At some point, there may come a time when you need to ask the question: Does filing for unemployment benefits affect your credit score? The answer is no, fortunately.
Losing your job can be like a kick in the stomach — it can deflate you, and leave you scrambling to figure out what to do next. That last thing that many people need, in addition to firing up a job search, is a hit to their credit score, too. If you do lose your job, many financial professionals will tell you that the first thing you should do, if you qualify, is to file for unemployment so that you still have some income as you revise your resume and start interviewing.
The good news, again, is that you don’t need to worry about a potential ding to your credit, though. More information below!
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Why Your Credit Score Matters
Your credit score is, in a sense, your financial reputation. It can give lenders or creditors a quick and easy summary of your creditworthiness — or, how likely it is you are to pay back a loan on time and in full. Everyone has a credit report, and you can think of your credit score as a truncated version, or sort of like a Cliff Notes, to your credit score.
So, why does your credit score matter, then? Because it’s used by lenders to gauge how risky you are as a borrower. It’s used to measure not only whether a lender would be willing to give you a loan, but how much they’d charge you for the privilege; or, what the effective interest rate would be for borrowing.
When it comes to some of life’s bigger purchases, such as a car or a home, that can be very important. A couple of percentage points can mean that a borrower ends up paying tens, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars more in interest over the years. As such, when a lender sizes up your credit application and takes a look at your credit score, the higher, the better.
As for what factors affect your credit score? It’s a mixture of things: Your payment history, total debt balances, credit utilization, credit history (how long you’ve had accounts), credit mix, and inquiries from lenders.
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Unemployment Won’t Appear on Your Credit Report
Again — you may be concerned that if you lose your job, filing for unemployment may affect your credit score. And, again, there’s no cause for concern. Not only will filing for unemployment not affect your credit score, it also won’t appear on your credit report. Your credit report contains information relating to your past borrowing activity, not your employment status.
So, unless there’s been a change in your credit history — say, you apply for a new line of credit, or close an old credit card — your credit report won’t change. That said, your credit report may contain information relating to past employers, but the only thing that should have an effect on your credit score will be items relating to financial accounts.
That may become an issue if, say, you were issued a company credit card at a previous job. But for most people, your employment status, or past employers, aren’t likely to have an impact on your credit report or credit score.
Remember: Your credit score is a snapshot of your financial reputation, not your employment status!
How Unemployment Can Affect Credit Scores Indirectly
With all of that in mind, your employment status — or filing for unemployment — may have an effect on your credit score in an indirect way.
As mentioned, your employment status isn’t a part of your credit score’s calculation, and neither is whether or not you received unemployment assistance. It’s really all about paying back or down your debts, on time, and on schedule. As such, if you do lose your job and file for unemployment, you may find yourself in an income crunch; your unemployment check is most likely going to be smaller than the paycheck you’re accustomed to receiving, and that may make it difficult to keep up with your payments.
You may also be tempted to start using your lines of credit more while unemployed as a way of making ends meet. For example, you might start using your credit card at the grocery store as a way of keeping money in your bank account, with the thought that you’ll pay off your balance once you get another job and a regular paycheck again. Some individuals may also look into personal loans for unemployed persons, too.
That logic may not be faulty, but doing so, you will increase your credit utilization and overall debt, which can lower your credit score.
Finally, if you find that you can’t keep up with your minimum payments due to the resulting cash crunch of losing your job, that, too, will ding your credit score. That’s why it’s important to maintain a line of communication with lenders. If you can’t make your payment, let them know, and they may be willing to work with you.
And, remember, if you do have a company credit card or some other type of financial account with an employer, and you lose your job, that credit line could be severed. That, too, could affect your credit score, as it ultimately lowers your total available credit.
How to Protect Your Credit Score When Unemployed
As for protecting your credit score while unemployed, the most important things you can do are to try and keep your debt balances low and to keep an open line of communication with your creditors. Of course, a loss in income will probably spur you to change your spending habits (by cutting back in certain areas), but in terms of maintaining your credit score, the best course of action is to keep doing what you’re doing: making your payments.
That means continuing to make your payments (at least the minimum) as scheduled. And, since it bears repeating, if you’re going to struggle to make those minimum payments, call your lender and let them know. Some will be willing to make accommodations (forbearance, extensions, etc), perhaps by deferring payments, although there’s no guarantee.
If you feel that you need more help, you can also work with a credit counselor to help you evaluate your options, and even negotiate with your lenders. You may also want to set up free credit monitoring, too, so that you can see any changes to your score. A money tracker app may be helpful as well.
If you lose your job and file for unemployment, there shouldn’t be a direct effect on your credit score. That said, there may be indirect factors that could lower your score, but the most important thing you can do to maintain a strong credit score is to keep making your payments, and try to keep your debt balances (or credit utilization) to a reasonable level.
And remember that if you’re really struggling, it may be worth it to reach out to a professional for personalized advice. SoFi can help. Track your money, monitor your credit, get a breakdown of your spending, and more all in one place.
Can I apply for a credit card when I’m unemployed?
It’s possible to get a credit card while unemployed, but keep in mind that a creditor’s main concern is whether or not you can make your payments. As such, your approval for a credit card may hinge on your income and other debts or financial obligations.
What If my credit score goes down?
Credit scores go up and down all the time, but if you do experience a fall in your credit score while unemployed, you’ll likely know why — and it’s probably because you missed payments or saw your credit utilization go up. The good news is that you can always work on increasing it again!
What personal information does your credit report include?
The short answer? A lot of it. That includes your name, aliases, birth date, Social Security number, address (and former addresses), phone number, and possibly your employment history, among other things.
Photo credit: iStock/sorrapong
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