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Wondering why your credit score seems different every time you check it? Credit scores can change frequently, reflecting updates to your credit files at the three national credit bureaus.
In general, you can expect your credit score to update at least once a month. But if your lenders report to the bureaus more frequently, you could see changes to your score more often. Here's what you need to know about how and why credit scores rarely remain stagnant.
Your Score Can Change When Your Credit Report Is Updated
Credit scores are calculated by performing complex statistical analysis on data compiled in your credit reports at the national credit bureaus—Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. The credit bureaus receive information about your payment activity in reports from the credit card issuers, lenders and potentially other companies with whom you have financial relationships.
The bureaus update your credit reports to reflect new information about your credit usage, including:
- Payments you've made (and whether they were made on time)
- Changes in your credit card balances
- Your total outstanding debt
- New credit applications you've made or new loan or credit accounts you've opened
- If you use Experian Boost®ø, your credit scores based on Experian data can also reflect eligible utility, cellphone, streaming, insurance and online rent payments
How Often Do Creditors Report to Bureaus?
Each creditor reports to the bureaus according to its own schedule, typically once a month. Reports aren't necessarily made to all three bureaus at the same time; for example, a given creditor might send a report to Experian this week but not get it to TransUnion until next week (or vice versa).
Every new report from a creditor brings potential adjustments to your credit report, which are reflected in changes in your credit scores. Depending on how many credit accounts you have, it's possible for your credit score to change weekly or even daily. (And depending on the time of day your report happens to get updated, differences in scores calculated just an hour apart could reflect changes in credit file data.)
Why Credit Scores May Fluctuate
You may notice that your credit score fluctuates week to week or month to month. Exactly how much your score will change with each update depends on how much your credit card balances fluctuate, how often you apply for and open new accounts, and whether you're keeping up with bill payments.
Your credit score can change when you take a major credit action, such as applying for a new credit card or loan. But your credit score can also change because of routine credit use.
For example, making on-time credit card payments can cause your credit score to increase over time. On the other hand, running up a large balance on your credit card increases your credit utilization rate, which can cause your score to decrease.
Another factor that can cause changes to your score is the passing of time. For example, if time goes by and you don't open any new credit accounts, the average age of your credit will increase. This can have a positive impact on your score.
How to Check Your Credit Score
There are various ways to check your credit score, including through the credit bureaus and possibly your bank, credit card issuer or other financial companies. You can get your credit score for free through Experian.
Keep in mind that you likely have many credit scores, and your scores typically vary at least slightly for a couple reasons:
- Your credit reports may contain different information. Creditors are not required to report to all three credit bureaus. Though many do, some may choose to report to just one or two bureaus. When that happens, the information on your credit reports will differ, resulting in different scores.
- There is more than one credit scoring model. The credit score provider may use scores calculated by FICO or VantageScore®, the two primary credit scoring companies. While the scoring factors that go into their calculations are essentially the same, the way the credit scoring models weigh those factors can produce different scores.
Factors to Focus on to Improve Your Credit Score
If you were to check your credit score every day, no matter which credit scoring system was used, it would be normal to see the score move up and down a bit. Rather than worrying about these small fluctuations, your focus should be on long-term score improvement.
Fortunately, no matter which scoring system is used, you can promote credit score improvements by cultivating good habits around a set of factors that influence all credit scores.
Those factors are:
Your payment history is the most important contributor to your credit score, and no single event has a greater negative impact on your score than a late payment. (Bankruptcy has a longer-lasting impact on credit scores, but it's unlikely you'd file bankruptcy before accumulating one or more late payments.) Payment history accounts for 35% of your FICO® Score☉ , the score used by 90% of top lenders.
Credit Utilization Ratio
Your credit utilization ratio, the percentage of your credit card borrowing limits represented by your outstanding balances, accounts for about 30% of your FICO® Score. Using more than 30% of your available credit can have a negative impact on your credit scores; keeping your utilization under 10% can improve scores.
Length of Credit History
How long you've been using credit accounts, plus the average age of your credit accounts, makes up your length of credit history, which is responsible for about 15% of your FICO® Score. A longer credit history is generally better for credit scores.
Credit scoring models consider the different types of credit accounts you have. Responsibly managing a mix of loan types—including installment loans and revolving credit accounts—is seen as a sign of solid debt management and tends to promote credit score improvement. Credit mix accounts for about 10% of your FICO® Score.
Opening several different credit accounts in rapid succession is seen as risky by the credit scoring models. This is particularly the case for those who are newer to credit.
Additionally, credit checks related to new credit applications, known as hard inquiries, typically have a short-term negative impact on credit scores. As long as you keep up with your bills, your scores typically rebound from these dips within a few months. New credit activity is responsible for about 10% of your FICO® Score.
The Bottom Line
Continual updates to your credit report can cause frequent credit score changes, but day-to-day and week-to-week fluctuations are less important than long-term improvements you can achieve when you develop good credit habits. To stay in the know about your credit progress over time, sign up for free credit monitoring through Experian. You'll also have access to personalized insights on how you can improve your credit.