Credit scores play a key role in your financial life. Generally speaking, the higher your credit score, the better off you are when it comes to getting a loan.
And yet, many Americans make the same common mistakes with credit, putting their future financial well-being at risk. As interest rates rise at the steepest annual pace ever, there is even more at stake in the year ahead.
Here are some of the most common myths about credit cards and credit scores and how to avoid them going forward.
Myth #1: You can’t qualify for credit with a low score
Nearly 70% of Americans mistakenly believe that having too low of a credit score will prevent them from qualifying for any type of credit card, according to a recent report by Capital One.
Choosing the right type of card can make a difference, according to Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst at Bankrate and CreditCards.com. For example, getting a secured credit card or “piggy-backing on a parent’s card as an authorized user” are good places to start, he said.
Some secured cards require a cash deposit that then serves as the credit line, which can be a good fit for those without a proven payment history. Otherwise, consider a card that requires a co-signer, Rossman advised. In that case, the parent, or co-signer, is responsible if the account isn’t in good standing.
Myth #2: Paying utility bills can boost your score
Nearly as many — about 68% — incorrectly believe that paying your utility bills on time can improve your credit score, according to the Capital One survey, which polled more than 3,500 Americans in July 2022.
Most utility companies do not report payment histories to credit bureaus and, even if they did, not all credit scoring companies consider that type of bill payment information.
If you’re trying to raise your credit score, paying those bills on time only counts if you’ve enrolled in a program like Experian Boost, Rossman said, which will factor on-time payments for utilities, phones and cable TV into your credit history.
Myth #3: Carrying a small balance helps your score
Another common credit card misconception is that carrying a balance month to month will give your credit score a boost.
According to Capital One, 37% of borrowers wrongfully believe that leaving a balance on their card is better for their credit score than paying off the balance in full each month. A separate NerdWallet study found that as many as 46% of Americans make this same mistake.
That’s the most expensive misconception. In fact, any amount of revolving debt costs you in interest charges. Those typically are not calculated based on how much debt you roll over to the next statement period, but rather on your daily average balance.
If you’re not paying in full, make sure to at least pay the minimum due. Paying less than the minimum is “the same as not paying it at all,” according to Michele Raneri, vice president and head of U.S. research and consulting at TransUnion.
“That’s what a delinquency is,” Raneri said, which could also ding your credit score in as soon as 15 to 30 days, she added.
Credit experts generally advise borrowers to keep revolving debt below 30% of their available credit to limit the effect that high balances can have on your credit score.
Still, nearly half of credit card holders carry credit card debt from month to month, according to a Bankrate report, just as the interest charges on those balances are getting more expensive.
With the Fed’s rate increases so far, those credit card users will wind up paying around $22.9 billion more in 2022 than they would have otherwise, according to a separate analysis by WalletHub.