15 credit facts everyone needs to know in 2021

couple looking at laptop to figure out finances

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

Understanding how credit works is crucial to building and maintaining a healthy score. This may feel difficult to do when lots of outdated (and incorrect) credit advice lingers. It’s no wonder some of us feel lost and don’t know where to start when managing credit. In a recent study, we found that one in four Americans can’t tell the difference between a credit score and a credit report.

To demystify fact from fiction, we brought together the most important credit facts you need to know to understand your credit score and everything that impacts it. Take a look at our list below to learn more about how important your credit score really is.

1. Your credit score is based on five core factors.

Five factors impact your FICO score and account for varying percentages of your total credit score. These factors are important to keep in mind when applying and using credit. Some credit myths, like carrying a balance to improve your score, can actually damage your score and add unnecessary debt if you don’t know the real credit facts. The following are the five factors that impact your score:

breakdown of five factors that impact your credit
  • 35%Payment history. Your ability to consistently make payments holds the biggest impact on your score. Having late and missed payments are detrimental to your credit score. If you want to improve your score, you’ll need to catch up by staying on time with future payments.
  • 30% Credit utilization. This is the second most impactful aspect of your credit score. Credit utilization is determined by the amount of credit you’re using compared to the total credit you have available. The lower your credit utilization ratio, the better your score.
  • 15% Length of credit history. Credit history takes a smaller, but still important role in influencing your credit score. A longer credit history gives the major credit bureaus a bigger snapshot of your past transactions. This allows them to predict how you will handle your credit and your potential risk.
  • 10% Inquiries and new credit. The amount of inquiries to review your credit report also affects your score. Too many hard inquiries can negatively impact your credit score. However, inquiries made under a short period are less harmful. This is because credit bureaus understand these can occur on a case-by-case basis, like when shopping for a car.
  • 10% Diversification of credit. Lastly, the diversity of your credit types makes up the last area that impacts your credit score. A diverse credit portfolio benefits your credit score since it demonstrates your ability to successfully manage different types of credit.

2. Credit reports are different from credit scores.

Credit reports are different from credit scores. Credit reports list every piece of your financial history that affects your creditworthiness. Reports are helpful if you want to review your credit history to find any inaccuracies, instances of fraud or just want to know how you’re financially performing.

Your credit score, on the other hand, is a numerical grade of your creditworthiness. Checking on your credit score gives you a quick snapshot of your score if you want to know where you stand before you start house hunting, car shopping or anything else that relates to your credit.

Credit scores are important in regards to your overall financial health. Your score comes into play when you begin to make bigger purchases, like buying a home or car. Your credit score also affects you when applying for a credit card. Maintaining a healthy score will help you get the best loans and offers when necessary.

3. Negative credit items will eventually come off your credit report.

Most negative items will remain on your report for seven years at the most due to the regulations set by the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Bankruptcy, on the other hand, can last up to 10 years or more in some cases.

4. FICO credit scores range from 300 to 850.

Credit score ranges vary depending on the credit bureau. Knowing your score can help you understand how you can improve it. For example, if you’re looking to move from “fair” to “good,” it’s important to know where those scores lie on the spectrum. Below you can find the credit ranges used by FICO.

fico credit score ranges
  • 800–850: Exceptional
  • 740–799: Very Good
  • 670–739: Good
  • 580–669: Fair
  • 300–579: Poor

5. Majority of lenders use FICO scores when making decisions.

Bill Fair and Earl Isaac founded the FICO credit scoring system in 1956 as a way to help lenders make well-informed lending decisions. FICO analyzes scores from the three major bureaus: TransUnion, Equifax and Experian (sometimes referred to as “The Big Three”).

90% of lenders use your FICO score when making lending decisions. More recently, the The Big Three came together to create FICO competitor VantageScore to offer a more consistent score across the three bureaus.

6. You have many different types credit scores.

Credit scores vary based on the credit bureau reporting them. The major credit bureaus all have slightly different information regarding your credit history. This means that these three, along with other credit reporting agencies, report several FICO credit scores to lenders to account for different information they’ve collected.

There are also different scores specific to particular industries. For example, auto lenders review different risk factors than mortgage lenders, so the scores each lender receives differ.  Although it can get confusing, the most important things to abide by are the five core factors that affect your credit score.

