25 Common Mistakes That Can Unintentionally Damage Your Credit Score

Understanding the intricacies of credit scoring can be complex, with even minor actions potentially having a significant impact. FICO scores, the most prevalent among lenders, range from 300 to 850 and are derived from your credit report data. This data includes your payment history, debt levels, credit length, types of credit, and new account activity. While there are five primary factors influencing your credit score, numerous missteps can undermine it.

Credit coach Jeanne Kelly of ReadyForGoodCredit.com observes that many are unaware of their credit score-affecting actions. Whether your goal is to boost your credit score or rectify past credit issues, awareness of potential pitfalls is crucial for maintaining a healthy credit score.

Neglecting to Check Your Credit Report

Failing to regularly review your credit score can lead to unpleasant surprises, such as fraud or unidentified issues, especially when you’re planning major purchases like a home or car.

Prevention: Regularly checking your credit report is vital. It helps detect fraud, provides a clear picture of your credit standing, and indicates areas needing attention.

Solution: Start checking your credit score immediately. Simple and accessible, CreditReport.com is a great resource for this purpose.

Late Bill Payments

Late payments can drastically affect your credit score. A single delayed payment might lower your score by 100 points or more. Although minor delays might not be detrimental, payments overdue by 30 days or more can significantly impact your credit.

Prevention: Set reminders or adjust your spending to ensure timely payments.

Solution: If you’ve missed a payment, contact your lender about their policy on late payment reporting. Future punctuality is key if the late payment has already been reported.

Excessive Credit Cards

Owning numerous credit cards, even if they’re paid off monthly, can negatively affect your credit score and borrowing ability. Julie Pukas, former head of commercial product integration at TD Bank, notes that high card numbers can raise lender concerns.

Prevention: Limit the number of credit cards. Pukas suggests keeping between three to five cards and monitoring your balances.

Solution: If your credit utilization ratio is high, consider closing newer accounts to maintain a longer credit history.

High Credit Card Balances

High credit utilization ratios can harm your credit score and portray you as a risky borrower. The best credit scores often reflect utilization of 10% or less of available credit.

Prevention: Aim to keep card balances below 50% of your credit limit.

Solution: Work towards reducing your total credit utilization below 50%, then continue lowering it for a quicker credit score boost.

Lack of Credit Card Usage

Not using credit cards can harm your credit score as much as having too many. Lenders value a history of responsible credit use.

Prevention: If reluctant to open a credit card, consider becoming an authorized user on someone else’s account.

Solution: Ensure the primary cardholder is responsible, as their credit habits will reflect on your report.

Closing Old or Inactive Cards

Closing old or inactive credit cards can negatively affect your credit history, which constitutes 15% of your credit score.

Prevention: Keep older credit cards active through occasional use and timely payments.

Solution: If debt temptation is a concern, opt to cancel newer accounts instead to preserve your credit history length.

Requesting Higher Credit Limits

Requesting a credit limit increase might prompt a credit inquiry, potentially impacting your score. Gerri Detweiler, a credit expert, advises caution in such requests.

Prevention: Manage spending within your current limit to avoid credit risks.

Solution: Thoughtfully consider a limit increase request, especially when planning significant loans like a mortgage.

Debt Consolidation on a Single Card

Consolidating multiple credit card debts onto one card can lower your average credit history age and increase your debt-to-credit ratio.

Prevention: Ensure consolidated debt doesn’t surpass 50% of the new card’s limit.

Solution: Spread charges across several cards, maintaining a debt-to-credit ratio below 20% for each.

Paying Off All Cards Simultaneously

While reducing high balances can improve your credit score, paying off all balances at once might temporarily lower it.

Prevention: FICO values recent activity on revolving accounts; zero utilization can slightly affect your score.

Solution: Keep a low but active balance on your cards to demonstrate ongoing credit use.

Using the Wrong Credit Card for Large Purchases

Choosing the wrong card for big expenses can max out your credit limit, significantly dropping your credit score.

Prevention: Select a card with sufficient limit and low utilization for large purchases.

Solution: Reduce your balance below the 50% threshold swiftly.

Co-Signing Loans

Co-signing can immediately affect your credit score and report, especially if the primary borrower misses payments or defaults.

Prevention: Exercise caution when co-signing and ensure you can cover payments if needed.

