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Keep an eye on these 3 things to help protect your credit score

Sometimes your credit score decreases as a result of what someone else did, not an action that you took like missing a credit card payment. CNBC Select outlines three of these scenarios.

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There are a number of ways that you could cause your credit score to drop, such as missing a credit card payment or closing your oldest card.

But sometimes your credit score decreases as a result of what someone else did. While it's important to be aware of how your actions can affect your credit score, it's also helpful to know what other external things have an impact as well.

Below, CNBC Select outlines three of these scenarios that you should be on the lookout for.

1. If your credit limit drops

Your issuer can lower your credit limit just as quickly as they raise it, and they can do so at any time without notice.

Card issuers lower your limit for multiple reasons: You may have a history of missed or late payments, or perhaps you are spending too much (or too little) on your credit card. They might lower your limit for reasons beyond your control as well. When there's an economic downturn, banks sometimes decrease credit lines to avoid any losses from cardholders defaulting.

Having a lower credit limit can impact your credit utilization rate, which can then impact your credit score. Your utilization rate looks at the amount of credit you use compared to the amount you have available. The general rule is to use 10% or less of your credit limit to get the best credit score

To prevent this issuers from cutting your credit limit, make sure to pay your credit card balances in full and on time each month. This demonstrates to financial institutions that you are not experiencing financial difficulties and can afford your spending.

Another trick is to pay off your card multiple times a month or as soon as you use it so that the balance is always near $0. While it's still a possibility that even then your issuer will lower your credit limit, keeping your balance low helps minimize the impact to your utilization rate.

If you do end up having your credit limit lowered, call your card issuer to find out the reason why.

2. If your debt was sent to collections 

All sorts of debt can go to collections agencies, from your credit card debt to your student loans. Collection accounts remain on your credit report for up to seven years — which significantly impacts your credit score because they fall under your payment history (the most important factor in determining your score).

Unpaid collections on your credit report may prevent you from being approved for new lines of credit or loans in the future, especially if the collections account on your credit report is more recent. As an example, Fannie Mae, a company that provides financing for mortgage lending, requires that collections be paid off before approving consumers for loans.

But even a paid-off collections account on your credit report can still affect you. According to credit bureau Experian, it depends on the scoring model the lender uses: "Newer credit scoring models ignore zero-balance collections, while older scoring models do not."

The amount of damage it does to your credit score depends on the type of debt, how much you owe and how recently it was reported. The more recent the collection, the more damage to your credit score.

It's not guaranteed that your score will improve once you pay off the collections account, either. There could be an increase, decrease or no impact at all, FICO says: "It depends on the change in the information reported on the collection as well as the other information in the credit report." The healthier your credit report is outside of this one negative account, the greater the likelihood that paying it off will increase your score. But if you have a heap of negative entries on your credit report, the less likely your score will improve from paying off just one of them.

Your best bet is to keep your debt from going to collections in the first place. Talk to your creditor about a repayment plan or a reduction in the amount of debt that you can both agree on.

3. If someone steals your identity

Identity theft can happen all too easily if you don't keep careful track of your personal information, including credit card statements. When fraudsters steal your identity, they are able to open new credit in your name and access your credit card information to rack up a bunch of purchases, which isn't good for your credit utilization rate. As you use more of your available credit, your utilization rate increases and that causes your credit score to drop.

Luckily, many credit card issuers, such as Chase, offer 24-hour fraud protection and identity theft assistance with travel cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, and cash-back cards, such as the Chase Freedom Unlimited®. They also guarantee zero liability, which protects cardholders from any unauthorized charges made on their credit card.

Another easy way to protect yourself is to freeze your credit if you know you aren't going to apply for a new card or loan anytime soon.

Bottom line

As much as you are in control of your credit score, you also need to keep in mind other outside factors that can cause it to fall. Knowing ahead of time what can happen will help you react quickly if your issuer lowers your card limit, your creditor sends your debt to collections or your identity gets stolen.

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