Americans know more about credit than they did last year, but they’ve still got a lot to learn. The results of a survey released by the Consumer Federation of America revealed a jump in consumer knowledge about which companies collect credit information and how to check it, but a continued lack of knowledge about how costly low scores can be.
"In the numerous consumer knowledge surveys we have undertaken over the past several decades, I have never seen such improvement from one year to the next," said Stephen Brobeck, CFA's executive director. "However, credit reports and scores are so important to consumers that they should try to improve knowledge that remains deficient in several key areas," he added.
A large majority of respondents knew who uses credit scores and that missed payments, personal bankruptcy and high credit card balances influence scores. They were also aware that they have more than one generic score and that making payments on time or not on time can raise or lower your score.
But very few people who took the survey knew when a person’s credit score can be harmed by multiple inquiries when getting a loan. Only 9% correctly know that multiple inquiries during a one- to two-week window will not lower FICO scores or VantageScore credit scores. But 34% incorrectly believe that each inquiry lowers one's scores.
Few also understood what does and does not affect the score. More than half still incorrectly believed that a person’s age (56%) and marital status (54%) are factors used to calculate scores while 21% incorrectly believed that ethnic origin was a factor. Fewer than half (44%) understood that a credit score typically measures risk of repaying loans rather than measuring a person's amount of debt (22%), financial resources (21%) or other factors.
While the industry is working on cleaning up its own act, it would be wise for them to start educating their consumers as well. Bad credit scores negatively impact the economy as a whole, and the lack of knowledge on what creates them is alarming.
To test your knowledge of credit, and to get an idea of the questions asked, click here.