The 6 Biggest Credit Score Mistakes (+ How You’re Making Them)

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Honesty time: Even though I have my financial act together now, I've massively struggled with credit for most of my adult life and made a ton of credit score mistakes along the way. Even through all those ups and downs, I wasn't really sure how my financial decisions were affecting my credit. Another secret? I didn't become educated on your credit score and how it can affect your life until I started writing this blog in 2012. Other than co-signing someone else's loans (#4), I've made all the mistakes mentioned in the article below and then some. So, here's what I recommend you avoid if you want to have stellar credit and the ability to get approved for any type of large loan (home, business, auto) you may need in the future!

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The 6 Biggest Credit Score Mistakes

#1 – Closing Out Old Cards…And Opening New Ones

You’ve likely heard the phrase “use it or lose it” right? Well, that is the exact opposite of what you should do to maintain a healthy credit score. Since credit scores include factors such as average age of accounts and debt-to-credit ratios, keeping older credit lines and cards open that you have paid off will often help your overall credit utilization.

It looks much better to potential lenders to have an older card with a lower balance than to only see the newer cards (for example , the credit card you opened in a store in order to snag a deal on a big-ticket item.)

My mistake: When I paid off all my debt while living in New York City, I got so excited to be debt free and closed out all but two of my cards. Much to my chagrin, my credit score went down even though I'd just paid off all my debt. The lesson here being to pay off your cards, but keep them open so your average “age of credit” is higher. Once you close…the age on those accounts goes away!

#2 – High Credit Utilization

Having multiple credit products can look good on your report (you can click here to get a free credit score/report with Credit Sesame), but not if they’re all maxed out.

Ideal credit utilization should be below 30% of your total credit limit for the card – meaning it may be a good idea to whittle down the balances of cards over that limit first. Another way to decrease your utilization (without paying off a big chunk)… Is if you have a low balance card that you’ve had for a long time you can also try calling your lender to see if they'll grant a credit limit increase.

My mistake:  When it comes to me and my debt, it's pretty much all-or-nothing. I'm either not using the cards, or they're all close to maxed out. This is why at any given time my score will either be very good or very bad. Now I only put on the cards what I can afford to pay, and I negotiate with my creditors for limit increases every six months or so.

 

 

#3 – Having Too Many Hard Inquiries

If you’re applying for every credit card offer you get in the mail – you may be in for a rude awakening when you look at your credit score. When applying for credit products, lenders will typically make what's called a “hard inquiry” on your account. Having too many of these inquiries in a 6- or 12- month timeframe can be a major red flag to potential lenders, as it indicates you may be in need money, which means you'll have a hard time repaying those debts.

My mistake: Back when I needed money to fund my runaway renovation, I applied for multiple cards/lines of credit. It was out of necessity, but I'm not proud. Now, if needed, I try to limit new inquiries to one credit account a year (with the exception being the two travel cards I signed up for at the end of 2017.) I can get away with this now that I'm out of my 20's, already own a home, and am a bit more established, but it felt like I was signing up for new accounts every other month when I was broke-as-a-joke in my early 20s.

#4 – Co-Signing For Loans

I don't recommend mixing money and friendship and co-signing can end up being a financial misstep for both of you. When you’re co-signing a loan for someone, you’re essentially saying that if they aren’t able to make the payments then you will take responsibility and pay.

That’s a big commitment even without considering how it will affect your credit.

My mistake: This is actually the only one on this list I've never done, and no one has ever asked me to co-sign. I guess I'll have to wait until I have children to experience the joy of being a co-signer!

#5 – Making Late Payments

Don't EVER get comfortable paying late on a credit product. Even though you may not be charged a late fee right away, your on-time payment percentage will suffer the longer you wait.

A good way to combat forgetting about your payments is to set up reminders or automating your minimum payment for the same time each month. You can always make additional payments if you want to put more towards a balance, but automating the minimum will keep you from the late payment repercussions.

My mistake: With my very first credit card in college, I never made a payment on time and had creditors calling me constantly. I was only 18 at the time and knew ZERO about personal finance, but I even knew back then this was not a good feeling to have people hounding you day and night for their $$$.

 

#6 – Not Keeping Up With Your Score

When it comes down to it, the best thing you can to do improve your credit score is to be aware of how your credit decisions are impacting it. Companies like CreditRepair.com can help you monitor and even challenge items that are not fair, accurate and substantiated that may be listed on your credit report. Be an aware consumer. If you know your credit score is low because of the age of your accounts, then don't open anything new for a set length of time. Make good decisions, it really can be that simple, and when it isn't, don't be afraid to call in the professionals for help.

 

 

Are you making any of these 6 credit score mistakes? Find out what they are (and how to fix them) to get your credit back on track!

 

 

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  • Dia
    August 23, 2016 at 5:56 pm

    So I’ve spend a lot of time out of town this month and busy with work stuff so I am having a hardcore lbee readathon over here. So much great info. As I mentioned on another post I am really working to get my budget together. I know you are right on not closing the cards. It’s so tempting to be like “I paid you! Leave me alone and lose my number (insert company name here) but it’s best to just keep it open, maybe pay one bill on it a month and pay it before the interest rolls in.

    • Lauren Bowling
      August 24, 2016 at 1:22 pm

      I know. I think in our minds we’d like to not have to “worry” about the card – it sucks you get penalize for closing them!

  • Amanda
    July 12, 2016 at 10:00 am

    I checked my credit score for the first time in my life when I was working at the college (aka making the most money I ever had) and wasn’t surprised that I had an “excellent” score. Then I was laid off, and spent over 2 years either unemployed or underemployed, maxing out my credit card, having to pay bills late so we could eat, etc. I checked my credit score again a few weeks ago, expecting the worst, but it wasn’t! My score is a little lower, but it’s still in the “excellent” range! Even though we really struggled financially some months, we did our best to maintain a balance, and avoid these kind of mistakes. 🙂

    • Lauren Bowling
      July 14, 2016 at 8:28 am

      Congrats Amanda! That’s really impressive.

  • Giulia Lombardo
    July 7, 2016 at 9:26 am

    Well mistakes usually help us to became better and don’t repeat the same mistakes:P

    • Lauren Bowling
      July 7, 2016 at 10:29 am

      Haha very true. Someone has been taking the message of this site to heart!

  • Jessica
    July 7, 2016 at 9:21 am

    Do you know much about credit karma? I heard their scores were actually not accurate. What site would you recommend to keep up with my score?

    • Lauren Bowling
      July 7, 2016 at 10:29 am

      Got your FB message- responding now 🙂

  • Stefanie OConnell
    July 7, 2016 at 8:32 am

    So many of these don’t seem like they’d be bad (like closing old cards), but they can hurt the old credit score big time. So important to know what really matters!

    • Lauren Bowling
      July 7, 2016 at 10:30 am

      Yeah girl. Credit scoring is so elusive, kinda like SEO algorithms and such.

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