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More Debt Raises, Late Payments Lower Credit Score
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The national average credit score for consumers with debt above the national average is higher than the average credit score for those with debt below the national average, according to a new study released by Experian Consumer DirectSM. By contrast, another study found that half of all consumers have at least one delinquency on their credit file, and consumers with one missed payment in the last year have an average credit score about 160 points lower than the average of those with no delinquent payments.

[UPDATE: Click here for information about the new standardized VantageScore that the three major credit reporting companies have jointly developed and are marketing to compete against the FICO score.]

The national average Experian PLUS ScoreSM for consumers is 677.

National and statewide results for the study can be found on the Experian National Score IndexSM Web site.

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Important findings of the two studies:

"It’s important for consumers to remember that having debt is not always a bad thing as long as they manage it well," said Ed Ojdana, president of Experian Consumer Direct. "They should also assess their finances on a regular basis by checking their accounts to be sure everything is in order before making future purchases."

Consumers should also understand, however, that one late payment can drop their credit score significantly. Even consumers who pay their bills on time may be surprised to learn their credit has been damaged by overlooked payments, or collection account for items such as unpaid medical bills, cell phone bills or parking tickets. Simply paying those bills off, however, may not raise their scores.

More information about this study, plus credit data at the state and local level, can be found on the Experian National Score Index site at

In other words, higher credit is not necessarily bad as long as it is property managed and payments are made on time. However, if even one payment is late, it can have significant negative impact on credit scores.

Paying off problem credit cards and bills, while sound financial advice limiting your exposure to future credit problems, is not a guarantee that your credit scores will immediately improve significantly, if at all. This is a long term solution. The key is to avoid the situation in the first place or at least correct the situation and focus on avoiding late payments in the future.

Consumers still have a long way to go when it comes to understanding credit reports and scores, according to two separate studies released this month. A study by the government’s General Accounting Office, as well as one released by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and Fair Isaac Corp., both found consumers could correctly answer only about half of the questions posed to them about credit reports and credit scores.

Fair Isaac Corp. is the developer of the FICO credit score used by most lenders to evaluate consumer credit risk.

Source: Gerri Detweiler - author of numerous books and articles on credit, including The Ultimate Credit Handbook (Plume, 3rd edition, 2003). She has been interviewed in thousands of news stories on credit related topics, and has testified before Congress on consumer credit legislation.


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