Having a good credit score can be the key to unlocking life’s riches. That three-digit number can make all the difference when it comes to things like renting your dream apartment, taking out a student loan, or starting your own business.
However, people often neglect their credit score. This is especially true for younger, millennial consumers. Too often, young Americans wait too long to start building credit, and that late start will leave them playing catch-up instead of beach volleyball in Barcelona (something they could have been doing had they built up a good enough credit score to qualify for that credit card with the awesome travel rewards).
But, when it comes to millennials, the largest living generation and a vital consumer demographic, why are some of them not making a stronger effort to build a good credit score? Perhaps they are overwhelmed by the process and too intimidated to get started, or maybe they do not know enough about credit scores to understand just how important it truly is.
By asking them a series of both general and personal questions, LendEDU sought to find out how much millennials know about credit scores. 500 millennials between the ages of 17 and 37 were polled to test their knowledge of credit scores.
The results showed young American consumers have an intermediate understanding of that all-important three-digit number.
Observations & Analysis
Millennial’s Credit Health Is Average at Best
According to LendEDU’s poll, 79.36 percent of millennials have checked their credit score, while the remaining 20.64 percent have never checked their score.
In terms of those who have checked their credit score, 47.47 percent of them have checked it within the last 30 days. Meanwhile, 22.98 percent have checked their credit score within the last 90 days, while 19.95 percent have checked within the last year. Finally, 9.60 percent of millennials have not checked their credit score in over a year.
Your credit score can change on a monthly basis, so not checking it over an extended period of time can lead to an unpleasant surprise that will put you in a financial bind.
When it came to the actual credit scores of millennials, most fell into the “poor” or “fair” range. The simple majority of millennials, 29.55 percent, had a FICO credit score within the range of 580 to 669, which is classified as “fair.”
28.03 percent of respondents had a FICO credit score between 300 to 579, otherwise known as “very poor.” 22.47 percent of millennials had a “good” FICO credit score, which is any number between 670 and 739. Furthermore, 14.90 percent of millennial respondents had a credit score within the range of 740 to 799, or “very good.” Finally, only 5.05 percent had an “excellent” FICO credit score, which is a three-digit number between 800 and 850.
It is more reasonable to expect younger millennials between the ages of 17 and 23 to have lower credit scores, as they have just begun to build their own credit history. However, this poll included millennials up to the age of 37, which should have resulted in more “good,” “very good,” and “excellent” credit scores.
We also asked millennials if they knew how to best describe their credit score using the FICO credit score range descriptions. As you can see from the chart above, the respondents were fairly accurate in describing their credit score range compared to what their actual credit score is. The biggest discrepancy was seen at the low end of the credit score spectrum; more millennials actually had “poor” credit scores than those who described their credit scores as “poor.”
Many Millennials Lack Basic Knowledge of Credit Scores
LendEDU’s poll of millennials found that the generation could use some more schooling in terms of basic information regarding credit scores. Albeit a very small percentage, we found that 4.81 percent of millennials would rather have a low credit score than a high credit score! Do these folks know something the rest of us do not?
We asked the respondents the following question: “Which of the following best describes the true meaning of a credit score?” Nearly three-quarters, 74.35 percent, were able to identify the correct answer as “The number which indicates your calculated credit risk.” 10.42 percent of millennials believed a credit score was the number assigned to them at birth which gives them priority from financial institutions. 10.22 percent of respondents thought it was “an official government system which is used to score the fairness of banks.” An additional 5.01 percent thought a credit score was a number to track their position on the credit card waiting list.
A little more than half of millennial respondents, 50.10 percent, could identify the correct range of FICO credit scores, which varies from 300 to 850. Meanwhile, a little less than 50 percent of poll participants could not answer with the correct FICO credit score range.
When it came to knowing how many digits are in a FICO credit score, 74.15 percent of millennials knew that FICO credit scores consist of three digits. A combined 6.21 percent believed a FICO credit score was either one, two, or four digits, while 19.64 percent answered “It depends on how much your income is.”
