Behaviors that can hurt your credit score

Credit plays a vital role in helping people realize their personal and financial goals. A good credit score can help people qualify for favorable home loan terms, ultimately paving the way for them to move into their dream homes. Strong credit histories also can help consumers earn perks, and young people who learn to use credit wisely can avoid potentially costly interest charges that tend to hamper many young adults’ financial freedom.

Many consumers struggle with managing credit. According to FICO®, a data analytics company that developed the FICO score that many lenders use to determine consumer credit risk, more than 10 percent of consumers in the United States have credit scores lower than 550. Any score below 550 is considered very poor.

No two consumers are the same, but many struggling to establish good credit histories may engage in certain behaviors that can hurt their credit scores.

• Taking out too many lines of credit: Consumers without much experience managing their finances, such as college students and young adults, often find credit offers hard to resist. Retailers may offer significant discounts at checkout counters to shoppers willing to sign up for store credit cards. Inexperienced consumers may not recognize that such cards often feature inflated interest rates, especially when compared to more consumer-friendly cards. Avoid opening too many credit accounts, as doing so can adversely affect your credit score and make it easy to lose track of spending.

• Letting interest charges pile up: Paying interest on consumer debt like credit cards will not help consumers improve their credit scores, so pay balances off immediately. That’s easier to do if you only have one or two lines of credit that you monitor regularly.

• Using credit for daily purchases: Credit is not cash in your pocket and it isn’t money withdrawn directly from a checking or savings account, which is the case when using a debit card. So it’s easy for consumers to lose track of their daily spending if they’re doing that spending with a credit card. Balances can quickly pile up and, if they can’t be paid off in full when the bill comes due, interest charges will begin to accumulate. This trap can be avoided if consumers commit to using credit only in emergency situations or when purchasing big-ticket items that they know they can pay off when the credit card bill is due.

• Failing to monitor credit score: It’s now easier than ever for consumers to track their credit scores. In fact, many credit card companies provide free monthly updates to card holders, who won’t have to lift a finger to see if their scores have improved or worsened over the last 30 days. Consumers should take advantage of this relatively recent perk so they can see just how their use of credit is affecting their overall scores. They can then use that knowledge to improve their scores going forward.

Certain behaviors can negatively affect consumers’ credit scores. By learning about such behaviors and taking steps to avoid them, consumers can take a big step toward realizing their short- and long-term financial goals.