Personal Responsibility and Credit

Explore good habits you can develop to build a healthy relationship with credit

Understanding credit can be challenging at times. What’s a credit score? How do credit reports work? When does your credit history start? And what, exactly, is credit utilization? It’s a lot to digest. And some of it may seem beyond your control.

The truth is, there are many factors impacting credit that you can tackle with awareness, self-discipline and personal responsibility. 

“Your credit score is mostly based on a demonstrated history of responsibility,” says Mira Megs Lathrop, co-creator of the Capital One® Money Coaching program.

Why’s that so important? Because credit scores are used by companies to determine whether you’re a good candidate for things like mortgages, car loans, credit card applications, rental applications—even jobs.

As the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) notes, credit scores are predictors of your likelihood to pay debts on time. 

As you learn more about credit, you can start to identify places where your actions and personal responsibility can have an effect. Here are a few places to start.

Pay Your Bills on Time

Generally, your credit score is calculated using a mathematical formula that takes into account all the information in your credit report. There are multiple credit reporting agencies, and each uses its own scoring criteria, so it’s normal to have multiple scores. 

All that aside, one of the most important factors within your credit report is payment history.

“An easy way to show responsibility is to always pay your bills on time,” says Lathrop, who’s also a Certified Money Coach®.

When it comes to credit card bills, you don’t have to wait until the end of each month to pay them. Lathrop says you can get in the habit of paying on time by changing how you approach those payments. 

Developing a regular payment schedule can help you control your debt and create a conscious relationship with your money, she says. 

Track Your Spending

If you can maintain awareness around your spending, you can better avoid going beyond your means. And that can help make sure you’re able to pay bills on time. Creating a weekly routine to review account statements, bills and your budget can help.

“Create a money ritual,” Lathrop says. “Sit down once a week and look at your statements. How do you feel about your expenses? Do your statements look accurate?”

Statements offer a valuable record of your purchasing habits—especially online statements, which can offer a near-real-time account of your finances. They’re also likely to be more reliable than any running tally you’re keeping in your head.

“Memories are selective, and we don’t remember all of the little expenditures that pile up,” Lathrop says. 

Consider Your Spending

When you check in on what you’re spending more frequently, it may be easier to control some of your expenses. And that act of personal responsibility could help you avoid hitting your credit limit, something the CFPB advises.

“Credit scoring models look at how close you are to being ‘maxed out,’” the agency says. “So try to keep your balances low compared to your total credit limit.”

The comparison is known as credit utilization. And the CFPB says you should strive to keep yours below 30%. 

Maintaining that balance—and knowing when you can and can’t afford luxury items—also play into personal responsibility. 

Lathrop says to think of credit cards as useful tools. They can offer flexibility and perks, but just because you can buy something today doesn’t necessarily mean it will be in your best interest in the future. Knowing and honoring your personal limits can help you use cards responsibly.

Don’t Overextend

Even if your credit utilization is high, you should consider what could happen if you apply for a bunch of new credit cards to get the percentage down. 

Your recent credit activity also factors into your credit score, so you could end up hurting yourself in another way.

“If you apply for a lot of credit over a short period of time, it may appear to lenders that your economic circumstances have changed negatively,” the CFPB says.

Instead, heed advice from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about improving your credit. It says to “focus on paying your bills in a timely way, paying down any outstanding balances and staying away from new debt.” 

Maintain Your Credit History

As you get in touch with your finances and what you’re spending, it can also help maintain your longest lines of credit.

“A long credit history will help your score,” the CFPB says. “The more experience your credit report shows with paying your loans on time, the more information there is to determine whether you are a good credit recipient.”

Have an older credit card you don’t use as much? Be sure to consider how it figures into your credit history before you close the account.

Keep Track of Your Score

The sooner you’re aware of something affecting your credit, the sooner you can address it. 

With CreditWise® from Capital One, you’ll get alerts whenever your TransUnion® credit report changes, including recent inquiries, delinquent accounts and more. Plus, the Credit Simulator lets you explore how everyday financial decisions could affect your credit score before you make them.

But don’t worry—using CreditWise won’t hurt your score.

The Last Word on Personal Responsibility

When you’re trying to take charge of your credit, consider the things that are in your control: paying bills on time, considering expenses and using cards responsibly.

“Understand what you can handle and use that to your advantage,” Lathrop says.

That awareness and self-discipline can help you develop a healthy relationship with credit.

We hope you found this helpful. Our content is not intended to provide legal, investment or financial advice or to indicate the Capital One product or service is available or right for you. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consider talking with a qualified professional.

Your CreditWise score is calculated using the TransUnion VantageScore® 3.0 model, which is one of many scoring models used by lenders. It likely won’t be the same model your lender uses, but it is an accurate measure of your credit health. The availability of the CreditWise tool depends on our ability to obtain your credit history from TransUnion.

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