A credit score seems like a fairly simple concept. If you have a high score, you can qualify for the best rates on loans. If you have a low score, you can't.
But what about the things that influence a score, that move it up or down? That's where things get a little murky for a lot of consumers.
A survey by credit bureau TransUnion has documented that confusion, learning that more than half of consumers who checked their credit score in the last month wrongly believed their income, employment history, and age are factors.
They aren't, and neither are salary raises and increases in personal savings, though a large percentage of consumers in the survey believe they are.
What you don't know can hurt
Why does this matter? Because if you don't know what influences your credit score, you might not take the right action to keep pushing your score higher.
“Our survey shows that even those who monitor their credit are only skimming the surface of their credit report and often don’t understand the factors that comprise their credit score,” said John Danaher, president of TransUnion Consumer Interactive.
Here's what influences your credit score: first and foremost, its paying your bills on time. All of your bill.
Danaher says some consumers buy into the myth that as long as they pay their bills and don't fall behind, it's okay. It's not. Paying bills on time and in full each month will have a positive impact on your score. Late bill payments can stay on your report for up to seven years.
How you use credit
How you use credit is another major factor. Paying off your credit card balance every month looks better to creditors than if you carry a balance that gets bigger every month.
They also look closely on how much of your available credit you've used. If you have a $5000 credit limit but are carrying a $4,000 balance, you'll have a lower score than if the balance is just $1,000.
Finally, you need to access credit to raise your credit score. If you don't have any credit accounts, the credit agencies have no way to assess your creditworthiness. Having a mortgage, car payment, and credit card bill that you pay on time, month after month, is the best way to maintain and build your credit score.