Your credit score has a huge impact on your life, which makes it somewhat frustrating that it’s so mysterious. What exactly goes into the calculation of your score, and how can you tell whether something will affect it or not?
To demystify things, we’ve listed dozens of common actions you can take and whether they’ll help or hurt your credit (or have no effect at all). We’ve also broken down the factors that affect your credit score and how they work together to create this mysterious three-digit number.
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Actions and credit accounts that affect your credit score
In general, anything you do that involves a credit account (such as a credit card or loan) can affect your credit score. Borrowing money on credit and paying it off almost always has an impact.
Keeping your debts low and paying your bills on time generally benefits your credit score, whereas missing payments and letting your debts spiral out of control damages it.
The table below lists dozens of different actions you can take and how they’ll affect your score. You can use this as a reference guide if you’re thinking about doing something that you suspect might benefit or damage your credit.
How Different Actions Affect Your Credit
|Action||Effect on credit|
|Authorized user (being added)||Can build or hurt credit|
|Balance transfer||Can slightly hurt credit|
|Breaking a lease||Can only hurt credit through debt collection|
|Cash advance (receiving)||Indirectly can damage credit score|
|Checking your own credit score||No effect|
|Closing a bank account||Can only hurt credit through debt collection|
|Closing a credit card||Can hurt credit|
|Collections (appearing on credit report)||Hurts credit|
|Credit counseling||No direct effect, can indirectly help or hurt|
|Debit card (opening/using)||No effect|
|Divorce||No direct effect|
|Eviction||Can only hurt credit through debt collection|
|Financing a phone||Can build or hurt credit (sometimes)|
|Getting denied for a credit card||No effect, although applying slightly hurts credit|
|Hard inquiry (receiving)||Slightly hurts credit|
|Income (earning)||No effect on credit|
|Leasing a car||Can build or hurt credit|
|Medical bills (paying)||Can only hurt credit through debt collection|
|Mortgage (opening/using)||Can build or hurt credit|
|Mortgage pre-approval||Slightly hurts credit|
|Opening a checking account||Can slightly hurt credit (rarely)|
|Opening a credit card||Slightly hurts credit|
|Overdrafting a bank account||Can only hurt credit through debt collection|
|Parking tickets (receiving/paying)||Can only hurt credit through debt collection|
|Paying for car insurance||No effect|
|Paying off a credit card early||Builds credit|
|Paying off a loan early||Can slightly hurt credit|
|Paying off collections||Can improve credit (only in newer scoring models)|
|Paying off credit card in full||Builds credit|
|Paying off a debt (any loan)||Hurts credit (short term), builds credit (long term)|
|Paying off student loans||Hurts credit (short term), builds credit (long term)|
|Paying a phone bill||No effect (unless you take steps to build credit)|
|Paying rent||No effect (unless you take steps to build credit)|
|Paying taxes||Can only hurt credit through debt collection|
|Paying utilities||No effect (unless you take steps to build credit)|
|Refinancing (any loan)||Slightly hurts credit|
|Refinancing (car/auto loan)||Slightly hurts credit|
|Requesting a credit limit increase||Usually builds but can slightly hurt credit (rarely)|
|Secured credit card (opening/using)||Can build or hurt credit|
|Settling a debt||Hurts credit|
|Soft credit check (receiving)||No effect|
|Student loans (opening/managing)||Can build or hurt credit|
|Tradeline (adding)||Can build or hurt credit|
If you’re thinking about working with a particular company (e.g., to take out a new loan or to check your credit), you’re probably also wondering whether that will affect your credit score. We’ve provided a guide to how several popular companies will (and won’t) affect your credit.
How Different Companies Can Affect Your Credit
|Company||Effect on credit|
|Affirm||Can build or hurt credit|
|Afterpay||Can only hurt credit through debt collection|
|Credit Karma||No effect|
|Klarna||Can only hurt credit through debt collection|
|Landlords and property managers||Can only hurt credit through debt collection or (rarely) hard inquiry|
|PayPal Credit||Can build or hurt credit|
|Rent-A-Center||Can only hurt credit through debt collection|
In the rest of the article, we’ll explain exactly how the credit scoring models take the actions listed above and distill them into your numerical credit score.
What factors make up your credit score?
Your credit score is made up of five key factors. Knowing what these factors are can help you create an effective plan to improve your credit score.
All of these factors are based on the information on your credit report, which is a record of your activity on your various credit accounts. Both popular scoring models (FICO and VantageScore) use this to calculate your credit score.
Factors that contribute to your credit score
- Payment history: This tracks whether you usually pay your bills on time or not.
- Credit utilization: This tracks how much of your available credit you’re using.
- Length of credit history: The average age of your credit accounts and the age of your oldest account.
- Credit mix: The variety of the types of credit you have.
