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Where Credit Scores Are Rising Despite Covid-19
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Credit score growth or decline is one indicator of how consumers are handling their finances. With Americans experiencing the worst unemployment figures since the Great Depression, it is no surprise that many Americans expect their financial situation to deteriorate. However, it appears that some Americans are still managing to pay their bills on time and are maintaining or improving their credit scores.
This could be attributed to the coronavirus relief package from the United States government that led to an increase in income for some Americans, despite their unemployment status.
To discover which of the 100 largest metro regions saw the largest increase in credit scores between February and April of 2020, LendingTree compared credit scores from more than 150,000 consumers.
- Spokane, Wash., took the top spot for metro areas with the largest increase in credit scores, with an average credit score increase of 8.4 points, from 675.5 to 683.8, between February and April.
- In second is Rochester, N.Y. Credit scores here are up 7 points over the time period analyzed, from 673.3 on average to 680.4.
- El Paso, Texas, comes in third. Our data shows average credit scores increased by 6.6 points from 657.2 to 663.8.
- At the bottom are cities which saw a modest increase. Harrisburg, Pa. credit scores increased from 671.3 to 672.5, an increase of just 1.2 points.
- San Jose, Calif., residents improved their credit scores by 1.3 points from 707.3 to 708.6. Interestingly, credit scores in March for this California city were higher than credit scores in April, suggesting the economic downturn might be starting to have an effect. Additionally, San Jose residents had the highest overall credit scores in February, March, and April.
- Lakeland, Fla., takes the third-to-last spot in our metro ranking. Credit scores here increased 1.8 points from 664 to 665.8.
- While every city had a higher April credit score than February credit scores, 13 cities saw a drop between March and April. Other than San Jose, Calif. mentioned above, Charleston, S.C. (ranked fourth) had a credit score difference of 0.2 point higher in March than in April.
- California cities dominated the lower ranks with six cities in the bottom 20. Though this was not a universal pattern, Stockton, Calif. saw growth of 5.9 points and San Francisco residents grew their scores by 5.3 points.
- Even with fairly large swings in credit scores, the five metro areas with the highest credit scores in February 2020 remained in the top five spots in April 2020. The same is true for the five bottom metro areas.
- Despite the increase in credit scores, 30 cities still land in the “fair” or average credit score range of 580 to 669. Residents in those cities may have a difficult time gaining access to credit cards offering the most competitive terms. The rest of the cities fell into the “good” credit band (670 to 739), with three cities (Madison, Wis.; San Francisco and San Jose, Calif.) cracking the 700 mark.
What are the five factors that play into a credit score?
The average FICO Score in the U.S. is 703, which is considered a “good” score. For those looking to improve their scores, they should be aiming for a minimum score of 740 to be considered as having an “very good” score, or even 800 to fall into the “exceptional” range. Understanding what makes up your credit score is a great first step to improving your credit score.
For many, what factors impact their credit scores remains somewhat mysterious. For example, more than 60% of Americans report not knowing that the most important factor for determining a credit score is payment history. Payment history is one of the five factors that affect your credit score. For a FICO® Score, which is the score utilized in more than 90% of lending decisions (according to the FICO website), these five factors are:
- Payment history: Payment history is the leading factor that determines your credit score and accounts for 35% of the overall score. This includes if you’ve made payments on time, and specifics relating to late payments, such as how many times you’ve made late payments and how late the payments were.
- Amounts owed: In second place is your credit utilization, which accounts for 30% of your credit score. This factor weighs the percentage of credit used versus available credit lines across individuals as well as all accounts. To know what your credit utilization is, divide the balance on a credit card or other revolving credit line by the credit limit. For example, if you have a credit card with a $2,500 credit limit with a $500 balance, your credit utilization ratio is 20%. If you have multiple lines of credit, then add all the balances together and divide them by the total credit limits. Financial experts recommend keeping credit utilization well below 30% for an optimum credit score.
- Length of credit history: How long you’ve been using credit determines your credit history, which represents 15% of your overall credit score. The age of your oldest account and the average age of all of your credit accounts are considered. Whenever you open a new credit account, that lowers the overall average age of your credit history. It can be beneficial to keep your oldest account open in order to counteract the effects of opening new accounts.
- New credit: How much new credit you apply for and open accounts for 10% of your credit score. Whenever a consumer applies for a new credit product, that inquiry will appear on their credit report whether they are approved or denied access to that credit. Lenders don’t like to see too many credit inquiries or new accounts being opened as they may feel that makes the consumer a risk. Only inquiries from the past 12 months will affect your FICO® Score. When shopping for credit, prequalification can help you compare offers before making an actual inquiry that will affect your credit history.
- Credit mix: Different types of credit accounts make up 10% of your overall credit score. These types of credit can include certain loans, such as a car loan or mortgage, credit cards such as travel credit cards or retail accounts. Having multiple types of credit is appealing to lenders as it illustrates you can responsibly manage a variety of credit products.
How to increase your credit score
Alongside the efforts you can take to improve individual aspects of your credit score, such as making payments on time, keeping low balances, having a mix of credit, and having a long credit history, you can help ensure your credit health by taking a few simple steps.
Increase your credit limits
One way to increase your credit score if you tend to revolve balances from month to month is to increase your credit limit. This will help lower your credit utilization rate. If you’ve been a long-standing customer with a solid credit history and who pays on time, the odds of your request being granted are good. Calling or emailing your issuer to make this request won’t take long, but can be rewarding if they say yes.
Pay down debt
Keeping balances under control on your credit products will help lower your credit utilization percentage. Ideally, you should pay off your credit cards in full each month, but if you’re struggling with debt on a high interest credit card, transferring the balance to a balance transfer credit card with a 0% APR introductory offer can help you pay down debt quicker by paying less interest for a specified period of time.
Review your credit report
Typically, you can request a free credit report from My LendingTree or the three main credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian or TransUnion) once a year through annualcreditreport.com. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, you can now check your credit report weekly for free until April 2021. This will allow you to catch any errors reported by providers. Mistakes do happen and can damage your credit score, so it’s worth checking for errors and disputing any you find.
In order to rank the metros with the largest increase in credit scores, we first grabbed a list of the 100 largest metro areas by population. We compared average credit scores in February 2020 to April 2020 and ranked by the difference. Credit scores were averaged across a sample of more than 150,000 anonymized users on the My LendingTree platform.