What Factors Determine Your Credit Rating?

Why is it important to know how your credit score is calculated?

The primary reason to know and understand how your credit rating is calculated is to help you learn what actions to take or avoid in order to keep your rating as high as possible. If your credit rating is low, understanding how the score is calculated can help you determine what problems can and should be corrected to improve your score. Understanding how your score is calculated also helps with your financial planning by allowing you to take in account the effects of any given action on your credit rating.


In the United States, FICO is the leader of the credit-rating industry and each of the “Big Three” credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – use various FICO-developed systems to calculate credit scores. The exact formula used by each of the Big Thee is a closely guarded proprietary secret; however, FICO has provided the public with a basic outline of what factors are taken into consideration and what importance they have in the calculation.

Payment history

The most important factor in calculating your credit score is your payment history. This is the record of your payments to creditors.   Your payment history shows whether or not payments were timely. Defaulting on outstanding debts, missing payments, and making payments late are all part of your payment history. In general, this element constitutes 35% of your credit score, which means that having a bad payment history is the worst thing that can happen to your credit rating. Most notations related to payment history remain on your credit report for seven years, regardless of whether the debt has been paid or settled.

Credit usage ratio

Your credit usage ratio is a comparison of the amount of credit you have immediately available to the amount of credit you have actually used. The more unused credit you have available, the higher the score. This is a somewhat tricky metric because it only takes into account your open credit accounts, so sometimes paying off an account and closing it can hurt this part of your score. Having a lot of open credit accounts, but keeping them paid down, generally boosts this portion of your score. Your credit usage ratio is usually weighted at about 30% of your score.

Length of credit history

The third factor, the length of your credit history, counts for about 15% of your credit score. The purpose of a credit score is to give lenders a clear view of your debt-paying habits, so the longer your credit history, the more information there is for lenders to consider. This is one factor that the consumer cannot really affect in any meaningful way, but it does suggest that it is to your benefit to begin establishing credit as soon as possible. The less history there is, the less value your credit score has to potential lenders.

Types of credit used

The various types of credit a persons uses are also taken into consideration, with diversity of credit being viewed favorably. If you have had only one type of loan, such as a revolving credit card account, this portion of your score will be lower. Having several different types of debt – credit card debt, non-revolving bank loans, a mortgage, a car loan, and so on – will increase this part of the score because it indicates to lenders that you understand how to manage different types of loans. The types of credit you have used constitute about 10% of your score.

Recent credit inquiries

Although credit scores are used for other purposes than applying for new loans, the FICO system generally assumes that recent credit checks mean you are actively applying for credit.  If there are several recent inquiries, it is assumed that you have been trying to borrow from multiple lenders and this is viewed negatively. The more recent inquiries you have, the lower this part of your score. This factor is weighed at roughly 10% of your credit score.

How does this information help you?

By understanding how your credit score is calculated, you can make more prudent financial decisions that can help improve your score. For example, since your credit usage ratio is so important, when you pay off a credit card account, it may be a good idea to keep the account open and not use it, rather than close it.  Likewise, when you’re presented with the choice of applying for an additional loan to keep other obligations current, or missing payments on an existing loan, understanding how the score is calculated can help you make a better decision about the right course to take.

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