When you need to apply for things like a credit card or apartment lease, your credit can impact whether you’ll pay a higher interest rate or security deposit and whether you qualify at all.
Understanding how credit works and managing your credit “can have a direct and lasting positive impact on your monthly budget and overall financial picture,” said Tara Alderete, the director of enterprise learning at nonprofit Money Management International.
But when quizzed about how credit works in a Zillow survey, only 25% of Gen Zers answered three or more questions correctly — and millennials fared just a little better. We gathered some of the most common things said about credit scores to give you the scoop on what’s true and false — and how to help your credit score improve.
Checking my own credit lowers my credit score
False. Whenever someone checks your credit score, an inquiry is noted on your credit reports. Checking your own credit creates a “soft inquiry,” which won’t impact your credit scores. These also occur when an employer or landlord runs a credit check with your permission, or a lender pre-qualifies you for a credit card offer.
On the other hand, a “hard inquiry” can temporarily lower your credit score by a few points. These occur when you submit a loan or credit card application.
I have several credit scores that may differ
True. FICO and VantageScore are two of the most most well-known credit-scoring companies. Most of their credit scores range from 300 to 850, with 850 being the highest score possible. But each company uses a different method to calculate your score, so you may have several credit scores that don’t totally match each other — even if they’re based on the same information in your credit reports. There are also many generations of both FICO and VantageScore credit scores, so those scores may differ slightly from each other, too.
My income impacts my credit score
False. Income measures your capacity to repay a loan — not your track record of managing debt — so it won’t influence your credit scores. But a lender might ask about your income when you fill out a loan or credit card application, so they can measure whether you earn enough to make your loan payments.
Mortgage lenders only pull my credit when I submit a mortgage application
False. Mortgage lenders may perform a hard pull on your credit several times during the homebuying process, such as:
when you request a pre-approval,
when you submit the mortgage application,
and right before closing on the loan.
Stay in touch with the lender throughout the process, so you know when a credit check is coming up.
Responsible debit card use can help improve my credit score
False. When you use a debit card, you’re accessing money in your bank account — not borrowing money from someone else. Your bank or credit union won’t report that activity to the credit bureaus, which means it won’t be listed on your credit reports or impact your credit scores.
“However, many financial institutions offer credit-building products that may help build credit with responsible use,” Alderete said. For example, you can ask a credit union about taking out a credit-builder loan.
My spouse's credit does not impact my own
True. While you and your spouse might merge finances after tying the knot, you’ll each maintain separate credit histories. But “adding your spouse as an authorized user (to a credit account) or applying for joint accounts can impact your credit,” Alderete said.
Closing a credit card could lower your credit score
True(ish). Closing a credit card may impact three areas of your credit:
You reduce the amount of credit that’s available to you.
Your credit utilization ratio may increase.
The length of your credit history decreases eventually when the account falls off your credit report.
All of these actions may lower your credit score. However, your credit score can bounce back if you focus on improving your credit.
How to improve your credit standing
The components of your credit score include payment history, amounts owed, new credit inquiries, length of credit history, and mix of credit. Focusing on these areas “can have a positive impact on your credit standing,” Alderete said. Here are a few ways to boost your credit health:
Make on-time payments on all your accounts.
Keep your credit card balances as low as possible versus your credit limit.
Keep your credit cards open to increase the length of your credit history.
Don’t open new credit accounts unless you need them.
Read more information and tips in our Debt section