Why did my credit score drop after paying off debt?

Couple reviewing 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.

The most likely possible reasons for your credit score dropping after paying off debt are a decrease in the average age of your accounts, a change in the types of credit you have or an increase in your credit utilization.

Paying off debt is generally a good idea, and it feels satisfying, so you may be surprised to find that your credit score dropped after you made a payment. The drop could have occurred for multiple reasons as credit scores are calculated using a variety of factors. People often see their credit scores drop after paying off debt due to a change in the types of credit they have, an increase in their overall utilization or a decrease in the average age of their accounts.

It’s important to keep in mind that credit score drops from paying off debt are typically temporary. In general, the benefits of paying off debt outweigh the downsides of a reduced credit score. If your debt has a high interest rate, the amount you owe will continue to grow over time, so reducing the balance or paying it off entirely could save you a significant amount of money.

Still, you can make strong financial decisions by understanding why paying off debt can reduce your credit score in the short term—and you can work toward better credit over time.

Read on to learn why your credit score dropped after paying off debt, other reasons your credit may have taken a hit and a few ideas for improving your credit.

Table of contents:

  • What factors determine your credit score?
  • Why does paying off a loan hurt credit?
  • Additional reasons your credit score might drop after repaying debt
  • Does paying off debt ever help your credit?

What factors determine your credit score?

Before we dive into why your credit score may have dropped after paying off debt, it’s important to understand the factors that impact your credit score. According to FICO®, your credit score is calculated based on the following factors:

  • Payment history (35 percent): Your track record of paying past balances on time has the most influence on your credit score. Making payments late may indicate to the lender that you’re a higher-risk borrower.
  • Amounts owed (30 percent): In general, lenders want to see that you’re using less than 30 percent of your available credit, as this signals that you can manage your finances without leaning too heavily on credit. You may also see this factor referred to as your credit utilization.
  • Length of credit history (15 percent): This refers to how long you’ve had credit. A longer credit history will positively affect your credit.
  • New credit (10 percent): Opening multiple new accounts in a short period can indicate risky borrowing.
  • Credit mix (10 percent): Consider opening a mix of credit card and retail accounts, installment loans and mortgages, although it isn’t necessary to have one of each.

Paying off debt could affect one or more of these factors, which could explain the drop in your score.

Why does paying off a loan hurt credit?

Below are a few potential reasons why your credit score may have dropped after paying off a car loan, credit account or mortgage.

Your average credit age may have declined

If you pay off your oldest account and close it, the average age of your accounts will drop, which could lead to a decrease in your score.

While closed accounts will stay on your credit report for seven to 10 years after you close them, they are viewed differently than open accounts.

Over time, your length of credit history and average account age will increase, so the drop that comes from paying off debt is likely temporary.

Your credit mix might be less diverse

In general, the credit bureaus who report your credit history want to see that you’re responsibly using several different types of credit.

Say, for example, that your credit report lists a couple of credit cards and a car loan. If you repay the car loan and close the account, your credit mix now has reduced variety since it only contains credit cards. This could cause your credit score to temporarily drop.

With that being said, it’s not beneficial to go out of your way to open as many different credit types as possible. Instead, use different types of credit when you need them, making sure to pay on time. Over time, your credit score should recover with responsible use of credit.

Your credit utilization may have risen

As mentioned above, credit utilization is one of the most influential factors that makes up your credit score. For example, if your only account is a credit card with a $2,000 limit and you have a balance of $500, you’re using 25 percent of your available credit.

If you pay off a credit card debt and close the account, the total amount of credit available to you will decrease. Consequently, your overall credit utilization may rise, leading your credit to take a hit.

It’s often helpful not to close credit card accounts, even if they’re not in use—unless they involve an annual fee or there’s another good reason to close them.

Additional reasons your credit score might drop after repaying debt

Although the most common reasons for a score drop after paying off debt are listed above, there are a few other possibilities.

Here are some things to keep in mind if you notice a change in your score after paying off debt:

  • You paid off an older collection account: In some cases, making payments on an old collection account can lead to the collection agency changing the date of the debt. Since the debt resurfaces as a newer account on your credit report, it may have a larger impact on your credit.
  • Enough time hasn’t passed since you paid off the debt: The credit bureaus may not receive the update about your payment for a month or more, so make sure to check your credit report to see whether the account is noted as paid.
  • Your score drop is unrelated to paying off debt: Although your credit score may drop after paying off debt, that may not be the reason your score dropped. Credit scores are a complicated calculation, and there could be many other reasons for a change in your score. For example, you may have applied for a new line of credit, have a missed payment on a different account or have inaccurate information on your credit report.

Does paying off debt ever help your credit?

Yes, paying off a loan can improve your credit in the long run. These payments go into your credit history and show that you’re a responsible borrower. As you continue to pay on the debt, your credit score may gradually improve, so by the time you pay it off, you’re often still at a higher credit score overall after the temporary decrease.

How to improve your credit score after debt repayment

If your credit score dropped after paying off debt, here are some steps you can take to bring your score back up:

  • Pay your bills on time: Since payment history is the most significant factor that influences your credit, it’s important to continue making your payments on time.
  • Keep credit accounts open: Even if an older account is no longer in use, consider keeping it open to extend the age of your credit.
  • Decrease your credit utilization ratio: Asking your credit card company for a credit limit increase and incurring less debt are two ways to lower your credit utilization ratio.
  • Limit applying for multiple new accounts: The hard inquiry that comes with applying for a new account can knock your credit down, and these can add up if you apply for multiple in a relatively short period.

Additionally, if you notice a credit score drop, you’ll want to make sure to get a copy of your credit report. After looking at your report for each of the three credit bureaus—TransUnion®, Experian® and Equifax®—you’ll have a better idea of the information they’re reporting about you and how it’s affecting your score.

In addition to seeing whether your debt is shown as paid off, you’ll also want to pay close attention to any negative items or inaccurate information listed on your credit report. Unfair negative items can hurt your credit, and federal law allows you to dispute any items on your credit report that are unfair or inaccurate.

Challenging false information is an important part of the process of repairing your credit. For help looking over your report and disputing inaccurate information, consider working with the credit repair team at Lexington Law Firm, who can assist with every step of the process. Having an accurate and fair credit report is an important first step in working toward your credit goals.

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