Why is Your Credit Utilization Ratio So Important?

Published on October 11, 2019 by CreditFresh

woman with long brown hair wearing green top standing in front of black brick wall

If you’re wondering what impacts your credit, your credit utilization ratio may hold some of the answers.

When it comes to checking your credit score, there may not be a lot of transparency. While we may have an idea of what aspects of your financial profile affect your credit score (which we’ll discuss later on), how we end up with a specific number may be less clear.

Why are those the exact numbers of your score?

Your credit utilization may play an important role. Knowing what a credit utilization ratio is or what it does may help you understand your credit score better. More importantly, it helps you recognize the steps you may need to take to improve your score.

Here’s how the credit utilization ratio may impact your score.

What is a Credit Utilization Ratio?

Your credit utilization ratio — or credit utilization rate, as it’s sometimes called — is a simple way of comparing the amount of credit you’re using with your total amount of available credit. It depicts how much of your available credit you’re using and is typically expressed as a percentage.

Your credit utilization ratio is a good indication of how you manage revolving credit like lines of credit and credit cards. A low ratio means you aren’t carrying over large balances month to month.

This is a good sign in the financial world. It suggests that you may not typically spend too much above your means, and that you keep on top of your payments.

wallet full of credit cards next to coffee mug and keyboard

How Do You Calculate Your Credit Utilization Ratio?

Figuring out your credit utilization ratio for a particular credit product is easy. All you have to do is divide your balance owing for that particular account by your total available limit on that same account.

To see what this looks like in practice, let’s use a line of credit as an example. Imagine you received a line of credit worth $2,500, and so far, you’ve used $1,000 of it.

The calculation would look like this:

$1,000 ÷ $2,500 = 0.40

Just multiply this number by 100 and you can see that the credit utilization ratio is 40 percent.

You can follow this equation for individual accounts, or you can find out the overall ratio for every revolving credit account you have.

For example, if you have one credit card and a personal line of credit totaling $10,000, and you owe $5,000 on them collectively, your overall ratio would be 50 percent.

Do Other Loans Affect Your Credit Utilization Ratio?

No, things like mortgages, student loans, and auto loans (in other words, any installment loan) do not count towards this rate. Your credit utilization ratio only includes revolving credit accounts.

What’s the difference between these two options? Revolving credit may offer more flexibility than a personal loan.

While an installment loan acts as a one-time advance, revolving credit is open-ended. Generally, you’ll receive a credit limit that you may use as much or as little of as you need. The interest you accrue depends on what you use, rather than your total limit.

This is the general rule, but it’s important to note how individual credit cards and lines of credit may differ. Make sure you know how a line of credit from a specific financial institution before you consider it as an option.

Person holding cell phone with blank screen

Because you control how much of your limit you use and how you repay it month to month – as long as you’re making at least the required minimum payments – revolving credit provides unique insights into your credit behavior.

What is a Good Credit Utilization Ratio?

You already know a low credit utilization rate is preferable, but just how low should you go?

As a general rule, some financial experts recommend aiming for a credit utilization rate that’s no higher than 30 percent.

Thirty percent or less indicates you have a good handle on your finances. You aren’t maxing out credit cards, and you’re making at least the minimum payments on revolving accounts. As a result, lenders may be less likely to flag you as a risk if they have visibility into your ratio.

Note that 30 percent is the maximum threshold and not the goal. The lower you come under 30 percent, the more likely you may be able to impact your credit.

If you were to ask some credit experts, they would say you should shoot for a credit utilization rate in the single digits. The average person with excellent credit has a seven percent ratio.

Lower is generally better. But the truth is, there is no ideal credit utilization ratio that will instantly reverse bad credit or tank an excellent score. This ratio is just one factor affecting your credit. Credit scoring models weigh your credit utilization ratio against other factors to generate your score.

birds eye view of three people pointing at a laptop screen on small brown table

What is a Credit Score, Anyway?

A credit score is a numerical representation of how well you manage credit, among other things. Your score, along with your credit report, are a record of your performance as a borrower.

