We devote thousands of hours of research to help you get Big Travel with Small Money. You support us by signing-up for credit cards through partner links which earn us a commission. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.

Unquestionably the Most Common Credit Card Misconception

Unquestionably the Most Common Credit Card Misconception

KeithUnquestionably the Most Common Credit Card MisconceptionMillion Mile Secrets Team

We devote thousands of hours of research to help you get Big Travel with Small Money. You support us by signing-up for credit cards through partner links which earn us a commission. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.

Keith:   I recently received a phone call from a friend who sounded panicked.  He had just received an update that his credit score dropped 30 points!

My friend has 40+ years of credit history, ALWAYS pays his bills on time, and has NEVER carried a credit card balance.  I was ~100% certain I knew why his credit score dropped without even having to ask him a question.

Opening New Cards Can Actually Help Improve Your Credit Score
Yes, I Keep a Dozen Credit Cards in My Wallet for the Travel Rewards. But It’s Also Because It HELPS My Credit Score!

Before I hung out with the savvy credit card crowd, I was always told to only have 1 or 2 credit cards at most.  Folks said as long as I paid the balances in full each month, I would maintain an excellent credit score.  I think this is a huge misconception!

The 1 or 2 credit card rule might be good advice for some.  But there’s an important credit score factor many people forget about or are not aware of.  My friend didn’t know and that’s why his score dropped 30 points in one month!

Credit Utilization Makes up 30% of Your Credit Score!

30% of your credit score is based on balances owed, which is also known as your credit utilization. 

Opening New Cards Can Actually Help Improve Your Credit Score
Some Folks Think “Amounts Owed” Doesn’t Apply to Them Because They Pay Off Their Credit Card Balance Each Month. But There’s More to It!

Even if you pay your entire balance off each month, your credit report might show balances that count toward your credit utilization.  That’s because most banks report your balance after the statement close date.  Some banks (like Chase) even report your balance a few days after you make a purchase.

The longer you wait to pay your credit card bill, the more time your outstanding balance will appear on your credit report.  And this has the potential to have a negative impact on credit score.  Even if you pay the full balance before the statement due date.

This is exactly why my friend’s credit score dropped 30 points.  He only has 1 or 2 credit cards in his wallet.  And the credit limit on each card is relatively small.

So after using his cards for some big spending (home repairs, paid vacation, etc.), his credit utilization ratio was very high (above 50%).  His credit score dropped 30 points because of this factor alone despite the fact that he paid the balance in full, immediately after receiving the statement.

Opening New Cards Can Actually Help Improve Your Credit Score
If You Wait to Receive Your Statement to Pay a Large Statement Balance, the Damage  to Your Credit Score Might Already Be Done!

One trick to avoid having a high credit utilization ratio is to pay credit card bills more than once per month or before the statement close date.  I sometimes pay the total balance on certain cards 4 or 5 times in a month.  And my credit report typically shows a $0 balance for these accounts.

Paying before the due date is an especially good idea if you make a large purchase during the month.  You can pay it off right away to avoid having a large outstanding balance appear on your credit report.  So making early payments can be an easy way to boost your credit score!

I Have a Dozen Credit Cards and a Credit Score Above 820!

It’s contrary to common belief, but having several open credit cards can actually help improve your credit score.  The key is to NOT utilize a large portion of the credit limit on all of your cards.

That’s why I advised my friend to apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.  Opening a new credit line will reduce his credit utilization ratio as long as he doesn’t use a large portion of the limit on the new card.

And the Sapphire Preferred is the top card we recommend to folks who are new to miles & points.  My friend likes to travel, so he’ll have no trouble using the valuable sign-up bonus to save on airfare, hotels, or rental cars!  And even with the drop in credit score, he still has an excellent credit score (750+), so he should have no problem qualifying for the card.

Just to show you how my logic actually works, here’s a screenshot of my credit score.

Opening New Cards Can Actually Help Improve Your Credit Score
I Keep 12 Credit Cards in My Wallet and Still Keep an Excellent Credit Score!

I have 12 open credit card accounts.  That said, my credit report shows less than 12 open accounts.  Because I have a handful of business credit cards, which do NOT appear on my credit report.

The key is I have an excellent payment history.  And my credit utilization ratio is very low.  Across all of the cards that appear on my credit report, I have ~$138,000 in credit available.  But my most recent credit report shows I’m only utilizing ~3% of the available limit.

Opening New Cards Can Actually Help Improve Your Credit Score
Having a Low Credit Utilization Ratio Can Help You Maintain an Excellent Credit Score

This doesn’t mean you should apply for 10 new credit cards today.  Each time you apply for a credit card, the banks look at your credit report.  This is known as a hard credit inquiry.

And hard inquiries can have a minor impact on your credit score.  But in my experience, the temporary impact of applying for 1 or 2 new cards is usually offset by the long-term benefit of maintaining a low credit utilization ratio.

Bottom Line

Paying your credit card bills in full and on time is just part of the equation used to calculate your credit score.

An important factor (30% of your credit score) is your credit utilization ratio.  That’s the total balance reported to the credit bureaus divided by the total available credit limit across your credit card accounts.

My friend saw his credit score drop 30 points in one month just because he was using a large percentage (50%+) of his available credit limit.  That’s despite having a lengthy history of good payment history.

To help my friend, I recommended he applied for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.  Opening a new credit line can help improve his credit score as long as he doesn’t use a large percentage of the available limit.

Have you had a similar experience with a sudden credit score drop?

If you liked this post, why don’t you join the 25,000+ readers who have signed-up to receive free blog posts via email (only 1 email per day!) or in an RSS reader …because then you’ll never miss another update!

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred® named a 'Best Travel Credit Card' by MONEY® Magazine, 2016-2017
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn 5,000 bonus points after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months from account opening
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $625 toward travel.
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards

More Info

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

Add comment

E-mail is already registered on the site. Please use the Login form or enter another.

You entered an incorrect username or password

Sorry, you must be logged in to post a comment.

18 comments

by Newest
by Best by Newest by Oldest

I have 42 credit cards and every year I close at least 12 and open 12 more. I have a credit score above 840. I charge a bunch to the cards but when my balance is high I pay down the card mid-month so a high balance isn't reported to the credit reporting agencies.

Author

Wow! Having 42 cards is impressive! Thanks for commenting and sharing your strategy.

Larry E Courtney

Checking my credit score for a house at Chase and a Caliber mortgage company Credit Karma 100 point more and when I actually applied for a loan!?

Author

There are different credit score models, so it's possible to have a range of scores across your Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax credit report.

How about asking to eliminate a yearly fee? If they don’t and you close those out that have your most history associated with your credit that would impact your score. Can they just role the Credit to another card and not impact your history?

It's not always good to have 0% utilization. I was recently denied Citi credit card with the reason "Your credit report shows no recent revolving balances"

Author

Agreed. It depends which cards you have, but it's unlikely you'll report a 0% ratio because some banks report balances a few days after your purchases. I think a single digit utilization ratio is a good target.

Do you have any advice (maybe you already wrote a blog post about this) on how to handle credit card inquiries against your credit score? Or is the impact percentage not worth the hassle?

Author

@Sara - I agree with Joel. The impact of a credit inquiry is usually temporary. I apply for 2 or 3 new cards every quarter and maintain a credit score above 820.

I don't think it is worth the worry. I get at least 12 new cards each year and have a credit score over 840. As long as your score is over 720 you should be approved for any card you want (as long as you don't violate Chase 5/24 and other rules).

Load more