Or, Establish Credit - NOW!
After the juggernauts of payment history and debt/limit ratio, the next-largest factor in your credit score is length of credit history. The maximum length of credit history that appears on your credit report is 7 years or 84 months (looking at my most recent credit report from Equifax, it appears that their history only goes back to a maximum of 81 months -- close enough).
My own credit history is creeping up into the 7-year range (earliest account opening was in March of 2000), so it has not yet hit the maximum. Therefore, this is something that still holds down my credit score a bit. When I look at my credit score (which I will cover soon), I can see the "primary reasons" for my score (i.e. "why is my score lower than the maximum?"), and one of the two reasons is this:
The length of time your revolving/charge accounts have been established is too short.So this is one of the reasons that my credit score is currently in the 770 range (the December update had it at 766 instead of 772) instead of the 830-850 range.
This factor is based on the age of the revolving/charge accounts on your credit bureau report (the age of your oldest revolving/charge account, the average age of your revolving/charge accounts, or both). Research shows that consumers with longer credit histories have better repayment risk than those with shorter credit histories. Also, consumers who frequently open new accounts have greater repayment risk than those who do not.
The only cure for this is time. There is no way to jack up this component of your credit score, other than to wait it out. In March, my first-opened account (opened when I was 19) will hit the 7-year mark. In September, the next oldest one will hit 7 years. After that, it will be another few years before my next oldest accounts will hit 7 years. There is nothing I can do about this except wait and keep those accounts open.
I read a lot of articles and blog postings by twenty-somethings who state proudly that they have graduated from college and have no credit cards. While this is good in many ways, it is bad for your credit score to have no credit history. If you take the effective range of credit scores to be 500 (from 350 to 850), and accept the claimed 15% weighting for this component, that means that this can affect your credit score by up to 75 points. That is more than enough to make the difference for many people to be approved for a loan or not; to get a lower rate mortgage or not; to move into a new apartment or not.
The "take-home message" from this is: if you don't have credit, get some NOW. You can't retroactively build a credit history when you need it. If you are young and currently have no credit, you are doing yourself a disservice. If you are older and have never had a credit card or other revolving credit account, you are doing yourself a disservice.
Of course, I am NOT suggesting that you throw yourself willy-nilly into a bunch of debt! I did not carry a balance on any of my credit cards for several years. I would charge maybe $50 a month to them each month and pay off that amount each month. Maxing out a credit card can be useful for other reasons (e.g. if you want a credit line increase to help out your debt/limit ratio), but it is not recommended that you do so without a plan and the financial wherewithal to pull it off without piling up a lot of interest. In my next post I will discuss a technique for young people to use to help them establish their credit history.