If you’ve made a few credit mistakes, all is not lost. One strength of credit scoring is that it has a dynamic component. No one bad aspect should totally sink you, just as one good aspect won’t guarantee you credit. Although late payments will lower your overall score, having an otherwise good credit history with little outstanding debt can make up for it. Below are explanations of the categories from Fair, Isaac, and Co., the company that developed the software used for most credit scores (sometimes referred to as FICO scores).
Payment History (35% of score)
The first thing any lender wants to know is whether you have paid your past credit accounts on time. The payment history factor of credit scoring takes into account:
- Payment information on many types of accounts. These include credit cards (such as Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover), retail accounts (credit from stores where you do business, such as department store or gas station credit cards), installment loans (loans where you make regular payments, such as car loans), finance company accounts and mortgage loans.
- Public record and collection items. These include reports of events such as bankruptcies, judgments, suits, liens, wage attachments and collection items. These are considered quite serious, although older items count less than more recent ones.
- Details on late or missed payments and public record and collection items. A 30-day late payment is not as risky as a 90-day late payment, in and of itself. But recency and frequency count too. A 30-day late payment made just a month ago will count more than a 90-day late payment from five years ago. Note that closing an account on which you had previously missed a payment does not make the late payment disappear from your credit report.
- How many accounts show no late payments. A good track record on most of your credit accounts will increase your credit score.
Amounts Owed (30% of score)
Owing money on different credit accounts does not mean you’re a high-risk borrower with a low score. However, owing a great deal of money on many accounts can indicate that a person is overextended, and is more likely to make some payments late or not at all. Part of the science of scoring is determining how much is too much for a given credit profile. This factor takes into account:
- The amount owed on all accounts. Even if you pay your credit cards in full every month, your credit report may show a balance on those cards. The total balance on your last statement is generally the amount that will show in your credit report. The amount owed on all accounts, and on different types of accounts. In addition to the overall amount you owe, the score considers the amount you owe on specific types of accounts, such as credit cards and installment loans.
- Whether you are showing a balance on certain types of accounts. In some cases, having a very small balance without missing a payment shows that you have managed credit responsibly, and may be slightly better than no balance at all. On the other hand, closing unused credit accounts that show zero balances and that are in good standing will not generally raise your score.
- How many accounts have balances. A large number can indicate higher risk of over-extension.
- How much of the total credit line is being used on credit cards and other “revolving credit” accounts. Someone closer to “maxing out” on many credit cards may have trouble making payments in the future.
- How much of installment loan accounts is still owed, compared with the original loan amounts. For example, if you borrowed ,000 to buy a car and you have paid back ,000, you owe (with interest) more than 80% of the original loan. Paying down installment loans is a good sign that you are able and willing to manage and repay debt.
Length of Credit History (15% of score)
In general, a longer credit history will increase your score. However, even people with short credit histories may get high scores, depending on how the rest of the credit report looks. This factor takes into account:
- How long your credit accounts have been established, in general. The score considers both the age of your oldest account and an average age of all your accounts.
- How long specific credit accounts have been established.
- How long it has been since you used certain accounts.
New Credit (10% of score)
Research shows that opening several credit accounts in a short period of time represents greater risk, especially for people who do not have a long-established credit history. This also extends to requests for credit, as indicated by “inquiries” to the credit reporting agencies (an inquiry is a request by a lender to get a copy of your credit report). This factor takes into account:
- How long it has been since you opened a new account.
- How many new accounts you have.
- How many recent requests for credit you have made, as indicated by inquiries to the credit reporting agencies. Be assured, however, that if you request a copy of your credit report to check it for accuracy – which is always a good idea – it will not affect your score. This is considered a “consumer-initiated inquiry,” not an indication that you are seeking new credit. Also, your score is unaffected by lender inquiries into your credit report for purposes of making you a “pre-approved” credit offer, or for reviewing your account with them, even though these inquiries may show up on your credit report.
- Length of time since credit report inquiries were made by lenders.
- Record of recent credit history following past payment problems. Re-establishing credit and making payments on time after a period of late payment behavior will help to raise a score over time
Types of Credit in Use (10% of score)
This factor considers your mix of credit types: credit cards, retail accounts, installment loans, finance company accounts and mortgage loans. It also looks at the total number of accounts you have; for different credit profiles, how many is too many will vary. This means it is not necessary to have one of each type, nor is it a good idea to open credit accounts you don’t intend to use. The credit mix is generally not a key factor in determining your score – unless your credit report does not have a lot of other information upon which to base a score.