Your credit score is one of the most influential measures that determine whether you’ll be approved for loans and credit cards. A number of factors go into calculating a credit score, including your history of on-time payments and how much debt you owe as well as what types of credit you have and how long your credit history is.
Knowing what affects your credit score is the first step to ensuring your score stays high so you can qualify for financing opportunities when they arise. We’ll address all your questions about what affects your credit score, as well as how to keep track of it.
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Why a Good Credit Score Is Important
In a nutshell, having a good credit score provides opportunities for you financially and can help you spend less overall on financing. If you want to buy a car, a good credit score can help you secure an auto loan at a low rate. Similarly, having good credit is key to opening a credit card.
Having a bad credit score — generally anything under 500 on the scale of poor to exceptional credit — can limit your financial opportunities. If you have bad credit, you may not qualify for loans that you apply for, or if you do, you may have higher interest rates. You also may not get approved for a credit card, unless it’s a secured card, which requires a deposit and has a low credit limit. A bad credit score could even hamper your job search, particularly if the job involves handling money.
The bottom line is that having bad credit hinders your ability to grow financially, so it’s important to do what you can to maintain a good credit score.
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5 Factors That Influence Your Credit Score
The first step toward building your credit score is understanding what factors help to determine it. In general, these are the five credit score factors that shape your score:
Factor #1: Credit Utilization
When it comes to what affects your credit score, one of the most important factors is how much credit you have available versus how much debt you currently have. It’s called your credit utilization, and you can calculate this number by dividing your outstanding debts by your total credit available.
Let’s say you have three credit cards with a total credit limit of $30,000. You owe $3,000 in total. So your credit utilization would be:
3,000 / 30,000 = 0.10
Your credit utilization of 10% (you’re using 10% of your total available credit) is great, as lenders generally want to see a utilization rate below 30% to approve a loan application.
Factor #2: Payment History
You might not feel like an occasional late payment on a credit card is a big deal, but it can impact your credit score negatively. In fact, payment history accounts for 35% of your FICO score (the scoring system for the credit bureau Experian).
The easiest way to raise your credit score? Pay your bills on time. Many loans and credit cards will allow you to set up autopay, which is a foolproof way to make sure you never miss a payment.
Factor #3: Credit History Length
You’re not born with a credit history; it has to be built over time. Many college students start the journey by opening their first credit card account. This is a great place to start, though remember that good habits like paying on time and keeping your credit utilization rate down will help build good credit.
And lest you think if you want a new credit card you need to close an old one, you don’t. The longer you have relationships with credit companies, the better your credit.
Factor #4: Types of Credit
While this factor isn’t nearly as important as the others, the types of credit you have can impact your credit score. Having a nice mix of credit — such as credit cards, a home mortgage, and an auto loan — can contribute positively to your credit scores, though it isn’t required.
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Factor #5: Recent Applications
Whenever you apply for credit, whether that’s a car loan or a credit card, there is what’s called a “hard inquiry” on your credit report. If you make several applications within a few days or weeks of one another, it may be seen as derogatory on your report, and your credit score might dip a bit.
Consider your credit needs carefully and try to look for lenders that let you see if you prequalify, since that is considered a “soft inquiry” and won’t impact your credit the same way.
Remember, There Are 3 Main Credit Scores to Consider
While the factors above are what generally affect your credit score, you actually have three different credit scores, each of which may be calculated slightly differently. These three credit scores come from the following three personal credit bureaus that track your financial activity:
Each bureau has its own credit scoring system that it uses to determine your score. Some loans and credit card companies report to one or two bureaus — or even all three — so it’s important to know that your activity may show up slightly differently depending on the reporting agency.
How to Track Your Credit Score
Now that you understand what affects your credit score, it’s your responsibility to stay on top of your score so you know when it changes. Each credit scoring bureau updates scores on a different schedule, but you can expect updates roughly every 30 to 45 days.
There are several places you can check your credit score. Some banks and credit card issuers offer the service free to customers. Additionally, you are entitled to one free credit report a year from AnnualCreditReport.com , which provides your credit reports and scores from each of the three credit bureaus.
Tracking your score is important even if you don’t plan to take out a loan or open a credit card any time soon. Make sure to regularly review your report to ensure there are no discrepancies, such as a late payment you know you didn’t make, or an open account you closed. If you see anything that is incorrect, contact the credit bureau immediately to get it resolved.
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Once you understand what affects your credit score, you have the power to improve your score by taking steps such as reducing your credit utilization and paying your bills on time. As you build your credit, you will qualify for better loan offers and interest rates on credit cards, which can empower you to purchase what you need without high expense.
Take control of your finances with the SoFi money tracker app, which allows you to track your spending, set goals, and monitor your credit, all in one place.
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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 .
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