Credit Scores? We Don’t Need No Stinking Credit Scores!

My roommate has been bugging me about his credit score and credit scores in general for the past few days because he’s trying to get a new credit card and has been denied by both Bank of America and American Express in turn.

Now that helping people juice their FICO scores has become a cottage industry of its own, with commentators aplenty analogizing your credit report to the report card you’d get in High School and those stupid advertisements, I feel like I have to put my foot down. Your credit score isn’t that important. It’s not the holy grail of personal finance. A bad score isn’t even really much of an albatross around your neck unless you’re trying to borrow money.

Most of the things it measures are important, like how much outstanding debt you’re carrying, but there’s nothing magical about the actual number.

As it turned out, my roommate’s credit report still reflected $700 of debt on two cancelled credit cards that he’d paid off just the day before. He had no other credit cards, and it looked like he had $700 of debt, of course his credit score was bad. As soon as that debt comes off his credit report, which shouldn’t take very long, he’ll be fine and perfectly able to get a credit card. If he’d waited a couple days before applying for the card, his darned FICO score never would’ve come up, and I would’ve been saved many a trying conversation with him on my balcony, where we go to smoke and complain bitterly (and impotently) about the general unfairness of the universe.

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All of which is to say, it’s not your stupid credit score that matters, it’s the stuff it mainly measures, like outstanding, unpaid debts. Worry about those things instead of trying to use gimmicks to boost your FICO score. Your credit score is just a measurement of your creditworthiness—if you can’t figure that out on your own and need to contact one of the three credit rating agencies so it can give you a number that encapsulates your situation, I’d say that’s your real problem.

But if my roommate still can’t get a credit card after his credit report shows he’s paid off that $700 debt, I will of course eat my hat, retract all previous statements, and apologize to anyone whose feelings may have been hurt by this post…and someday I’ll win the lottery too.

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