7. Checking your own score won’t hurt your score.

Many believe that checking your credit score hurts your credit, but this is not true. Ordering your credit report or checking your score (called “soft” inquiries) doesn’t affect your credit score. Hard inquiries, like when lenders look at your credit, do negatively impact your score. However, the consequences are small and temporary, especially if the queries are made close together in time.

8. You can check your credit score and credit reports for free.

There are three main ways to check your credit for free. You can ask your credit card company, request your credit score through your bank, or sign up for a free online service. You can also order your credit report for free. In fact, you’re entitled to one free credit report from Experian, TransUnion and Equifax per year. Request your free credit reports from Annual Credit Report.

free ways to check your credit score and credit report

9. Your credit score can cost you money.

Low credit scores signal to lenders that you’re a high risk. Due to this, you’ll likely have a difficult time finding a lender and probably end up paying high-interest rates. As a result, people tend to dedicate time and effort to credit repair. This can stack up over time if you take out a mortgage while your credit score is low.

Here are examples of other things that are affected by a low credit score:

10. Canceling old credit cards can lower your score.

The length of your credit history makes up 10 percent of your credit history. Keeping old credit cards open will positively impact your score since they increase your overall credit age. Having open credit cards also impacts your utilization. All open cards contribute to and raise your overall credit limit. The higher your limit, the easier it is to keep your credit utilization ratio down.

Some people worry that having a zero balance on their credit card can negatively impact their score. This is just a credit myth. A zero balance means you aren’t using the card to make any purchases. Keeping the credit card open while not using it actually works to your benefit. You’re able to contribute to the length of your credit history, while not risking the chance of debt and late payments.

This is crucial since credit utilization is the second most important factor that impacts your credit score. Closing a really old credit card or a card with a high limit can drastically drop your score. If you need to cancel a card, consider raising the limit on another card to keep your utilization ratio similar.

11. You can still get a loan with bad credit.

Bad credit loans are available for those with low or non-existent credit scores. Depending on the type of loan, you might need to pay high interest rates and offer a valuable asset that a lender can seize if you’re unable to pay back the loan.

12. Credit scores aren’t the only deciding factors for lending decisions.

Like we mentioned earlier, other aspects impact a lender’s decision to grant you a loan or a credit card. Some lenders allow you to give a personal appeal to give context to your credit report. Other factors like a steady job and enough income can also demonstrate your ability to pay back a loan. This brings us to our next credit fact.

factors that can impact lending decisions

13. Your credit report can help you spot fraud.

Periodically checking your credit report allows you to spot fraudulent activity fast. Any large changes in your score are signals to check your report for any inaccurate information. 

Once you see any unrecognized inquiries on your report, you should double-check that the purchases and inquiries listed match up to your recent activity. There is a series of steps you should take once you realize you’re a victim of fraud, like authorizing a credit freeze and adding a fraud alert to your personal credit report.

14. Joint accounts affect your credit scores, but you do not have joint scores.

The activity of a joint account is reflected in both credit reports. For example, if you and your spouse apply for a mortgage, the lender will consider both of your credit histories when making a decision. This does not mean that you and your spouse have a joint or combined credit score.

difference between joint accounts and authorized users

Note that a joint account is different than an account with an authorized user. Joint account holders can use the account and are liable for the debt, while authorized users can use the account but are not liable for the debt.

15. Many credit reports contain inaccurate credit information.

The Federal Trade Commission found that one in five people have an error on at least one of their credit reports. This is why you should frequently check your credit report and dispute any inaccurate information. Inaccuracies can greatly impact your score. For example, one wrong late payment can drastically drop your score since payment history impacts 30 percent of your credit score.

It’s important to get your credit facts straight so you understand exactly how different things impact your score. One of the first things you should learn is how to read your credit report so you can quickly spot discrepancies and ensure that the information reported is fair and accurate. 

After scrutinizing your credit report, you can look into other ways to fix your credit, like paying late or past due accounts, so you can boost your score with your newfound knowledge. You can also take advantage of Lexington Law’s credit lawyer-driven process to get extra help and additional legal knowledge to assist in your credit repair process.