve or maintain a better credit score. The following are a few effective tactics to do so.

Keeping Your Credit Utilization Rate Under 10%

Though keeping your credit utilization under 30% can help to improve or maintain your credit score, the lower it is, the better.

While you may be tempted to keep it at zero, that may not be as helpful as you think. A 0% credit utilization could signal that you’re not using your credit regularly. Since lenders want to see how you currently manage accounts, it will be hard to approve you for a loan if they see you’re not using any.

Instead, consider charging smaller amounts on your credit card and trying to keep your utilization rate to under 10%, which is a benchmark for achieving a high score. That way, you should be able to afford to pay the balance and show creditors you’re using credit regularly.

In addition to keeping your overall utilization below 10%, you’ll want to make sure that your utilization on each of your credit cards is also below that percentage. In many cases, credit utilization may refer to your per-card utilization.

Your best bet would be to look at your current credit card spending limit for each card and then aim to keep each card’s balance to no more than 10% of that amount. So if you have two credit cards with limits of $3,000 and $5,000, respectively, you wouldn’t want to charge more than $300 to the first card and $500 to the second.

Recommended: What is a Charge Card

Asking for a Higher Credit Limit

Getting a higher credit limit can lower your credit utilization even if you maintain the same balance on your cards. It also gives you more wiggle room — if you need to carry a balance on a credit card, you won’t have to worry as much about a big increase in your credit utilization.

When it comes to asking for a credit limit increase, issuers tend to look more favorably to those who have maintained good credit history, whose income went up, and even those who have less debt. If you do make a request, some credit card companies may conduct a hard credit inquiry, which could temporarily affect your credit score.

Making Payments Twice in a Month

By paying your credit card twice a month, your balance will remain lower. It will also increase the chances of your credit card issuer reporting that lower amount to the credit bureaus.

This could mean that your calculated credit utilization is lower, therefore increasing your chances of seeing a positive effect on your credit score. Plus, it will help you avoid racking up excessive credit card debt, which can have a negative impact on your score.

Recommended: How to Avoid Interest On a Credit Card

Keeping Your Credit Cards Active

It may be tempting to close a credit card that you don’t use anymore. However, if you do so — or if you don’t use a credit card for a while and the card is closed automatically — your credit utilization will automatically go up. This is true even if your balance is still the same, as your overall credit limit is now lower.

Instead, consider keeping that card open, even if you make a small purchase on it every few months.

Recommended: Can You Buy Crypto With a Credit Card

The Takeaway

Credit cards are useful tools, helping you make purchases, earn rewards, and build your credit. In order to reap the positive benefits, make sure to use your credit cards responsibly — including by keeping your credit utilization low. Given how credit utilization affects credit score, it may be worth exploring ways to manage your current utilization in order to lower it.

One way to lower your credit utilization is to increase your overall credit limit, which you can do when you get a credit card. If you’re looking for a credit card that suits your needs, consider SoFi’s credit card.

FAQ

What is a good credit utilization ratio?

A good credit utilization ratio is 30% or lower. Ideally, you should aim to maintain a credit utilization ratio of around 10% to show lenders you’re responsible with credit.

How long does credit utilization affect credit score?

Your credit utilization won’t affect your credit score forever. As long as you take the steps to lower it, you can see improvements within a short amount of time.

How much will lowering my credit utilization affect my credit score?

Lowering your credit utilization can have a major impact on your credit score. That’s because credit utilization makes up around 30% of your credit score calculation with most scoring models.


Photo credit: iStock/Ridofranz



Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .


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Guide to Lowering Your Credit Card Utilization

How Using Your Credit Card Less May Affect Your Credit Score

Your credit utilization is the percentage of your overall credit limit that you’re using, and it can have a major effect on your credit score. As your credit usage decreases, it can positively affect your score since it shows you’re responsible with credit. On the flipside, high credit utilization can ding your score as it suggests you’re overspending

If you’re wondering how to lower credit card utilization, there are some steps you can take to do so and help your credit score bounce back.

What Is Credit Card Utilization?

Credit card utilization, or simply credit utilization, is how much of your credit limit you’re using on your revolving credit accounts. You can calculate this percentage by taking the total of your credit card balances and dividing it by your total credit limit.

For instance, let’s say you have two credit cards with limits of $3,000 and $5,000. You have a balance of $600 on the first card and $1,000 on the second card. By taking the total of your balances — $1,600 — and dividing it by your overall credit limit — $8,000 — you’d end up with a credit utilization rate of 20%.

Why Does Your Credit Utilization Matter?

When it comes to your credit score, scoring models look at various factors, including your credit utilization on both individual accounts and overall. In other words, if your overall credit utilization is high, or one of your revolving accounts has a high balance, your score could be negatively affected.

Considering that credit utilization determines 30% of your FICO score, which is the scoring model used by most lenders, it’s a major factor that affects your credit score.

What Is a Good Credit Card Utilization Rate?

As a credit card rule, you should aim to keep credit utilization under 30%. While this is the baseline, the lower your credit utilization is, the better.