Some banks, lenders, and other financial organizations may use it to gauge the risk they might face if they were to lend you money.

A high score may suggest that you’re more likely to pay back a loan or personal line of credit on time without issues. A low score, on the other hand, may indicate that you’ll struggle paying back a loan.

As a result, having a low score may limit your borrowing options. But don’t worry — as you’ll see later, bad credit may not stop you from getting help when you need it.

How is Your Score Calculated?

FICO (short for the Fair Isaac Corporation) is the most popular credit scoring model in the country. Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion use it when generating your credit report.

The FICO model evaluates how you perform in the following five categories:

  • Payment history: This category uses your past payment history to show whether you tend to pay your bills on time.
  • Amount owed: This is where your credit utilization rate fits in, but it also notes any outstanding loans you have in order to determine your overall debt burden.
  • Length of credit history: This is how long you’ve had various credit accounts open for. FICO favors older accounts because they provide greater insights into your payment history.
  • Credit mix: This is simply the different types of accounts you have, including any mortgages, student loans, credit cards and lines of credit.
  • New credit: FICO wants to see how often you’re applying for credit, so it keeps track of new credit — specifically new applications for credit where hard credit inquiries are performed.

FICO weighs each category differently, so some are more impactful to your score than others.

How Much Does Credit Utilization Impact Credit Score?

The amount of debt you owe is worth 30 percent of your overall score. It’s second only to payment history, so it’s one of the most important components of your score.

It all depends on how you perform in other categories. A single digit ratio may be one of the reasons why you have a good credit score, but you might not automatically have bad credit if you have a higher ratio.

You may temper a credit utilization rate of 40 percent by having a long history of positive payments on a variety of different debts.

Alternatively, a credit utilization ratio of 20 percent may be not enough to impact your credit if your credit profile is relatively new. Without longstanding accounts and very little payment history to report, this ratio may not affect your score as much as you would hope.

How Do You Improve Your Credit Utilization Ratio?

Chances are, you could stand to knock off a few percentage points from your rate. Whether you’re able to do that depends on a lot of factors, including your ability to pay off debt and your overall debt ratio, to name a few.

However, here are some ways that may help you impact your credit utilization rate:

Pay your balances in full

Paying your credit card and personal line of credit bills in full and on time is one the best ways to manage your credit utilization. It reduces how much of your available credit you’re using at any given time.

close up of hand holding pen pointing at the 16 on a monthly calendar

If something happens that makes it hard to pay these bills on time, focus on meeting the minimum monthly payments.

This is one of the benefits of a revolving line of credit. This minimum is often a small percentage of your full balance or a flat fee. In either case, it may be easier to cover this minimum than the full amount owing.

However, make sure you pay more than the minimum balance when you have the cash to spare. Generally, you’ll want to pay off your outstanding balance in full when you can.

This strategy gives you the best of both worlds: it helps build positive payment history and lower your credit utilization rate at the same.

person holding wallet with $10 bill and credit card sticking out

How Can an Online Personal Line of Credit Help?

A line of credit acts as a safety net when you face unplanned expenses that threaten your budget. If you need a little help covering an unexpected emergency bill or repair, you may use a personal line of credit to cover these costs.

So how might a line of credit help your credit utilization ratio? Well, if your line of credit payments are reported to a credit bureau, you may be able to lower your ratio by paying off your line of credit every month, as long as you keep on top of your other responsibilities as well.

person typing on their laptop

How Long Does it Take to Build Credit History?

When you have low or thin credit, all you care about is how long it takes to build credit history. Unfortunately, it may be longer than you think.

Building a positive credit history isn’t a 100-meter sprint that’s over in a few seconds. It’s an ultramarathon that lasts most of your adult life. To get to the finish line with a healthy score intact, you have to make sure you pace yourself.

Generally, you’ll want to pay your bills on time and keep your credit utilization low.

Get in touch if you think a personal line of credit may help you establish these good credit habits. Otherwise, share below with how you plan to drop your credit utilization ratio.