Imagine you have four credit cards, each with a $5,000 limit, for a total of $20,000. You have a balance of $2,000 on Credit Card A from vacation travel, $1,000 on Credit Card B from buying new car tires, $2,000 on Credit Card C from last holiday season, and $1,000 on Credit Card D from regular monthly bills. Altogether, you owe $6,000. If we calculate that as a percentage, we have your credit card utilization rate: 30%.
In this guide, we’ll focus on credit utilization, determine how much of your credit you should use, and show how credit card utilization affects your credit score and overall financial standing.
What Is a Credit Utilization Ratio?
Your credit utilization ratio is a fancy way of referring to how much of your credit you’re using. Lenders and credit reporting agencies use it as an indicator of how well someone is managing their finances.
A low credit utilization ratio says you live within your means, use credit cards responsibly, and therefore probably manage the rest of your finances well. A high credit utilization hints that your expenses are outpacing your income, a sign that you’re misusing credit cards, and possibly mismanaging the rest of your finances.
The reality of the situation may be different. Perhaps you have temporary cash flow problems due to a job loss. Or you happen to have a pileup of pricey expenses within a short time, such as medical bills, car repairs, and a destination wedding. It happens. That’s why credit utilization is just one factor that goes into calculating your credit score.
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How Do You Calculate Your Credit Card Utilization Rate?
In the example above, we saw that if you have $20,000 of credit available to you, and you owe $6,000, your credit utilization rate is 30%. How did we get there? To find out your credit card utilization rate, simply divide your total credit card balances by your total credit line, like this:
Total Balance / Total Credit Line = Utilization Rate
With the numbers from our example, it looks like this:
6,000 / 20,000 = .3 or 30%
Simple, right? You’ve got this.
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What Counts as “Good” Credit Card Utilization?
As it turns out, just because you’ve been approved for a $10,000 credit card doesn’t mean it makes financial sense to charge $10,000 worth of rosé and seltzer — even if you know you can pay it off over a couple of months. In fact, you might be shocked to learn how little of your available credit you’re supposed to use.
The general rule is that you should not exceed a 30% credit card utilization rate. That means that in our example, you would not want to use more than $6,000 of your available $20,000 credit. Even though 30% might seem like a small percentage, keeping below that threshold can ensure that your credit score isn’t being dinged for over-utilization.
Is credit utilization affecting your credit
score? See a breakdown in the SoFi app.
How Can You Lower Your Credit Card Utilization Ratio?
You can lower your credit utilization ratio by paying down your credit card balances. Ideally, you should pay off your credit card balances in full every billing cycle to avoid paying interest. When that’s not possible, pay off as much of the bill as you can.
Whatever you do, don’t make a habit of paying only the credit card minimum payment suggested on your bill.
When trying to pay down your credit cards, focus on the one with the highest interest rate. That way, you’ll save the most money on interest. Or you can pay off your cards with a personal loan. In fact, debt consolidation is one of those most common uses for personal loans.
Another way to lower your utilization rate is to increase your available credit. Ask your bank to raise your credit card limit. If they agree, your utilization will quickly drop. Also, keep open any cards you don’t use rather than closing the accounts. They’re serving a valuable purpose by contributing to your credit limit, even if you’ve cut up the actual cards.
As you can tell, credit utilization is a nuanced topic. Learn all the ins and outs in our Guide to Lowering Your Credit Card Utilization.
How Does Credit Card Utilization Affect Your Credit Score?
Credit card utilization plays a big role in how companies compute your credit score. In fact, about 30% of your credit score is determined by your credit card utilization rate. That means a high credit card utilization rate can adversely affect your credit score. For a deep dive into the topic, check out How Does Credit Utilization Affect Your Credit Score?
How Do You Monitor Your Credit Card Utilization?
Your credit utilization might seem difficult to keep track of. But we live in the 21st century, so it’s actually quite easy to set up account reminders to alert you when you are approaching that 30% credit card utilization mark.
In addition to watching your utilization rate, make your best effort to pay your credit card bills on-time each month. Checking your credit score regularly will also help you keep your financial health in check. Although you don’t want to check your score too often, it’s good to keep tabs to make sure the data being reported is accurate.
Your credit card utilization ratio is the sum of all your credit card balances divided by the sum of your credit limits. Credit reporting agencies recommend keeping your ratio at 30% or below. Higher ratios can hurt your credit, since credit utilization accounts for 30% of your credit score. To lower your utilization rate, simply pay down your credit card balances. And think twice before closing a credit card you no longer use. You might also consider consolidating your credit card debt with a personal loan; a personal loan calculator can show you how much you could save on interest.
Have high credit card utilization across multiple cards? Consolidating credit card debt with a low interest personal loan will reduce your utilization rate, which can positively affect your credit score. With SoFi Personal Loans, you can borrow $5K to $100K, with low fixed rates and no fees required.
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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 .
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.