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A study released today says the more we check, the more we know what makes up our score.

As the economy improves, Americans’ credit card debt is increasing — but so is our knowledge of credit scores.

More than half of Americans have checked their credit score in the past year. That’s up 8 percentage points from four years ago, reports a study released today by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and credit scoring company VantageScore.

The U.S. economy has added 223,000 jobs last month, which a healthy economy should add 150,000 jobs each month, according to personal finance site the balance. That hasn’t stopped credit card debt in the U.S. increasing from $881.57 billion in 2014 to $1 trillion today.

“The rising percentage of consumers who have obtained their credit scores is encouraging because those who have accessed their scores know much more than those who have not,” says CFA executive Steve Brobeck. “It is also encouraging that those who plan to borrow are more likely to have obtained their credit scores and know more about scores than non-borrowers.”

Those who are in debt know more than those who aren’t

Seventy percent of those who plan to take out a loan in the next year have checked their credit score in the past 12 months, compared to 57 percent with no plans of taking out a loan. And those who plan to take out a loan score 5-10 percentage points higher. To help Americans better understand their credit score, VantageScore and the consumer advocacy group put together a free credit score quiz.

Sixty-eight percent of those who have checked their credit score in the past year say their knowledge of credit scores is excellent, compared to 48 percent of those who haven’t checked theirs.

What makes up your credit score?

Your credit score is determined by five key factors. Here’s how your FICO credit score, another to VantageScore, is determined. However, it should be noted that FICO is used in over 90 percent of lending decisions. While Vantage Score determines a credit score, it’s not used in the majority of lending decisions, according to a FICO spokesperson.

1. Payment history: Have you paid your bills as agreed? If you haven’t, how severely have you missed payments and how recently has that occurred? This is the biggest driver of the borrower’s FICO score. It makes up about 35 percent of the FICO score calculation.

2. Amounts owed: How much debt do you owe? It looks at credit cards and other revolving debts separately from student loans, mortgages and all other loans. Also, the utilization ratio, which is the percentage of available credit you’re using. How maxed out are you on your credit card? Higher levels of debt, higher utilization ratios, correspond to higher risks and therefore are generally lower FICO scores. This is the second-highest percentage and makes up 30 percent of your score.

3. Length of credit history: The length of experience the consumer has managing credit. Someone with 20-something years of experience managing credit and paying their bills is going to be rewarded compared to someone who has just recently started using credit. This makes up 15 percent of the FICO score calculation.

4. New credit: How often do you apply for credit? Applying more frequently for credit associates you with higher risks. Makes up 10 percent of a FICO score.

5. Credit mix: Whether you’re managing credit across a variety of different credit products successfully. Managing both loan-type debts as well as credit card debts. The last 10 percent of the score.

VantageScore also lists its factors online, but doesn’t give percentages.

How well do Americans know what makes up their score?

Americans can correctly identify three of those factors, but there are a few others we incorrectly assume affect our credit scores. Here are the factors we know will pull our score down…

  • Missed payments: 86 percent
  • High credit card balances: 81 percent
  • Personal bankruptcy: 79 percent
  • Make loan payments on time: 89 percent
  • Keep credit card balances under 25 percent of their limit: 72 percent
  • Don’t open several credit card accounts at the same time:  66 percent

But many people wrongly believe these things affect your score, when they don’t…

  • Age: 41 percent
  • Marital status: 38 percent
  • Taxes owed: 64 percent
  • Medical debt that is six months old: 62 percent
  • Civil judgments from lawsuits over debt collections: 63 percent

It should be noted that a judgment from a lawsuit over an old debt will show on your credit report as a public record from the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). But just having it on your report doesn’t mean it affects your score.

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Joe Pye

Joe Pye

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Pye is the associate editor of


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