- New credit: Whether you’ve recently applied for or opened any new credit accounts.
How much each factor impacts your credit score varies based on the scoring company and model.
Here’s a visual breakdown of the percentage of your credit score that’s affected by each factor in both popular models:
FICO credit scoring factors
VantageScore credit scoring factors
As you can see, VantageScore categorizes its factors slightly differently than FICO does—for instance, it lumps credit age and credit mix into a single factor, called Depth of Credit.
The differences between the models’ scoring factors are relatively superficial. Ultimately, both FICO and VantageScore evaluate essentially the same data to create your score.
Which factors have the biggest impact on your credit score?
Two of the five scoring factors have much larger impacts on your credit score than the others: payment history and credit utilization.
Your payment history has the biggest impact on both your FICO and VantageScore credit scores. It makes up 35% of your FICO score and 40% of your VantageScore.
Consistently paying your bills on time increases your credit score, while making late payments damages it. Lenders usually report missed payments to the bureaus once they’re 30 days overdue, so you should always catch up on any overdue debts before you get a negative mark on your credit report.
If your payments become extremely overdue, you may also get more serious negative entries on your credit report, like collection accounts. (A collection account is a debt that your lender has sold or transferred to a debt collection agency because you didn’t repay it.)
Credit utilization rate
Both credit scoring models reward you for having a lower credit utilization rate, i.e., for using less credit. That’s because using a lot of credit suggests that you might be financially struggling, which means you could be in danger of missing payments.
How credit utilization works
Let’s imagine you have a combined credit card limit of $10,000 across all of your credit cards, but you’ve only spent $800 this month. Your current utilization rate is 8% (since 800 divided by 10,00 is 0.08), which is well within the recommended limits.
To achieve the highest credit score possible, VantageScore says you should use less than 10% of your available credit. 1 However, other experts say it’s fine to use up to 30% of your available credit on your credit cards.
To stay on the safe side and maximize your credit-building efforts, use as little available credit as possible or pay your balance frequently throughout the billing cycle to keep that number low.
Other factors affecting your credit score
The remaining scoring factors individually have a relatively small impact on your credit score. However, you should still know what they are because they collectively account for over a third of your score.
These credit scoring factors are:
- Length of credit history: The scoring models award more points to consumers who have been using credit for longer. The models measure this by looking at the average age of all of your credit accounts, as well as your oldest account. You can often dramatically increase your credit age by becoming an authorized user on a family member or friend’s credit card, as you’ll benefit from their account history.
- Credit mix: The scoring models also look at the different types of credit accounts you have. The more kinds of credit that you have, the better. As a general rule, aim to have at least one installment loan (an installment loan is a type of credit account like a mortgage, car loan, or student loan) and one revolving credit account (i.e., a credit card) to maintain a good credit mix.
- New credit: FICO and VantageScore also look at how recently you opened or applied for a new credit account. When you apply for credit, your potential lender will check your credit, which will cause a hard inquiry to appear on your credit report. Hard inquiries lower your credit score by several points, although the effect usually only lasts for a few months.
What doesn’t affect your credit score?
While you should pay attention to the factors mentioned above to ensure your credit score keeps rising, you may be unnecessarily worried about factors that don’t actually impact your score.
The following factors never impact your credit score:
- Your age, race, sexual orientation, or religion 2
- Your income, bank balance, and employment history
- Soft inquiries (i.e., credit checks that you didn’t authorize)
- Child support obligations
- Checking your own score
In addition, information that doesn’t appear on your credit report can’t affect your credit score. For example, because the credit bureaus removed all tax liens and court judgments from consumer reports, they can no longer lower your credit score. 3
How to improve your credit score
Understanding how the credit scoring models work is the first step to achieving a good credit score.
If you want to take things further and actively improve your credit, here are some tips to help you do that:
- Monitor your credit: Sign up for one of the credit bureaus’ credit monitoring services to keep tabs on your credit report and score. You’ll be able to see if any negative items are added to your credit report and take steps to offset them.
- Dispute errors: While monitoring your credit report, you may find inaccurate information that’s unfairly damaging your score. If you find an error, dispute the mistake immediately by sending a credit dispute letter to the bureau that’s reporting it.
- Pay your bills on time: As mentioned, missing payments is one of the fastest ways to hurt your credit score. On the flip side, making consistent on-time payments is a great way to improve your score over time. To ensure you never miss a payment, try to set your due dates on the same day and set up autopay either through your lenders or your bank.
- Lower your credit card balances: Given the impact that credit utilization has on your credit score, you want to keep this number low. Pay your credit card bill at the right time every month to maintain a good utilization rate.
- Don’t close old accounts: Closing a credit account lowers your total available credit, which, once again, impacts that ever-important credit utilization rate. If you have a card you’re considering closing, try keeping it active by assigning it a small recurring payment (like your Netflix subscription).