In the U.S., there are three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. When we asked millennials if they could identify the three major credit bureaus, 60.92 percent were able to do that by correctly picking “Federal Reserve” as the institution that was not a credit bureau. That means that 39.08% of respondents believed the Federal Reserve was one of the major credit bureaus instead of either TransUnion, Equifax, or Experian.
LendEDU also wanted to find out if millennials knew the difference between a hard credit inquiry and a soft credit inquiry. The main difference being that soft credit inquiries do not affect your credit score, while hard credit pulls can slightly lower your credit score. Soft credit inquiries typically occur during a background check or a pre-approval process. Hard credit inquiries take place when a lender must make a lending decision.
Our poll found that 56.71 percent of millennial respondents understood that soft credit pulls have no impact to your credit score, while hard credit inquiries do. 9.62 percent thought it was the opposite of the correct answer, while 33.67 percent believed there was no difference and that both inquiries have equal impacts.
Millennials Could Afford to Learn More About How Credit Scores Are Calculated
Only through having a thorough understanding of how credit scores are calculated will consumers be able to successfully build up their scores. Our poll found that many millennials lack the knowledge necessary to build a good credit score.
First and foremost, we asked the following question to 500 millennials: “Which of the following will improve your credit score?” The simple majority of respondents, 43.69 percent, incorrectly believed that by increasing their credit utilization they could improve their credit score. Even if you pay your monthly credit card balance, having a high credit utilization rate will make you a risky proposition to lenders, and your credit score will drop.
Another 36.27 percent believed the answer to improving their credit score was by “maxing out, but paying a credit card on time.” Similar to intentionally increasing your credit utilization, do not do this! One can only hope that the nearly 80 percent of millennials that gave the two aforementioned answers are not actively practicing those two behaviors in an attempt to increase their credit scores.
Only 17.23 percent gave the correct answer of “decreasing your credit utilization.” Keeping your credit card balances low will keep your credit utilization low, which will improve your FICO credit score.
Millennials were slightly confused when it came to what factors are included in calculating one’s credit score. 8.42 percent of poll participants believe race is included in calculating a credit score, while another 8.22 percent say gender factors into a credit score. Another 8.82 percent of millennials think that their political affiliation counts toward their credit score. None of these personal traits are included in formulating a consumer’s credit score.
Meanwhile, 72.14 percent of millennial respondents were able to correctly state that age of credit history is used in the calculation to determine credit score. Unlike the aforementioned attributes, age of credit history does count towards your credit score; as your credit history grows older, your credit score will rise with it.
When asked if you need to carryover debt month-to-month in order to have a good credit score, 27.66 percent of respondents wrongly answered, “Yes, carrying debt is necessary for a good credit score.” Carrying debt is NOT necessary to develop and maintain a good credit score. Yes, taking on debt can be effective if you want to build good credit quick, but you can also build good credit by keeping a low credit utilization and paying off your balances in full each month.
Finally, our last question asked the following: “Can you improve your credit score by removing incorrect and negative information from your credit report?” 76.95 percent of poll participants, the absolute majority, answered correctly by saying “Yes, it is possible to improve your credit score by removing incorrect and negative information.” The three major credit bureaus all have a dispute process in place that enables you to report any mistakes you find on your credit report. As a consumer, you also have the ability to ask the creditor to remove negative information from your report.
Full Millennials & Credit Scores Survey
1. Which of the following best describes the true meaning of a credit score?
- 74.35% correctly answered “the number which indicates your calculated credit risk.”
- 10.42% answered “the number assigned to you at birth which gives you priority from financial institutions.”
- 10.22% answered “an official government system which is used to score the fairness of banks.”
- 5.01% answered “the number used to track your position on the waiting list for a credit card.”
2. Would you rather have a high credit score or a low credit score?
- 95.19% correctly answered “I would rather have a high credit score.”
- 4.81% answered “I would rather have a low credit score.”
3. Do you know the range of possible FICO credit scores?
- 50.10% correctly answered “300 to 850.”
- 29.66% answered “200 to 750.”
- 13.23% answered “100 to 1000.”
- 7.01% answered “0 to 100.”
