How Your Credit Score Is Determined

credit scoreLike income taxes and 401Ks, credit scores can be mysteriously difficult to understand. With the overwhelming majority of the population being affected by them, one would hope there would be a simple method for individuals and families to calculate their own scores. Of course, the same could be said for taxes and retirement plans, but we know how that story goes…

Although the specific calculations are convoluted, and typically hidden from the public, the commonly accepted and standardized scores used by lenders are made up of five primary factors listed below, in order of highest percentage of impact to lowest:

35%:  History of Payment

If there is one question lenders want answered, that question is: Will payments be made on time, and in full? Above all else, this single fact determines worthiness and reliability in lending. More than how much money is in an account, more than how much income a household makes in a year, this is the key: if a history of paying the proper amounts on time can be shown, the most important base has been covered.

Although an occasional late payment is a rather common accident amongst American families, credit scores don’t react nearly as badly to one late payment as it does consecutive or patterned late or non-payments. Do not panic if a single payment was accidentally missed; the scores looks for repetition.

30%:  Amounts Owed

This factor can be initially misleading, in that people tend to assume that the higher amount one owes, the lower their score must automatically drop. However, there is a critical difference to be made: the significant amount is the ratio of available credit that is being used. Simply put, the lower the percentage of available credit, the lower the score.

The reason creditors care more about percentages and ratios than raw amounts is that when an individual is using a large percentage of their available credit, they are considered financially over-extended, and carry a higher risk of not paying on time. Again, paying on time and in full is so important, that not only is payment history the strongest credit score factor, but the next strongest is simply trying to show lenders if people will pay on time in the future.

15%:  Length of Credit History

Another factor that is commonly misinterpreted, having a longer credit history does not necessarily translate to a higher score. If poor credit is shown over a long period of time, that will have a proportionately negative effect on a score as having good credit for the same length of time would yield a positive effect.

Yes, lenders are certainly more leery of rookie or inexperienced credit users, but a score is not automatically low just because an individual or family is new to credit. In fact, only a few months of reliable credit payments actually yield quite a high score, but to get a score to prime levels, it does require good behavior shown over a longer duration.

10%:  Types of Credit

With the wide variety of credit cards, loans, installments (monthly payments), mortgages, and other types of credit available, more is not always better. Results seem to show that the two most noteworthy conclusions to draw from this section are 1) lenders prefer users who have managed credit cards properly, to those who have not managed them at all (meaning using a card is probably worth your while), but 2) do not open a credit card or other form of credit unless you intend to use it.

Paying monthly installments, a mortgage if one is in use, and a responsible credit card is more than enough to boost this portion of the credit score.

10%:  New Credit

The myth that simply opening a line of credit will drop your credit has been exposed; this is simply not the case. However, a dangerous red flag to lenders is when a household opens up multiple forms of credit in a very short amount of time, particularly if that household is not already an established, trusted credit user. When getting started, avoid rapidly opening multiple accounts.

Written by Clif, a freelance writer for SereniCare Corporate Marketing, a Phoenix-area franchise opportunist. For further questions about credit scores, you can find more in-depth explanations at myfico.com. I hope this post was an enjoyable and worthwhile read for you.