A lower credit utilization rate demonstrates to lenders that you are responsible with your credit and don’t appear to rely on credit too heavily.

Tips for Lowering Your Credit Card Utilization

The good news is that you can raise your credit score relatively quickly just by lowering your credit utilization. Here’s how to lower credit utilization.

Paying Down Your Balance

Making payments before the due date arrives or the billing cycle ends could mean your balance goes down before your credit card issuer reports the amount to the credit bureaus. You could even make a payment right after your purchase goes through.

Having a lower credit card balance lowers your credit utilization, even if your credit limit remains the same.

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Cutting Down on Spending

Budgeting carefully and reducing your spending could prevent you from racking up excessive credit card debt and getting stretched too thin financially.

However, that’s not to say you can’t use your credit card. Rather, limit your spending to what you can afford to pay off in full that billing cycle. Additionally, if you find your debt starting to balloon, consider pausing your credit card usage until you’ve gotten your balance under control so your credit utilization isn’t pushed higher.

Paying off Credit Card Balances With Personal Loans

If you’re carrying a balance on a credit card, one option to pay it off is taking out a personal loan. You could qualify for a lower interest rate, which can make the debt easier to get a handle on paying off. Plus, a personal loan is an installment loan, which means it won’t count toward your credit utilization.

However, you need to make sure you can still afford the payments and can qualify for competitive rates and terms. Some lenders may charge an application or origination fee — take this amount into consideration when deciding whether it’s worth going this route.

Recommended: How to Avoid Interest On a Credit Card

Requesting a Credit Limit Increase

Increasing your credit card limit can lower your credit utilization even if your outstanding balance remains the same. To get a credit limit increase, contact your credit card issuer to request one, either by calling the number listed on the back of your card or logging onto your online account.

Keep in mind that your credit card issuer may not approve your request. You may have to meet certain criteria to qualify, such as having a history of on-time payments and responsible credit usage.

Opening a New Credit Card

Opening a new credit card can increase your overall credit limit, and therefore potentially lower your credit utilization. Keep in mind that you most likely won’t know what your credit limit will be until you’ve been approved for the card. Plus, submitting an application generally triggers a hard credit inquiry, which could have an effect on your credit score.

Recommended: Does Applying For a Credit Card Hurt Your Credit Score

Avoiding Closing Unused Cards

It might sound logical to close credit cards that you haven’t been using, but doing so could have negative consequences. More specifically, closing a credit card lowers your overall credit limit, which could increase your credit card utilization even if your credit card balance remains the same.

Recommended: What is the Average Credit Card Limit

Becoming an Authorized User

You could ask your spouse, family member, or close friend to add you on their credit card as an authorized user. If the primary cardholder maintains a low balance and has a high credit limit, it could lower your overall credit utilization.

Before going this route, however, speak with the primary cardholder to determine whether becoming an authorized user will help your credit score. You’ll also want to be clear on how you plan on using the card, or if you’d rather be a cardholder in name only.

Finding Out Whether Your Issuer Reports to Credit Bureaus

Most credit card issuers will report your payment activity and account balance every 30 days to the credit bureaus, though the reporting date might not coincide with your payment due date. If your card issuer reports your payment activity before you make a payment, it could look like you have a high balance, which could increase your credit utilization rate.

To remedy this, contact your card issuer to determine when it reports to the credit bureaus. Aim to pay off as much of your balance as you can before that, or request a new due date that’s ahead of when your issuer reports to the bureaus.

How Will Lowering Credit Utilization Affect Your Credit Score?

The lower your credit utilization, the higher your credit score could be. Remember, your credit utilization is one of the major factors that affects your credit score. Aim to keep your credit utilization well below 30% — try using any of the methods mentioned above to do so — in order to help your score.

Recommended: Can You Buy Crypto With a Credit Card

The Takeaway

Credit utilization — the percentage of your overall credit limit you use — has a major effect on your credit score. It’s best to keep your utilization as low as possible, but the benchmark generally recommended is that it should reach no higher than 30%. If your credit utilization rate has crept up, there are some tactics you can try to lower it, from paying down your balance to getting a new card.

If you’re looking to open a new credit card to try and lower your utilization, consider applying for a credit card with SoFi. The SoFi credit card is designed to help you save, invest, and pay down debt. Plus, it offers generous cash-back rewards.

Sign up for the SoFi credit card today.

FAQ

How can I fix high credit utilization?

You can decrease your credit utilization by paying off your balances early, asking for a credit limit increase, applying for a new credit card, and cutting down on spending.

How can I keep my credit utilization below 30%?

You can keep your credit utilization below 30% by watching your spending and balances across all your credit cards.

How low should I keep my credit utilization?

It’s best to keep your credit utilization below 30%. That being said, the lower your credit utilization rate, the better.

Does zero utilization hurt your credit score?

Zero utilization doesn’t hurt your credit score. However, 0% utilization doesn’t necessarily help your credit score either, as you can’t demonstrate on-time payments and other positive credit behavior.


Photo credit: iStock/Farknot_Architect



Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .


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