Written by Alayna Okerlund | Last Updated February 24th, 2020Alayna Okerlund is a finance-focused Senior Content Strategist at BestCompany.com. Over the past three years, Alayna's finance-related research has helped readers feel more financially confident. She has worked with several reputable experts and has provided content for a variety of well-known publications like Forbes, Reader’s Digest, Lifehacker, and more.
When you don’t understand how credit works, it can be an intimidating factor in your financial life. Unfortunately, there are some things that may affect your credit without you even realizing as they don’t seem to be commonly discussed. To help you avoid a credit curveball, we asked a few credit experts to talk about some things you might not expect that may negatively affect your credit situation. Here’s what they said:
Unpaid bills and fines
“Most people are aware of the major things that negatively affect your credit score. However, most people are not aware of the effect of unpaid parking tickets, library fees, etc. Any unpaid fine can be sent to a collection agency and show up on your credit report. — Jory McEachern, Director of Operations at ScoreShuttle
“It’s common knowledge that unpaid debts can damage your credit scores, but it may not be obvious that unpaid debts can include utility bills, child support, parking tickets, and much more. Once any of these seemingly menial debts is reported to a collection agency, your credit scores are likely to take a serious hit.” — Sean Messier, Credit Industry Analyst at Credit Card Insider
“Here's the thing: when you ignore that traffic ticket and fail to pay it, it doesn't just go away. Instead, the county will actually turn it over to a debt collection agency to get their money.
And if that debt collection agency decides to report your failed payment to the credit bureaus, which it most likely will, it will almost certainly lower your credit score, perhaps significantly, since it sends a signal to lenders that you are not responsible in paying back your debts.
So while the actual traffic ticket will not impact your credit score, if you fail to pay it off, it could cause serious damage to your score.” — Mike Pearson, Founder of Credit Takeoff
“While unpaid/late child support may seem like an agreement between you and your ex, child support and alimony are very much considered debts and delinquencies may be reported to the credit bureaus.” — Jenna Biancavilla, Financial Planning Expert and Owner of Pearl Capital Management
“One factor that can unexpectedly affect your credit score is having overdue library books. Many people don't know this, but public libraries and libraries at educational institutions can report customers to the credit bureaus if they have an overdue account. They usually only report you if you have a big balance, for textbooks for example.
If reported, it will show up as a delinquent account on your credit report and can ding your score by 25, 50, or even 100+ points depending on the amount that's due and how late you are. Remember that payment history accounts for 35 percent of your credit score. Return library books on time, and pay any outstanding library fines to avoid this from happening.” — Priyanka Prakash, Lending and Credit Expert at Fundera
A medical bill if left unpaid will negatively impact your credit score. Additionally if you have an emergency and you have to use the majority or your entire credit limit, that would negatively impact your credit score as well. — Marshall Armond, CEO of CreditRevo.com
“Liens will also show up on the public records section of your credit report. This can include a lien for unpaid taxes from your own business or a lien resulting from unpaid homeowner association dues.”— Todd Christensen, Education Manager at Money Fit and author of Everyday Money for Everyday People
“Civil judgments will show up under the public records session of your credit report. This would include any large bill a company has chosen to sue you for. Typically it involves old credit card debts and collection accounts. Most medical and dental offices do not take their current or former patients to court but will send the accounts to collections. Then, it is up to the collection agency to decide whether or not to go to court.” — Christensen
Paying off installment loans
“Paying off an installment loan, such as an auto loan, may cause your credit scores to drop. Fortunately, this will likely only occur if it’s the only installment loan that you’re currently paying. Your variety of credit accounts makes up 10 percent of your FICO credit scores, which means that removing installment loans from the mix could have a negative effect.” — Messier
“Common sense would tell you that paying off, say, your student loans would prove that you are a responsible borrower and cause your credit score to increase. But credit scores aren't always calculated in the most logical way.
...there's a factor that goes into your credit score called ‘credit mix.’ This factor accounts for about 10 percent of your credit score. Essentially, borrowers who have a mix of different kinds of credit — credit cards being one and installment loans (like student loans) being another — are basically seen as more creditworthy than borrowers with only one kind of credit.
So if your student loans are the only installment loans on your credit report, and you pay them all off, this could cause the ‘credit mix’ factor to negatively affect your credit score.” — Logan Allec, CPA and Owner of Money Done Right
“Loans give your credit score a boost as long as you make your loan payments on time. So, you’d assume that once you’ve paid off your debt, your credit score would skyrocket, right? Well not exactly. When the status of an installment loan like car loan changes from ‘active repayment’ to ‘paid,’ your credit score doesn’t know exactly what that means. Therefore, your credit score may temporarily drop due to the change. But no worries, in a month or two, your score will stabilize and eventually go up.” — Chelsea Hudson, Personal Finance Expert at TopCashback.com
Closing a credit card
“Canceling a credit card on which you’ve developed a positive history. Some people switch around from card to card, and cancel one along the way. However, the longer you hold a card, the more valuable it is in your credit score determination. Store a card away — or even freeze it — to avoid using it, but think very carefully before actually closing the account.” — Freddie Huynh, Vice President of Credit Risk analytics at Freedom Financial Network
Filling out applications
“It's fairly common for people to know if they apply for loans or credit cards it will ding their score, but landlords, insurance companies, utility companies, and cell phone companies can also pull your credit. Too many inquiries will ding your score the same as an installment loan will. To help avoid this, use an insurance broker or get all the information you can from companies to know who you want to use before you give them your social security number.” — Joyce Blue, Money Relationship Expert at Empowering You Life Enhancement Coaching LLC
“Personally, when I applied for a new group cell phone plan, my credit score took a hit when the company made a hard inquiry on my credit score. They expressly said this wouldn’t happen but clearly were wrong because it took over 6 months to recover to the level immediately before the inquiry.
Another instance was when I used financing to purchase a couch for my home. We used available financing through the retailer’s sponsoring service, and another inquiry hit my account. Both expenses were relatively small but still had negative impacts on our credit which have only recently run off our credit reports.” — Riley Adams, CPA, Senior Financial Analyst and Owner of the Young and The Invested blog
“Things like hard credit checks and rate shopping are among the unexpected things that can have a negative impact on your credit score. Hard credit checks generally hurt your score between 1-5 points and you can expect them when applying for a new credit card, when you apply for any type of loan or mortgage, when you get a new cell phone contract, or when you request a line of credit increase. In regard to rate shopping, if you're looking for the best rates on a loan it's ideal to group these hard inquiries within a 30-45 day window. This way they will generally act as one inquiry, instead of multiple, saving you from hurting your credit score significantly.” — Jordan Tarver, Credit Analyst at FitSmallBusiness.com
Cosigning a loan
“Another thing that can affect your credit score is if you cosigned a loan. Both the cosigner and primary loan holder share responsibility for the debt and it will appear on both credit reports. Communicate with the primary loan holder how his/her actions will affect your financial life too.” — Alissa Todd, Financial Advisor at The Wealth Consulting Group
“Some people use balance cards to transfer debt onto the card and pay off debt at the 0 percent introductory period. This can, however, potentially ding your credit as carrying a high balance on a card will often do so. However, for many people it will still be worth it to pay off debt interest free and be able to pay down that debt faster, in which case, their credit will bounce back after a short period.” — Jacob Dayan, CEO of Community Tax & Finance Pal
The bottom line
Clearly, many factors can affect your credit. Fortunately, you can use these credit repair options and tips if your credit has suffered in the past. To avoid further credit harm, you may want to make sure you monitor your credit, understand what can affect your credit, and stay on top of your debt as well as your daily credit usage.