Those “a-ha!” moments. Key takeaways. Life lessons. Whatever you may call them, everyone has them at some point, when we look back and say, “I wish I had known that sooner! Why didn’t someone tell me?” It often seems like credit and finances are a part of life where realizations come about that way. And there’s no bigger time to think about your credit than when you’re buying a house. Each person’s financial journey is different — but there are ways to be smart about credit that can be useful to people at many different points in their life. Here are just a few of the most widespread credit myths that persist; knowing the truth about them can help you evaluate your options and stay energized about your finances.
1. Myth: There’s only one credit score
Your credit score is a measure that lenders use to determine your creditworthiness on a scale from low to high. These scores differ in small but important ways according to which credit scoring model is used and the factors that it considers from within your credit information. Seeing how your scores differ can be an effective way to capture a better sense of your total credit picture at a given time, like when you’re considering a major purchase such as a home.
2. Myth: Checking your credit report can hurt your score
One of the most common misconceptions about your credit score is that by requesting a copy of it, you’ll damage it. When you apply for a new line of credit and a lender looks at your credit report, an inquiry known as a hard inquiry will appear on your report. Having too many of these on your report may indicate that you’re seeking credit from many places and trying to overspend: not a good sign. But if you’re looking at your own credit report, the inquiry is known as a soft inquiry, and these have no impact on your credit score. Be confident that examining your own information is a good thing, and your score won’t suffer from your interest in it.
3. Myth: There’s nothing you can do about something bad on your credit report
Your credit report is an accumulation of information about how you use credit. A common misconception is that information on your credit report is permanent — but that’s not true. Items that cause concern, like late payments or accounts in collections, eventually come off your report. Your credit report doesn’t show each transaction since you opened your first credit account (unless that happened recently). Most credit scoring formulas show the most recent, and most relevant, information in your report. If there are things on your report you don’t recognize, it may be evidence of fraudulent activity. If that’s the case, each credit bureau has a process for reporting the suspicious activity. Checking your report regularly can help you stay on top of any fraudulent activity that criminals may attempt.
4. Myth: You can avoid credit problems by using only cash
Cash is great for many of life’s smaller purchases, but for life’s larger expenses — like a home — you likely won’t be able to pay in cash. Those are the times you’ll need to use credit. To get the best rates from your lender, your credit score will have to be in good shape. Don’t run from your credit problems by trying to avoid using credit altogether. Keeping your credit utilization low and making sure to use credit wisely can show that you’re responsible with your finances. Then, when you’re ready to make a big purchase, your credit score can support your creditworthiness to potential lenders.
5. Myth: If you have bad credit, you will never be approved for a loan
If your credit isn’t at its best, that doesn’t mean you can’t be approved for a loan you may need now. It could mean that you likely won’t be eligible for the lender’s best rates, however. Having to pay back more in interest on a loan you’re seeking now may be the reminder you need to keep better tabs on your credit score. It’s never too late to start learning about how to take care of your credit for the future. In the long run, it may be able to save you money — your future self will thank you!