With the arrival of the New Year, and interest rates still very attractive, you may find yourself shopping for a new loan or applying for a new credit card. The process will likely include coming face-to-face with your FICO credit score — a number between 300 and 850 that determines how good of a borrower you really are. We know that, in general, the higher your score, the lower your interest rate may be on a loan product. But the world of credit scoring can be quite confusing and there are a number of popular misconceptions about what actually impacts your score.
If you plan to boost your score this year with the hopes of taking advantage of super low rates, take into account these popular credit score myths.
Myth #1: Closing a card after paying off a massive debt load is a fine idea.
While it may feel good to kiss that card goodbye, it's not necessarily a smart move. Closing a credit card account may actually increase what's known as your debt-to-credit utilization ratio, which is the sum of all your outstanding credit card debt divided by the sum of all your credit card limits. A higher utilization is considered risky by credit score calculators and can potentially ding your score — in the wrong direction. To earn the highest score, try to use no more than 10 percent of all your available credit.
Myth #2: Your employment history impacts your score.
This isn't true, yet more than half of consumers surveyed believe having a steady job track record improves a credit score. Of course, having a job helps you to qualify for a loan, but it's not factored into your credit score.
Myth #3: Financing a big purchase — like a new home or car — will lower your score.
False. Your score won't be affected for simply taking on a new loan like a mortgage or car loan. Actually, having a variety of credit cards and loans—and managing them responsibly—can help boost your score. In fact, about 10 percent of your FICO credit score is dependent on the "types of credit used."
Myth #4: The older you are, the higher your score.
While it's true that the length of your credit history factors into your credit score, it doesn't take into account your age. The important thing to note is that the earlier in life you establish credit and, again, manage it responsibly by paying your bills on time and having low balances, the better for your score in the long run.
Myth #5: Checking my score will lower my score.
This is a huge misconception. But the truth is, looking up your own score yourself is totally harmless. In fact, it's recommended that you check your scores yearly from each of the three major credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. On the other hand, if a lender or credit card company checks your credit score, it's likely recorded as a "hard" inquiry and may work against you if you have multiple financial institutions checking your credit. One exception is if you're shopping around for a mortgage or car loan and receive multiple credit inquiries from lenders within a short time frame. All the inquiries in this case will typically count as just one inquiry and should do little to no harm on your credit score.