With many major financial decisions in life, there’s one number that keeps rearing its potentially ugly head – credit score. In fact, you have many credit scores, not just one. Use your credit card app to look up your credit score and you might get one number. Apply for a loan, and the lender might end up using a different credit score altogether. Whichever scoring system is used to determine your credit scores, you can expect it to fall somewhere within a range of 300 to 850. The higher your scores, the better your credit.

The most common scoring systems you’ll encounter are FICO, which is established credit by the Fair Isaac Corporation, or VantageScore, the system used by the three major credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. These scoring systems measure your creditworthiness, or how much trust financial institutions should have in you as a borrower. To take charge of your credit scores, you must understand what exactly is being factored into them.


Lots of things can make that number go up or down, but there are certain criteria that weigh much more heavily than others, as well as oft-misconstrued details that don’t affect your credit.

  • Your payment history is the greatest factor going into your credit scores, accounting for 35% of your scores under FICO. This means staying on top of your debts you’ve taken on is a priority and where you have the most direct control to affect your scores.
  • The total amount of debts owed is nearly as important as your payment history. How much debt you have in relation to your overall available credit, or credit utilization, affects this especially if you have credit cards.
  • The overall age of your credit history is a factor, which includes the average age of all your open accounts, how long ago your most recent account was opened, and how old your earliest account has been open. Opening new accounts will pull a hard inquiry on your credit reports, which can negatively affect them.
  • Having a variety of different types of accounts on your credit reports can affect your credit. Types of accounts include credit cards, other forms of revolving credit, or installment loans.

Things you can be rest assured won’t count against you in affecting your credit score include:

  • Where you live, your age, race, gender, religion, marital status, or national origin are all personal details that have no effect on your credit scores.
  • Your income won’t count toward anything either. However, most credit card companies will ask for this information when you initially apply.
  • If you have sought credit counseling to make use of any of their services.
  • If you’re currently responsible for any child support or other family support obligations.

Credit scores are so important because they can factor into your ability to get approved for major life necessities, like buying a brand-new home, as well as affect how much things can cost you over time even if you’re approved. Your debt-to-income ratio and credit scores factor into how much house you can afford when looking to become a new construction homeowner. If you’re looking to purchase or lease a vehicle, your credit scores will help secure better terms.

Higher credit scores will lock in better interest rates on home loans, net you lower fees, and secure better terms for repayment of different types of debts. Your credit scores can also affect things like having lower insurance premiums, and can affect things like being required to make down payments on utility costs.


The first step to building and maintaining good credit scores is to regularly monitor your credit reports. You can see exactly what’s showing up on your reports and take necessary action to improve your scores, if possible, as well as keep an eye out for fraudulent activity or inaccuracies.

To make the most of your credit scores, make timely and consistent payment on all your debts every month. If you can afford to pay over the minimum amounts due, you can pay off your debts sooner, save money on interest, and positively impact your credit. Avoid making even a single late payment as they can remain on your credit reports for up to 7 years. Lowering your overall debt will decrease your utilization of credit and help your scores as well. Keeping your credit accounts open even after paying them off in full will help the age of your accounts remain a positive factor on your credit scores.

If you’re struggling with making your payments, utilize automatic payments or contact your lenders to set up payment arrangements. If you’re considering cosigning for a loan or credit card, be mindful that the credit scores of both names attached to the account could be impacted, positively or negatively, based on the account history.


Credit and debt can be a tricky subject and having a better understanding of exactly what’s working for you or against you as well as knowing what you have control over is paramount. Before making any major financial decisions, consider what could happen to your credit scores, and how you can leverage your credit scores to make the best decisions for you and your family.