Consumers Still Misunderstand What Impacts Credit Score

Think of the amount of times you've heard these lines from customers looking to buy a vehicle but they have soft credit histories. "But I've made my rent payments every month. Same with my Verizon contract. Why is my credit still bad?"

A recent TransUnion survey showed consumers still are largely confused about what affects their credit score and what is included in their credit report. In fact, nearly half of all consumers falsely identified rental (45 percent) and cell phone (47 percent) payments as those that directly affect their score.

While consumers who frequently review their credit report incorrectly identify some aspects of it, TransUnion discovered consumers who rarely or never review their credit report have an even higher level of confusion.

Among survey respondents who reported checking their report in the last 30 days, half mistakenly believe their full employment history (55 percent) and income level (41 percent) are included in their reports.

"Our survey found that there is significant confusion about what types of payments and other information are included in credit scores and reports," TransUnion senior vice president Ken Chaplin said.

"As credit reports have a significant influence on consumer credit and lending options, it's important to debunk the credit myths so consumers can have a clear understanding of what affects their score," Chaplin continued.

Surprisingly, TransUnion noticed even consumers who characterize their credit as "excellent" or "good" had trouble identifying credit report factors.

Among those who characterized their credit as "excellent," 49 percent mistakenly thought rental payments are included in their report, yet currently they are not regularly reported to credit bureaus in the same way that auto and mortgage payments are reported.

According to the survey findings, there are several noteworthy points of confusion about what affects a credit score and what information is included in credit reports, as follows:

- Pay raises: Nearly half (48 percent) of respondents who've checked their credit report in the last year incorrectly believed an increase in income improves their score.

- Credit inquiries: 40 percent of respondents who've never checked their report are unsure how it affects their score, and 20 percent who checked their report in the last year mistakenly believed checking their report would decrease their score.

- Paying down debts: 61 percent of those who checked their report in the last 30 days erroneously believed paying off debts from late payments automatically increases their score.

- Trended information: 70 percent of those who've checked their report in the last year incorrectly assumed that it reflected recent changes or trends in their finances over time.

To help consumers better understand their credit score and report, TransUnion is helping to debunk the following six myths:

Myth No 1: Your score drops if you check your own credit.

Fact: Viewing your credit report counts only as a "soft inquiry" and doesn't change the score. "Hard inquiries" by a finance company or creditor, though, can slightly lower your credit score.

Myth No. 2: I should close old or inactive accounts to help my credit score.

Fact: This might actually have the reverse effect of lowering your credit score because it can shorten the measured duration of your credit history.

Myth No. 3: Paying off a negative record means it's taken off your credit report.

Fact: Generally, negative records like collections or late payments will remain on a credit reports for up to seven years.

Myth No. 4: Co-signing doesn't mean you're responsible for the account.

Fact: If you open a joint account or co-sign a loan, that borrower will be held legally responsible for the account, meaning activity on the joint account as well is displayed on the credit reports of both account holders' reports.

Myth No. 5: Making on-time rental, utility and cell phone payments helps my credit score.

Fact: While outstanding rental, utility and cell phone debt that has gone to collections can negatively affect scores, generally, on-time payments are not regularly reported to credit bureaus.

Myth No. 6: My credit score reflects recent changes or trends in my payment behavior.

Fact: Historically, credit scores have not incorporated trended credit information, meaning they are a moment-in-time glimpse at consumer risk.

However, TransUnion recently launched CreditVision, a new scoring model that incorporates an expanded view of payment data and up to 30 months of history on each loan amount.

"Credit scores play a significant role in determining credit terms and rates, so we encourage all consumers to take an active role in understanding their credit" Chaplin said.

"An easy way to maintain a vigilant eye on credit is to subscribe to a credit monitoring service like TransUnion's, which can help consumers regularly check their score and get instant alerts about any potential fraud," he went on to say.

For more information about TransUnion's credit monitoring service, visit www.transunion.com/personal-credit/credit-management/credit-monitoring.page.