Ben Tobin, USA TODAY Published 12:01 a.m. ET July 2, 2018 | Updated 11:51 a.m. ET July 2, 2018
Survey: 43M Americans mistakenly think carrying credit-card balance improves credit scores
Carrying a balance to help improve your credit score? You’re not alone.
But you might want to rethink the strategy.
More than 1 in 5 credit-card users, or 43 million Americans, carry a balance – or pay the minimum to credit-card companies, thus always owing them money – to help improve their credit scores, according to a new report from CreditCards.com. But carrying a balance is not one of the factors that go into creating a FICO credit score.
Payment history, amounts owed, length of credit history, credit mix and new credit are the only facets rating companies consider when determining credit scores. And though many experts previously have reported this, Creditcards.com senior industry analyst Matt Schultz says the “myth” of the utility of carrying a balance still persists.
“This myth has been out there for a long time, and lots of people have debunked it,” Schultz said. “But it definitely seems like it’s one of the cockroaches of personal finance myths. It can’t seem to be killed.”
***Millennials are most likely to carry a balance due to a “function of inexperience and lack of financial education over the course of their lives,” Schultz said.
The study also found that 27 percent of cardholders without a college degree have done this, versus 12 percent with a college education. And 30 percent of credit-card users making less than $50,000 a year have wrongly sought to improve their credit scores by carrying a balance, compared to 19 percent of those earning more than $50,000.***
***“If you’re looking to raise your credit score, ask your credit-card company to increase your credit limit … your credit utilization is a big part of your credit score," Rae said. “If you raise it, you’re only utilizing a small amount of your credit."
About 42 percent of those surveyed confessed to paying a credit-card bill late. From that group, 71 percent said they paid late because they either forgot, were busy and/or were traveling.
Paying the bill one or two days late won’t hurt Americans’ credit scores, according to Schultz. However, being significantly late will.
“If you’re significantly late, it can really, really damage your credit score,” Schultz said****
Rather than carrying a balance, credit-card holders should focus on paying down their debt and lowering their credit utilization, says David Rae, a Los Angeles-based certified financial planner.