Credit scores are an area of personal finance that seem a lot more mysterious than they actually are. Many people believe that improving them is a matter of trial and error and, as a result, there’s a lot of “credit score advice” floating around that can end up doing more harm than good. Four common credit score myths have been rounded up and debunked below:
MYTH #1: You have no control over your credit score
There are a lot of factors that make this myth easy to buy into—credit bureaus keep their exact credit score formulas a secret, you can’t access your credit report whenever you’d like online without paying a fee and it’s possible to be financially stable and still have a miserable score. It’s OK to find credit scores confusing, but if you have an accompanying “there’s nothing I can do about it” mentality, ditch it right now! Your credit score is a reflection of your borrowing and repayment behaviours, and that means you have a lot more control over it than you think.
MYTH #2: There’s a “quick fix” for your credit score
Although junk mail and late night commercials try to convince you otherwise, boosting your credit score doesn’t happen overnight. The good news is that the things you can do to positively influence your score are simple and don’t require a lot of time (or even that much effort!)—but the trade-off is that you’ll have to be patient while waiting for your new good credit habits to take effect. Your credit score is more of a track record than a snapshot, so consistency is key.
MYTH #3: Checking my credit report will negatively affect my score
This myth comes from confusing two different types of credit score inquiries: hard inquiries and soft inquiries. Hard inquiries are made by lenders or credit card companies when you apply for a new line of credit (a loan, a new credit card or a mortgage, for example). Soft inquiries are made by you or by others for background check purposes (a potential employer or landlord, for example). Because hard inquiries suggest you might be taking on more credit soon, they usually lower your score by a few points. Soft inquiries, on the other hand, do not affect your credit score in any way. This means you have nothing to lose by accessing your own score—in fact, doing so will help you understand what your current credit activity looks like and how you can improve it.
Note: there are some situations (like renting a car or a landlord running a credit check) where either a hard inquiry or a soft inquiry can be made. In these cases, it’s a good idea to find out beforehand what kind of inquiry will be made so that you know what to expect.