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How Does Credit Utilization Affect Your Credit Score?

By Sarah Li Cain · September 19, 2022 · 5 minute read

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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.

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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%.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. For a limited time, new credit card holders† who also sign up for a SoFi Checking and Savings with direct deposit can start earning 3% cash back rewards on all eligible credit card purchases for 365 days*. Offer ends 12/31/22.

Take advantage of this offer by applying for a SoFi credit card today.

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

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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
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The SoFi Credit Card is issued by The Bank of Missouri (TBOM) (“Issuer”) pursuant to license by Mastercard® International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.
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