Millennials Don’t Understand How to Build Credit

A group of friends having fun together outdoors, sharing media on their smart phones from social networks.  Taken in Capitol Hill, Seattle, Washington.

It’s confirmed—millennials don’t know how to increase their credit scores.

At least that’s what a study from LendEDU indicates. In it, 500 millennials (ages 17–37) were asked questions regarding credit scores, and based on the results, it looks like Generation Y needs to do some credit homework.

Millennial Misconception #1: Use a Credit Card More to Build Good Credit

Almost half of millennials surveyed believe you can improve your credit score by using your credit card more. That is not true. But to be fair, thinking that you should use your credit card more to build your credit score is a general misconception that reaches beyond a millennial mindset. Plenty of baby boomers perpetuate the same misunderstanding about using credit cards more.

The reality is that a “high credit utilization rate” (translation: you use a credit card a lot) lowers your credit score because it makes you look like a bigger risk to lenders,

If you want to begin improving your credit score, you can start with the basics—buy only what you can afford, and pay off your credit card balance before the end of each month.

Millennial Misconception #2: Max Out and Pay Off a Card to Increase Your Score

When asked which behaviors would improve their credit scores, around 36% of millennials selected the following answer: “Maxing out, but paying a credit card on time.” This answer couldn’t be more wrong.

Maxing out a credit card can do serious damage to your credit score. When you max out your credit card, you get a “high credit utilization ratio” (translation: you’re using 100% of your available credit). The actual recommended credit utilization ratio is “below at least 30% and ideally [only] 10% of your total available credit limit(s).”

Besides the impact on your credit score, maxing out your credit card makes you susceptible to higher credit card interest, which can be 20% or more these days. Yikes!

Millennial Misconception #3: Carry Debt for a Good Credit Score

Another 28% of millennials in the survey incorrectly believe  “carrying debt is necessary for a good credit score.” It’s true that you can build up your credit score by taking on a bit of debt, but you’ll still need to pay the balance off each month and use less than 30% of your available credit.

Perhaps the best way to dispel these credit score misunderstandings is to go back to what actually makes up your credit score.

Quick Review: How Your Credit Score Is Calculated

Whether you’re a millennial or not, it doesn’t hurt to brush up on credit score basics.

A credit score is based on a calculation of the following:

  • Payment history: 35%
  • Current credit utilization: 30%
  • Credit history length: 15%
  • New credit inquiries: 10%
  • Credit mix: 10%

Paying your credit card bills on time and keeping your debt under control (again, under 30%) account for 65% of your credit calculation. If you take care of those two, the credit history (15%) should take care of itself, and you’ll get that score moving upward.

A credit score ranges from 300 to 850, with the national average at 673 in 2016. A score of 750 or above is considered excellent, and the other ranges are as follows: 700–749 (good), 650–699 (fair), 600–649 (poor), and below 600 (bad).

Of course, the higher the credit score, the better (lower) interest rate you’ll get for a mortgage, auto loan, etc., which can save you hundreds or even thousands a year in interest payments. So a word of advice to millennials: get a copy of your credit report, and make sure you have a basic understanding of how that score is calculated—so you don’t pay for it in the future.

Image: RyanJLane

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