Top Credit Report Myths You Believe

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Credit reports and the three-digit scores that come out of them are still things shrouded in mystery for many people. Even many consumers with basic financial literacy believe many of the common myths about credit making the rounds. In fact, we'd be amazed if you made it to the end of the article without seeing a credit myth that you believe in.

Squaring Up Removes Negative Reporting

As the vice president of consumer education at Experian, one of the three major credit reporting bureaus in the United States, Maxine Sweet knows what's what when it comes to credit myths. One of the biggest? Getting square with a collector will remove negative information from your credit.

"It will bring the account current, meaning that you're getting positive points to offset the negative," she said. However, the negatives don't go away.

Not Using Credit Has No Consequences

Sweet further hears from a lot of consumers who think that the response to having bad credit is not to use any credit at all. She describes this as "the worst mistake someone can make."

"If you can't control yourself and you're just going to spend more than you can afford, don't have credit," she said. "But if you can manage to just use credit for things you use a lot like groceries and gas, you're going to add positives to your credit history each month."

Erik Larson, the CEO of NextAdvisor.com, concurs. "If you don't have credit cards, that's going to hurt your score," he said. Having no credit is only slightly better than having bad credit.

 

Spousal Credit Reports

Larson is surprised how many people still believe that they have a joint credit report with their spouse. "Everyone has a separate credit report, he said. "You have joint accounts and those show up on each of your scores, but the actual credit report is different."

Still, it's important for one partner to keep the other in line if need be: those joint accounts are more likely going to be judged by the person with the lower credit rating than the person with the better credit report.

Your Balance Is Reported

It's certainly true that borrowing and paying off during the same month is a great way to build your credit. However, you might be surprised to hear that you'll almost never get a zero balance reported. That's because credit card companies report the balance that they bill for. Whatever is on your statement is what the credit reporting agency sees.

Larson points out why this can cause issues for people. "If you go up to 80% of your available credit every month, it looks bad because of how much credit you're using," he said. This is true even when you pay it off every month.

Your Credit Begins Perfect

Mike Sullivan, the chief education officer with Take Charge America, a nonprofit credit, housing and student loan counseling agency, notes that he meets a lot of young people who think that their credit rating begins perfect. From there, it can only go down.

"You start out as what they call 'no file' or 'thin file,'" he explained, adding that "it's easier to build credit the first time around," precisely because of this blank(ish) slate.

Credit Reports Are Hard to Read

Sullivan also encounters a lot of people who are afraid to look at their credit report. The reason being, they think that a credit report is going to be very complicated and difficult to make sense of.

"Credit reports used to be hard to read," he acknowledged. "They're not anymore. They're very straightforward and simple."

One thing that might be confusing: different information on different reports from the three main credit reporting bureaus. This is due to the fact that not all creditors report to the same agency and don't do so in the same way or on the same timetable. "It's also possible that there's one or more errors on your credit," he explains.

All Credit Searches Impact Your Score

It's simply not true that all credit searches impact your credit report or credit score, something expressed by both Sullivan and Larson. Instead, it's only a "hard" inquiry -- the kind that you initiate in an attempt to open a new credit account -- that will damage your credit score.

What's more, this is where the primary "damage" to your credit report is going to come from when you open a new account. Larson, however, explains that this is only a slight decrease and probably a temporary one.

In fact, getting a new credit account might be just what the doctor ordered when it comes to your credit report. "If you're getting close to the limit on a credit card, getting a second credit card is great because it improves your credit utilization ration," he said.

Now that's something that surprised even us.

--Written by Nicholas Pell for MainStreet

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