Debunking Five Credit Score Myths

Your credit score. It’s amazing how one little score can have such an impact on our finances and how misunderstood that number can be. We’ll debunk five common myths about it right here, right now.

Myth: You have only one credit score.
You actually have three scores, one from each of the three bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax). They use the same “equation” from Fair Isaac Corporation but they each collect their own data, they each have their own slightly different weightings on the score components, and they each make their own share of mistakes. This is why it’s important for you to review each of your credit histories each year using government sponsored AnnualCreditReport.com. Some lenders pull your score from all three and use the middle value, some only pull from one. In the end, you need to ensure your information is 100% accurate.

Myth: Checking your score will hurt it.
There are two types of inquiries – soft inquiries and hard inquiries. A hard inquiry is when a financial institution uses your credit history to determine whether or not to extend you credit. A hard inquiry will appear on your report and negatively impact your score (this is why experts recommend you avoid applying for credit cards right before a mortgage application). A soft inquiry is when an institution uses your credit history to confirm your identity or when you personally review your credit history. Since it’s not used for a lending decision, it doesn’t negatively impact your score. Checking your history or score will not hurt your credit.

Myth: Shopping around for the best loan will hurt your credit score
Shopping around for the best loan will result in a lot of hard inquiries on your credit report but this is a special case. For mortgages, home equity, and car loans, a flurry of hard inquiries won’t hurt your score if they are within a 14 or 30 day window. Credit bureaus understand you will be making numerous inquiries to get the best deal. This rule does not apply to credit card application inquiries, each one of those will hurt your score regardless of how quickly you do them.

Myth: My FICO score dictates whether you get credit and at what interest rate.
Truth: The FICO score is a very important part of determining whether you get credit and at what interest rate but it’s not the only thing lenders use. When you apply for a loan, lenders will ask you for your bank account statements, your paystubs, and your outstanding debts in addition to pulling your credit. Lenders want to know whether you will be able to repay the debt and they cannot rely just on the score alone. If you have a lot of debt compared to your income and a high credit score, lenders could deny you credit. If you have little debt compared to your income and a low credit score, lenders could still extend you credit. Score is not the final arbiter, just a part of the equation.

Myth: Getting married will hurt (or help) your credit score.
After you are married, each spouse still has the same credit worthiness they had before they were married. Your scores won’t increase or decrease because you were married. The reason why people believe this myth is because when you start applying for loans, you’ll be applying for a joint loan where both spouses will be responsible. In this case, your aggregate score can go up or down. However, the act of getting married doesn’t change one’s credit worthiness.

There are many more myths out there but these five are the ones I see the most often. What other misunderstandings about credit scores have you seen out there that people should be aware of?

Jim writes about personal finance at his personal finance blog, Bargaineering.

(Photo: scarequotes)