Credit card utilization is one of the most important factors credit scoring models use to calculate your credit score. You can figure out your utilization rate by dividing your total credit card balances by your total credit card limits.
To illustrate how important this factor is, Credit Karma sampled approximately 15 million Credit Karma members who visited the site in 2014 and compared their credit scores and corresponding credit card utilization rates.
The graph above suggests that there is a strong correlation between credit card utilization rates and credit scores. Generally, those who had a lower utilization rate had a higher score and vice versa - with an exception for those with 0 percent utilization. The average credit score of those who had a utilization rate of 0 percent was actually lower than the average score of those who had a utilization rate of 1-20%.
What Does This Mean?
Lenders don't like high utilization rates because it tends to indicate there's a higher chance of you not being able to repay your debts. Keeping your credit card utilization low, preferably under 30%, is a good goal to aim for. Our data suggests an even better goal is to use your credit some, but keep the utilization rate under 20%. Creditors want to see proof that you can manage credit wisely--something you can't do without using the credit you're granted.
If you're uncomfortable with the idea of using your card for large purchases, you can still show an active credit profile by paying for small items with your card. It's important that you practice good habits when managing your credit cards. Charge what you can pay back and make sure your payments are on time. In order to keep your utilization rate greater than 0%, you'll need to let your charges show up on your billing statement, and then you can pay it off in full. This does not mean you need to carry a balance from one month to the next--doing so may just cost you money in the form of interest.
One of Many Potential Factors
Your credit card utilization rate is an important part of your credit profile and will likely have a significant effect on your credit score, but it's not the only factor lenders care about. The data and graph above represent the average, meaning it is possible for a person with high credit card utilization to still have a good credit score if other factors are positive-- it's just not as likely to happen. You can monitor your credit card utilization rate (and more!) for free at Credit Karma.
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