What Americans don’t know about credit scores can seriously cost them, but Millennials seem especially at risk.
What Americans don’t know about credit scores can seriously cost them, but Millennials seem especially at risk, according to a new financial literacy survey released by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA).
The CFA’s fourth annual national credit score knowledge survey finds that Millennials ages 18-34 years old know less about these scores than their older counterparts. Only about half have ordered a free copy of their credit report compared with three-fourths of older respondents to the survey. This is ironic, as Millennials are considered to be the most tech-savvy generation, and learning one’s credit score is as easy as going online to www.annualcreditreport.com or even calling the toll-free number (877) 322-8228.
A credit score helps determine your eligibility for credit from a mortgage lender or credit card issuers, and what interest rate you will pay. But other institutions consider a person’s credit score as well. Home insurers in some states may use credit scores to help gauge an applicant’s risk level and to price that risk in their premium. Cell phone companies may use credit scores to help determine which plan eligibility and whether a security deposit is required. In addition, electric utilities and landlords use a credit score to determine whether a security deposit (and how much) will be required.
Spectrem’s Millionaire Corner research, too, find that among Affluent households, the youngest respondents are the least likely to know what their credit score is. One-third (34 percent) said they were not aware of their credit score compared with 23 percent of respondents overall. Similarly, they were most likely to say they were worried about the impact of their credit score on their ability to borrow (35 percent vs. 25 percent of respondents ages 41-50, 21 percent of those 51-60 and 15 percent of those 61 and up.
Across all age groups, it figures that the highest percentage of those who say they never check their credit score (10 percent) were those under 40. To their credit though, of those who do check their credit score, the highest percentage (30 percent) say they do so annually or at least occasionally.
No one can afford to neglect their credit history, financial writer David Silverstone observed in a piece written for Millionaire Corner. Credit scores, he noted, affect borrowing costs for Millionaires who rely on leverage (borrowing someone else’s money to make money). “Millionaires commonly use leveraged real estate to build and consolidate wealth,” he stated. “Lenders factor in a consumer’s credit scores when setting the terms of a home mortgage. Favorable terms can mean big savings for Millionaires taking out jumbo mortgages to finance large homes, a mortgage for a second home or vacation property or financing for commercial real estate investments.”
What is it that Millennials do not know about credit scores? According to the CFA survey:
Less than half (vs. more than 60 percent of those 45-64 years-old) know that age is not used in calculating credit scores.
Sixty-five percent (compared with 75 percent of older adults) know that the three main credit bureaus collect information on which credit scores are based.
Half of Millennials, but nearly three-fifths of those ages 45-64 know that credit repair companies only occasionally or never are helpful in correcting credit report errors and improving credit scores.
At least Millennials know what they do not know. Only four-in-ten think they have good or excellent knowledge about credit scores, compared with 62 percent of those at least 35 years old.
Financial knowledge is important to affluent investors and is most highly prized by the highest net worth, according to Millionaire Corner research. More than 50 percent rate their financial knowledge as “extremely important” to them. In contrast, about one-fourth of investors with less than $100,000 say their financial knowledge is “extremely important.”
Millennials, who are preparing to enter the workforce or are starting to build their careers, face unique challenges that should make learning about credit scores a priority, experts say. “The generation of consumers coming into the workforce is particularly challenged by massive student loans,” said Barrett Burns, president and CEO of VantageScore Solutions, which partnered with CFA in the survey. “A student loan can actually help establish good credit for these consumers, but the concern is that many of (them) could miss payments and begin their financial lives deep in debt with low credit scores.”
How can consumers raise their credit scores? CFA recommends:
- Consistently paying bills on time every month
- Not maxing out, or coming close to maxing out, credit cards
- Paying down debt rather than moving it around, as well as not opening many new accounts rapidly
- Regularly checking credit reports to make sure they are error-free.
Related story: Financial Fitness—Exercise your credit wisely
Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.