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10 Surprising Ways to Negatively Affect Your Credit Score


Feb. 5, 2019 WiseBread

A credit score is supposed to be about how you handle credit, so it seems counterintuitive that non-loan actions can bring your credit score down.

Unfortunately, the reality is that even if you aren’t borrowing money, you could still be hurting your credit score. Here are 10 actions that can bring down your score even though they have nothing to do with applying for or receiving credit.

1. Skip the Rent

Even though Experian recently started reporting on-time rent payments on consumers’ credit reports, you probably aren’t going to get credit score brownie points for paying the rent right when you should.

Don’t let that fool you into thinking that you can skip rent payments or pay your rent late on a regular basis without a negative impact on your score, though. If your landlord decides that he or she is sick of your slow payments, you can be reported to the credit bureaus.

On top of that, your landlord can ask a collection agency to attempt to collect on your delinquent payments. Once that happens, the credit bureaus find out and report it. Now your non-credit rent payment is dragging your credit score lower.

2. Failure to Pay Medical Bills

With the rising costs of health care, even those with health insurance can find themselves facing high medical bills. Don’t ignore these bills, though. Health care service providers can decide to report your unpaid bills to the credit bureaus or send your account to collection. Collection accounts look especially bad on a credit report.

Many hospitals and other health care providers are willing to work with you on large bills. If you can pay a large portion of the bill immediately, you might be able to get a discount on your health care. Or, if you can’t pay a large portion, you might be able to work out a payment plan. Realize, though, that you might be charged interest, or a fee, for a payment plan.

3. Ignore Library Fines

For many people, the idea that a $5 library fine could be harmful to their financial situation seems silly. However, not paying could cost you even more than what you owe. In order to collect more money and help ease strained local budgets, some libraries have been sending unpaid fines to collection agencies.

Once your library fines go to the collection agency, it appears on your credit report. On top of that, the collection agency might add its own fees to the fine. Your $5 library fine could easily balloon into a $20 or $30 cost — and bring down your credit rating on top of it all.

4. Rack Up the Back Taxes

Your unpaid back taxes aren’t just a matter between you and the government. If you end up racking up unpaid taxes, the government can place a lien against you. A tax lien is one of those public records items that appears on your credit report and can drag down your score.

A tax lien can be especially aggravating, since it will remain on your report for up to 15 years.

5. Miss Utility Payments (or Don’t Completely Close Accounts)

Utility bills represent another of those non-credit payments you make regularly that aren’t likely to help your credit score. While there are alternative credit reporting agencies that you can ask to collect information on your utility payments, the credit scores that most financial services companies look at don’t include on-time utility payments.

However, like medical bills and rent payments, if you habitually pay late, or miss a payment altogether, the utility company can report your delinquency to the credit bureaus — and turn your account over to a collection agency.

This happened to me once. When I moved from New York, the final bill slipped through the cracks. I didn’t realize I wasn’t up to date on the account until I got a collection notice a year later and I doubled-checked my records. My credit score headed temporarily lower on the news.

Make sure you pay your utility bills on time. And, if you move, make sure you are completely settled with the company. Even an address forward might not be enough to catch all your final bills; 30 days after your move, call the utility companies and make sure everything is squared away.

6. Buy a New Cell Phone (or Sign Up for Utilities)

Increasingly, cell phone providers are checking your credit when you sign up for a contract. In some cases, the company performs a soft inquiry, and your score isn’t damaged. Other times, though, the provider runs a hard credit check. It looks as though you are applying for credit — even though you don’t think that you are.

These types of hard credit inquires can weigh on your credit score, pulling it down. A similar effect can be seen when you sign up for cable or satellite TV services, as well as for Internet service. When you sign up for a new telecommunications service and the company asks if they can run a credit check, ask if it’s possible for a soft inquiry instead of a hard inquiry.

7. Open a Bank Account

Not all financial institutions check your credit before you open an account, but some banks and credit unions do. Indeed, one of the reasons that your checking account might be denied is due to your credit report.

Once again, you need to find out whether the bank is performing a hard credit pull or a soft credit pull. A soft pull isn’t going to bring your score down, but if the bank performs a hard inquiry that looks like you are applying for credit (even though you are just trying to open a checking or savings account), it could ding your credit score.

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