CNBC Select may receive an affiliate commission when you click on the links for products from our partners. Click here to read our full advertiser disclosure.
CNBC Select

Many consumers don't understand these 5 basic credit score concepts, survey says

CNBC Select takes a look at the surprising data released from the Consumer Federation of America and VantageScore Solutions' 10th annual survey on consumer understanding of credit scores.

Getty Images

On Monday, the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and VantageScore Solutions, LLC, released their 10th annual consumer credit survey.

As a highlight of the study, low-income households were revealed to be most likely to apply for credit in the next 12 months amid the recession and a global pandemic, yet consumers with lower incomes tend to know the least about credit scores.

The phone survey, which included 1,001 participants sampled from June 16-21, 2020, divided results between households with incomes below $25,000 and those with incomes of at least $75,000.

While consumers with low income consumers had the least understanding of credit scores, a large number of all consumers illustrated that they also couldn't answer some of the most basic credit concepts.

To help you see how your knowledge of credit stacks up against those surveyed by CFA and VantageScore Solutions, we took a look at five credit concepts that a vast number of people don't know.

1. Low credit scores can cost car buyers thousands more

According to the CFA and VantageScore Solutions survey, only 22% of consumers reported knowing that a low credit score borrower, when compared to a high credit score borrower, would likely pay over $5,000 in interest on a $20,000, 60-month car loan. With a low credit score, you are likely to only qualify for subprime auto loans whose annual interest rates often exceed 20%, the study says.

This is why a good credit score matters. Not only will your interest on credit cards be less than those with worse-off credit, but so will the interest you pay on loans. Having healthy credit can earn you a lower interest rate on new loans and make it easier to qualify for financial milestones in life, like a first apartment or a new car.

2. Your credit score actually measures your risk of not paying

Only 33% of those surveyed said that they know a credit score measures the borrower's risk of not repaying a loan, while 14% thought it measures the borrower's knowledge or attitude toward consumer credit.

You could have a good attitude about credit, but still have a bad credit score. The point is that your score illustrates to lenders how you would use the credit they extend to you. If you're just beginning your credit journey, know that you need credit to build credit. In this case, consider applying to one of CNBC Select's picks for the top credit cards for building your credit, such as the Petal® Visa® Credit Card, the Capital One® Secured and the Capital One® Platinum Credit Card.

Once you start using your credit card, lenders and card issuers like to see that you can use credit responsibly, which means using less than 30% (at most) of your available credit and paying your monthly bills on time and in full.

3. Credit repair companies charge for services you can sometimes do yourself

Before you sign up for a credit repair service advertised to you, know what it will cost.

While over two-fifths (42%) of consumers surveyed may be right that credit repair companies are usually helpful in correcting any credit report errors or helping to improve one's credit score, these companies tend to charge relatively high fees to do what you could do on your own for free.

With 25% of Americans experiencing an error on their credit report, know that you can submit a dispute with the three credit bureaus online, by mail or by phone. We recommend disputing online or by mail so you have proof of your dispute.

4. Your age has nothing to do with your credit score, except for how long you've been borrowing credit

Nearly half (48%) of the survey respondents reported thinking that age is a factor used to calculate a credit score. The truth is that your age doesn't matter in calculating your credit score, only your use of credit matters.

In fact, the five components that make up your credit score include your payment history, amounts owed (utilization rate), length of credit history, new credit (how often you apply for and open new accounts) and credit mix (the variety of credit products you have).

To get a full view of your financial picture, you can pull your credit report for free on a weekly basis from each of the three major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — by going to AnnualCreditReport.com.

5. Utility companies can check your credit score

Your credit score is a good picture of how likely you are to pay your bills on time, but the survey found that only 50% of consumers know that an electric company can use credit scores to determine the amount of deposit you make.

This is another scenario where having healthy credit helps., but also know that paying your monthly utility bills on time can help your credit score, too. Through Experian Boost, you can connect your bank account for free so that your utility bill payments are added to your Experian credit file and you receive an updated FICO score delivered to you in real time.

To check your credit score for free, you can also use services like CreditWise from Capital One, Chase Credit Journey and Discover Credit Scorecard (whether or not you are a cardholder).

Bottom line

Unless you have a perfect credit score, there is always room for improvement. The good news is that you don't have do jump through loopholes to get there and having an understanding of the basic credit score concepts can literally save you money in the long run. If you spend the time learning about credit early on, you won't need to spend more on high interest rates and larger down payments in the future.

To test your knowledge of credit scores, take the online credit score quiz that the CFA and VantageScore developed together at CreditScoreQuiz.org.

Information about the Capital One® Secured, and Capital One® Platinum Credit Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

Petal Card issued by WebBank, Member FDIC.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the CNBC Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.