Washington D.C. – The seventh annual credit score survey, released today by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and VantageScore Solutions, LLC, suggests that consumer knowledge of credit scores eroded over the past year. For example, the percentage of survey respondents who know that non-credit service providers used credit scores in making available and pricing their services was significantly lower in June 2017 than in April 2016. For cell phone companies this consumer awareness was down from 68 percent to 59 percent, and for electric utilities this awareness was down from 53 percent to 44 percent.
Given that the margin of error for this national survey of 1,000 representative adult Americans is plus or minus three percentage points, these declines are too large to reflect sampling bias. The survey was conducted for the eighth consecutive year by ORC International, which called cell phones and landlines.
At the same time, the percentage of those who said they had obtained at least one credit score in the past year has steadily risen – from 49 percent in 2014, to 51 percent in 2015, to 54 percent in 2016, to 56 percent in 2017. “One would think that increasing access to one’s credit scores would help increase knowledge about these scores,” noted Stephen Brobeck, CFA’s Executive Director. “But that apparently has not been the case, to the detriment of consumers. Low credit scores can cost consumers hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of dollars a year in higher loan and service costs.”
To help consumers better understand credit scores, CFA and VantageScore maintain an interactive credit score quiz website (www.CreditScoreQuiz.org) that allows consumers to test their credit score knowledge by answering 12 questions. The website provides succinct answers to these questions and additional information sources. It also is available in a Spanish translation (https://esp.reasoncode.org/).
“The greater availability of credit scores and credit reports is certainly a net positive for consumers, however the data demonstrates that we collectively have work to do to help consumers understand that credit scores are used by more than just lenders,” said Barrett Burns, president & CEO of VantageScore Solutions. “Credit scores can have an impact on everything from your loan terms to the size of the deposit required to acquire a mobile phone, so it’s critical that consumers take our quiz and become educated.”
The good news from the survey is that a large majority of consumers correctly identified key factors influencing scores – missed loan payments (91%), high credit card balances (86%), and personal bankruptcy (85%) – and also two important ways to raise their credit scores or maintain high scores – making loan payments on time (96%) and keeping credit card balances low (80%).
Other apparent declines in consumer understanding over the past 14 months include consumer awareness that:
- a low credit score on a typical auto loan would increase loan charges by more than $5,000 (down from 25% to 18%),
- credit scores represent the risk of not repaying a loan (down from 43% to 38%),
- individuals have more than one credit score (down from 69% to 64%),
- it is very important to check the accuracy of one’s credit reports at the three main credit bureaus (down from 73% to 68%), and
- credit repair companies are never or only occasionally helpful in improving one’s credit scores (down from 54% to 47%).
Fewer Women than Men Say They Know Much About Credit Scores, But Women Actually Know More Than Men
Only 54 percent of female respondents, compared to 61 percent of male respondents, said they considered their knowledge of credit scores to be good or excellent. Yet, on a wide range of questions, women were more knowledgeable.
- A higher percentage of men than women incorrectly indicated that a person’s age (47% v. 41%), marital status (48% v. 38%), and ethnic origin (17% v. 13%) were among factors used to calculate a credit score.
- A higher percentage of women (66%) than men (59%) correctly identified three actions that help a consumer raise a low credit score or maintain a high one.
- A higher percentage of women (72%) than men (64%) understand the importance of checking the accuracy of one’s credit reports at the three main credit bureaus. That difference may reflect, in part, the fact that a higher percentage of women (67%) than men (63%) said they had ever obtained a free copy of their credit reports.
The largest demographic differences in credit score knowledge, however, reflected income. On many questions the difference in correct responses was well over 10 percentage points. For example, only 55 percent of those with household incomes under $25,000, but 73 percent of those in households with incomes $100,000 and over, correctly identified three ways to raise a low credit score.
“Certainly one reason for the knowledge gap is that low-income consumers have much less experience with credit than do high-income consumers,” noted CFA’s Brobeck. “Yet, understanding credit scores is absolutely essential to lower-income consumers who can ill-afford to pay high loan rates and service fees.”
How Consumers Can Raise Their Credit Scores
In brief, consumers can raise their credit scores or maintain high scores by:
- Consistently making their loan payments on time every month. A late payment may lower one’s credit scores by dozens of points.
- Using a small portion of the credit available on a credit card. In general, the higher the percentage of a credit line that is drawn down, the lower one’s credit scores.
- Paying down credit card debt rather than just shifting it to another credit card or to a home equity loan.
- Regularly checking one’s credit reports to make sure they are error-free. That can be done by contacting annualcreditreport.com or by calling 877-322-8228.
The Consumer Federation of America is an association of more than 250 non-profit consumer groups that, since 1968, has sought to advance the consumer interest through research, education, and advocacy.
VantageScore Solutions, initially developed by America’s three national credit reporting companies (CRCs) – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – is the independently managed company behind the VantageScore credit scoring model.