6 Min Read | Updated: December 15, 2023

Originally Published: May 2, 2022

What Factor Has the Biggest Impact on a Credit Score?

Wondering what affects your credit score? Learn how payment history and other factors determine your creditworthiness so you can take steps to build credit.

Credit Score Factors

This article contains general information and is not intended to provide information that is specific to American Express products and services. Similar products and services offered by different companies will have different features and you should always read about product details before acquiring any financial product.

At-A-Glance

Payment history has the biggest impact on your credit score, making up 35% of your FICO® score.

Amounts owed, which includes your credit utilization ratio, comes in at a close second, accounting for 30% of your score.

The higher your credit score, the more likely you are to qualify for certain types of credit.


When you’re looking to borrow money from a lender or seeking to increase your lines of credit, you want the best deal you can get. One factor that will have a significant impact on your ability to access credit is your credit score. This number may also impact your credit limit and the interest rate you’ll be charged as well.

 

Five key factors go into determining your credit score, each of which provides varying degrees of importance. Understanding each factor’s impact can help you establish the highest credit score possible. This also helps you obtain better credit terms and save money on interest payments in the long term.

 

What Factors Affect a Credit Score?

What goes into a credit score? While that varies, depending on what credit scoring model is used, we’re going to look at the five factors that impact your FICO Scores, and the percentage that each contributes. FICO Scores are used by 90% of top lenders, making them the most-used credit scores.1

 

Factors that impact your credit score are payment history, amounts owed (including credit utilization rate), length of credit history, your credit mix, and new credit. These all carry enough weight to make the difference in qualifying for credit and more favorable rates.

1. Payment History (35%)

Payment history is the most important factor in maintaining a higher credit score as it accounts for 35% of your FICO Score.2  FICO considers your payment history as the leading predictor of whether you’ll pay future debt on time.

 

Think about it: A lender wants to minimize risk and ensure it recoups its financial investment. If a lender sees a history of missing payments, it may view you as a higher risk. That could result in a smaller line of credit, a higher interest rate, or a credit application denial. 

How Payment History Affects Your Credit Score

The key to building and maintaining a good credit score is always making timely payments. The longer your history of on-time payments, the more reliable lenders will consider you. For this reason, it’s important to ensure that you make your payments on time, every time.

 

Most credit card companies report to the three major credit bureaus once a payment is more than 30 days late.3 If missed payments become the norm – leading to a foreclosure, tax lien, or bankruptcy claim, for example – they can have a major negative impact on your credit score for several years.

 

The good news is that these adverse credit impacts don’t have to be permanent. The longer any such isolated or brief series of missed or late payment events remains in the past, the less impact it will have over time. 

2. Amounts Owed (Which Includes Your Credit Utilization Ratio) (30%)

Amounts owed comprises 30% of your FICO credit score.4 Its impact is nearly as significant as payment history. It’s important to note that having credit accounts open and owing money on them doesn’t necessarily indicate that you’re a high-risk borrower. However, using too much available credit could be a sign that you’re overextended, and may be a red flag to lenders.

3. Length of Credit History (15%)

Length of credit history makes up 15% of your FICO credit score.5  The longer an account is open and active, the more opportunity you have to showcase your ability to repay debt. Credit bureaus look at the average age of all your accounts.

4. Credit Mix (10%)

Credit mix makes up 10% of your FICO credit score.6 Showing you can repay different types of credit, such as credit cards, student loans, or a car loan, can prove helpful to your credit history. Opening new types of accounts can boost your score, but try not to overextend your spending just to increase your credit mix.

5. New Credit (10%)

Finally, we have new credit, which makes up 10% of your FICO Score. Opening several credit accounts in a short amount of time can represent a greater risk, especially if you don’t have a long credit history.7

 

For more on factors that impact your score, check out “How Is a Credit Score Calculated?” 

Other Ways to Improve Your Credit Score

In recent years, credit reporting bureaus and credit-scoring companies have offered more ways to help people enhance and, in some cases, establish their credit scores. These programs allow you to link non-debt accounts, such as utility and cell phone bills, which typically don’t factor into a credit score to help display financial responsibility beyond what a credit report or score traditionally indicates. This potentially enhances your loan-worthy status to lenders.

The Takeaway

It may be wise to focus less on which credit score a lender or creditor is looking at and instead concentrate on the key factors that comprise your three-digit score, such as payment history and amounts owed. Long-term, this approach may help boost your score, improve your overall credit health, and put you in a better position to obtain higher lines of credit with better interest rates and terms in the future. 


Michael Grace

Michael Grace is a personal finance and technology freelance writer based in New York.

 

All Credit Intel content is written by freelance authors and commissioned and paid for by American Express. 

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