Solution: If co-signed debt adversely affects your credit, explore refinancing options or assume the payments yourself.

Unbalanced Credit Mix

Having only one type of credit, like credit cards, can negatively impact your score due to a lack of diverse credit information.

Prevention: Maintain a mix of credit types, such as a credit card, student loan, mortgage, and line of credit.

Solution: Improve your credit mix by adding different credit types and maintaining regular payments.

Prioritizing the Wrong Debt

Focusing on the wrong debt for repayment can limit the potential credit score improvement.

Prevention: Prioritize paying down credit card debt over installment loans like car loans.

Solution: While paying off any debt is beneficial, strategically reducing credit card debt can offer more significant score improvements.

Ignoring Credit Report Errors

Unaddressed credit report mistakes can persist and harm your credit score.

Prevention: Promptly addressing discovered errors is essential.

Solution: Regularly check your credit report for accuracy and formally dispute any errors with both the credit bureau and the credit issuer.

Excessive Credit Inquiries

Multiple credit inquiries over a short period can affect your credit record, particularly if they result in new accounts that lower the average age of your accounts.

Prevention: The credit scoring system permits shopping for similar loans within a short timeframe without multiple inquiry penalties.

Solution: Good management of existing credit can help your score recover within three months of the last inquiry.

Letting Debt Go to Collections

Unpaid debts can drastically reduce your credit score if turned over to collections.

Prevention: Timely payments and seeking repayment assistance when needed can prevent collections.

Solution: Promptly address any debts in collections and verify your credit report for accuracy.

Having Negative Records

Negative records on your credit report can linger for up to seven years, affecting your credit score.

Prevention: Consistently paying bills on time and maintaining low credit card balances are key.

Solution: Paying off negative records won’t erase them but will reflect your commitment to repaying obligations.

Unpaid Parking Tickets in Collections

Unpaid parking tickets sent to collections can become a significant credit report issue.

Prevention: Pay parking tickets promptly and feed parking meters.

Solution: If tickets are in collections, negotiate a lower payoff amount. Payment doesn’t guarantee removal from your credit report, but it can be requested.

Overdue Library Fines

Even minor library fines can impact your credit if sent to collections.

Prevention: Utilize digital book rentals or set reminders for returning physical books.

Solution: If fines reach collections, pay them and request the library to remove the report from your credit history.

Carrying Medical Debt

Medical debt can stay on your credit report for seven years but isn’t factored into new FICO and VantageScore models if the balance is zero.

Prevention: Verify medical bills for accuracy and explore payment options or financial assistance programs.

Solution: Discuss with your insurance company about handling collections-reported medical debt.

Unpaid Taxes Leading to Liens

Unpaid taxes can lead to tax liens, significantly affecting your credit score.

Prevention: File taxes on time and arrange payment plans with the IRS if unable to pay in full.

Solution: Seek extensions or professional assistance for repaying back taxes before they impact your credit score.

Not Building Independent Credit After Marriage

Relying solely on a spouse’s credit can limit your own credit history and affect your ability to secure loans independently.

Prevention: Both spouses should engage in credit activities to build individual credit histories.

Solution: Open a credit card or loan in your name and maintain consistent payments. Name changes post-marriage should be accurately reflected in credit records.

Report-Listed Charge-Offs

Charge-offs indicate uncollected debts and negatively impact your credit score.

Prevention: Address outstanding debts promptly to avoid charge-off markings.

Solution: Paying a charge-off doesn’t remove it from your report, but it stays for up to seven years post-reporting.

Foreclosure Impacts on Credit

Foreclosure can severely decrease your credit score and affect your credit report for up to seven years.

Prevention: Contact your lender or state housing agency early if you struggle with mortgage payments.

Solution: Rebuilding credit post-foreclosure involves regular bill payments and low credit card balances.

Credit Score Impact of Bankruptcy

Filing for bankruptcy can lead to a steep drop in your credit score and remains on your credit report for up to 10 years.

Prevention: Negotiate smaller payment plans with creditors to avoid defaulting on debts.

Solution: Post-bankruptcy, rebuild credit with secured credit cards and consistent, responsible credit use.

This comprehensive guide outlines common mistakes that can inadvertently harm your credit score. By understanding and addressing these issues, you can maintain a healthier credit profile and better financial stability.