Q&A: When credit scores take a pandemic dive, how to figure out what caused it

Dear Liz: My VantageScores as reported by TransUnion were in the 780 to 790 range until around February, when they all dropped 40 points for no discernible reason. My FICO 8 and 9 credit scores remained unchanged around 760 and still continue to increase. What would cause that?

Answer: VantageScores tend to react more than FICO scores when you apply for new credit, but 40 points is a pretty big drop. The other usual culprit when good scores fall is higher credit utilization, or using more of your available credit, but typically your FICO scores would have dropped as well.

Most credit monitoring services will offer you some kind of explanation for why your scores changed, so that would be the first place to look for clues. You also should check your credit reports, which are now available weekly from AnnualCreditReport.com.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Your last chance for high CD rates is right now. Also in the news: How a credit card can help home improvement plans, how to search for scholarships without getting lost in spam, and a new episode of the SmartMoney podcast on credit scores.

Your Last Chance for High CD Rates Is Right Now
The impact of Fed rate changes.

Got Home Improvement Plans? How a Credit Card Can Help
Rewards and sign-up bonuses.

How to Search for Scholarships, Not Get Lost in Spam
Finding legit offers.

SmartMoney Podcast: ‘Why Did My Credit Scores Suddenly Drop?’
Sorting through the reasons.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 6 types of conventional loans all home buyers should know. Also in the news: How your credit score can save you money, why you need to verify your Equifax settlement claim, and why you need to be careful when deciding to claim Social Security based on break-even calculations.

6 Types of Conventional Loans All Home Buyers Should Know
All the details.

SmartMoney podcast: ‘How Can My Credit Score Save Me Money?’
Answers to real-world money questions.

If You Asked for $125 from the Equifax Settlement, You Need to Verify Your Claim
Check your email.

Deciding when to claim Social Security based on break-even calculations? Be careful

Q&A: Be strategic when closing credit accounts

Dear Liz: I recently moved to a new state and would like to open a credit card at my new credit union. I’m concerned that closing my old credit union account and card will hurt my credit scores, which are over 800. The old card, which I no longer use, has a high credit limit. My income is also lower, so I’m not sure how that will affect the credit limit I get.

Answer: Closing credit accounts can ding your credit scores, but that doesn’t mean you should never close an unwanted account. You just need to do so strategically.

First, understand that the more credit accounts you have, the less impact opening or closing an account typically has on your scores. If you have a dozen credit cards, for example, closing one will likely have less impact than if you only have two.

Still, you’d be wise to open the new account before closing the old one. That’s because closing an account lowers the amount of available credit you have, and that has a large impact on your scores.

If the new issuer doesn’t give you a credit limit close to that of the old card, you’re still probably fine closing the old account if you have a bunch of other cards. If you don’t, though, you may want to hold on to the old account to protect your scores.

Q&A: This is why credit scores are so confusing

Dear Liz: I am from Germany. I have had a bank account in America for over one year. Now I get my FICO score. After six months it was 738, half a year later, it was 771 and one month after that, 759. Why does it change in such a short time? Is it the real FICO score?

Answer: Welcome to the U.S. and its sometimes-baffling credit scoring systems. Even people who were born here often misunderstand how credit scores work.

You don’t have just one score; you have many, and they change all the time to reflect the changing information in your credit reports. Higher or lower balances on a credit card, a new credit application or the simple passage of time can make the numbers change.

The FICO scoring system is the most dominant, but lenders also use VantageScore, a FICO rival created by the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), plus proprietary scores.

You also will see different numbers depending on which credit bureau report is used to create the score and which version of the score is used. Credit scoring formulas may be designed for certain industries and formulas are updated over time.

So your FICO Auto Score 6 from Experian likely won’t be the same as your FICO 4 from TransUnion, your FICO Bankcard Score 4 from Equifax or your VantageScore 3 from any of the bureaus, even if you get all the scores on the same day.

It can be hard to predict which score a lender will use, but the same behaviors tend to be rewarded by all of them. Those behaviors include paying bills on time, using only a small portion of your available credit, having different types of credit (installment loans and revolving accounts, such as credit cards) and applying for new credit sparingly.

If you’re using a score to monitor your credit, it’s important to use the same kind from the same bureau — otherwise you’re comparing apples and oranges, as we say in English.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: What to do when back-to-school bites you in the budget. Also in the news: Advice and warnings for starting your own cannabis business, why Millennials need to build credit smarts and find out of your state is having a back-to-school tax-free weekend.

What to Do When Back to School Bites You in the Budget
You’ll need to prioritize.

Advice and warnings for starting your own cannabis business
The new Green economy.

Millennial Money: Credit score up? Build credit smarts, too
Protect your score.

Find Out If Your State Is Having a Back-to-School Tax-Free Weekend in 2019
Did your state make the list?

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: The average credit score is rising. Also in the news: 3 money-saving tips for buying a washer, a statute of limitations on student loans, and why you should always buy airfare on a credit card.

Credit Scores Are Rising — Is Yours, Too?
Every little bit matters.

Want to Clean Up? 3 Money-Saving Tips for Buying a Washer
Don’t get hung out to dry.

Is There a Statute of Limitations on Student Loans?
The answer is complicated.

Always Buy Airfare on a Credit Card
Additional protection.

Is better credit worth exposing your bank data?

America’s credit bureaus haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory when it comes to protecting your private data. So you might well be skeptical about two new credit-enhancing products that require not just credit information but also access to your bank accounts.

In my latest for the Associated Press, why the boost in your score might not be worth the exposure of your banking data.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Make a home down payment without wrecking your finances. Also in the news: What could happen to your credit score when you close accounts, how to sidestep the potential pitfalls of travel credit cards, and why most teens don’t believe they’ll be financially independent from their parents by age 30.

Make a Home Down Payment Without Wrecking Your Finances
Don’t leave yourself empty-handed.

Ditching Credit Cards? Here’s What Could Happen to Your Score
Closing your accounts could lower your score.

How to Sidestep the Potential Pitfalls of Travel Credit Cards
Dodging blackout dates.

Teens don’t believe they’ll be financially independent from parents by 30: Survey
Bad news for parents.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: In the points and miles game, blind loyalty can cost you. Also in the news: The best mortgage lenders with no origination fee, how a personal loan affects your credit score, and how thinking like an optimist could help you save more.

In the Points and Miles Game, Blind Loyalty Can Cost You
You could end up losing the points game.

Best Mortgage Lenders with No Origination Fee of 2019
They’re not easy to find.

How Does a Personal Loan Affect Your Credit Score?
A chance to improve your score.

To Save More, Think Like an Optimist
The saving power of positive thinking.