4. Have you ever checked your credit score?
- 79.36% answered “Yes, I have checked it.”
- 20.64% answered “No, I have never checked it.”
5. (Asked only to those who have checked their credit score) When is the last time you checked your credit score?
- 47.47% answered “within the last 30 days.”
- 22.98% answered “within the last 90 days.”
- 19.95% answered “within the last year.”
- 9.60% answered “I have not checked my credit score in over a year.”
6. (Asked only to those who have checked their credit score) Which of the following best describes your credit score?
- 31.82% answered “fair.”
- 26.52% answered “good.”
- 22.22% answered “poor.”
- 14.39% answered “very good.”
- 5.05% answered “exceptional.”
7. (Asked only to those who have checked their credit score) What is your current FICO credit score?
- 29.55% answered “within 580 to 669.”
- 28.03% answered “within 300 to 579.”
- 22.47% answered “within 670 to 739.”
- 14.90% answered “within 740 to 799.”
- 5.05% answered “within 800 to 850.”
8. Do you believe race is used in the calculation to determine credit score?”
- 91.58% correctly answered “no, race is not a component used to calculate credit score.”
- 8.42% answered “yes, race is a component used to calculate credit score.”
9. Do you believe gender is used in the calculation to determine credit score?
- 91.78% correctly answered “no, gender is not a component used to calculate credit score.”
- 8.22% answered “yes, gender is a component used to calculate credit score.”
10. Do you believe age of credit history is used in the calculation to determine credit score?
- 72.14% correctly answered “yes, age of credit history is a component used to calculate credit score.”
- 27.86% answered “no, age of credit history is not a component used to calculate credit score.”
11. Do you believe your registered political affiliation is used in the calculation to determine credit score?
- 91.18% correctly answered “no, registered political affiliation is not a component used to calculate credit score.”
- 8.82% answered “yes, registered political affiliation is a component used to calculate credit score.”
12. Do you need to carryover debt month-to-month to have a good credit score?
- 72.34% correctly answered “no, carrying debt is not necessary for a good credit score.”
- 27.66% answered “yes, carrying debt is necessary for a good credit score.”
13. Which of the following will improve your credit score?
- 17.23% correctly answered “by decreasing your credit utilization.”
- 43.69% answered “by increasing your credit utilization.”
- 36.27% answered “by maxing out, but paying a credit card on time.”
- 2.81% answered “by asking the bureau to consider an increase request.”
14. Do you know the difference between a hard credit inquiry and a soft credit inquiry?
- 56.71% correctly answered “a hard credit inquiry will hurt your credit score, and a soft credit inquiry will not have an impact.”
- 33.67% answered “no difference. Both hard and soft inquiries have equal impacts on your credit score.”
- 9.62% answered “a soft credit inquiry will hurt your credit score, and a hard credit inquiry will not have an impact.”
15. In 2017, a FICO credit score has how many digits?
- 74.15% correctly answered “three.”
- 19.64% answered “it depends on how much your income is.”
- 3.21% answered “four.”
- 2.00% answered “two.”
- 1.00% answered “one.”
16. In the U.S., which of these is not one of the three major credit bureaus?
- 60.92% correctly answered “Federal Reserve.”
- 14.03% answered “Experian.”
- 13.03% answered “TransUnion.”
- 12.02% answered “Equifax.”
17. Can you improve your credit score by removing incorrect and negative information from your credit report?
- 76.95% correctly answered “yes, it is possible to improve your credit score by removing incorrect and negative information.”
- 12.02% answered “no, the credit bureaus are unwilling to consider false information requests.”
- 11.02% answered “no, by removing incorrect and negative information you may in fact cause more long term damage.”
All results from this study came from a poll commissioned by LendEDU that was conducted online by polling company Pollfish. The poll ran over a two day span from July 27, 2017 to July 28, 2017. In total, 500 respondents participated in the poll. Using Pollfish’s age filtering feature, we only gathered responses from participants that were between the ages of 17 and 37, otherwise the age demographic known as “millennials.” Respondents were asked to answer all questions truthfully.