Q&A: Do credit scores punish you for not carrying debt?

Dear Liz: I am fortunate to be able to afford homeownership without having to obtain a mortgage. The same is true of owning cars without a car loan. I pay my credit card bills in full each month. In short, I do not carry any debt.

However, it seems to me that I am being “punished” by not carrying a load of debt. My credit score is reduced by this lack of debt and I am wondering why this is.

Answer: The most commonly used credit scores don’t “know” if you’re carrying credit card debt or not. The balances used in credit score calculations are the balances the card issuers report to the bureaus on a given day (often your statement balances). You could pay the balance off the next day, or carry it for the next month, and it would have no impact on your scores.

A small part of credit scoring formulas measure your mix of credit, or whether you have both revolving accounts (such as credit cards) and installment loans (mortgages, car loans, student loans, etc.) You may get higher scores if you added an installment loan to your mix. If your scores are low, it can be worth adding a small personal loan to boost them. If your scores are good, though, it may not be worth the effort and interest expense.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Managing debt in retirement takes some planning. Also in the news: Why your credit score means both everything and nothing, 5 ways to save on energy during the dog days of summer, and what the Dept. of Ed’s proposed new rules on debt forgiveness requirements means.

Managing Debt in Retirement Takes Some Planning
What you can do to still retire comfortably.

Your Credit Score Means Everything — and Nothing
Don’t be afraid to look.

5 Ways to Save Energy During the Dog Days of Summer
Baby, it’s hot outside.

What the Department of Ed’s Proposed New Rules on Debt Forgiveness Requirements Mean for You
Rules are tightening up.

Managing Debt in Retirement Takes Some Planning

Owing money in retirement isn’t ideal — but most people do.

Seventy percent of U.S. households headed by people ages 65 to 74 had at least some debt in 2016, according to the Federal Reserve’s latest Survey of Consumer Finances. So did half of those 75 and older.

Paying debt usually gets more difficult on a fixed income. Mortgage debt, especially, can be a huge burden in retirement. Retirees may have to withdraw larger amounts from their retirement funds to cover payments on debt, which can trigger higher tax bills and increase the chances they’ll run short of money.

People have the most options to deal with debt if they create a plan before they retire, financial planners say. Refinancing a mortgage, for example, is usually less of a hassle while people are still employed. It’s also typically easier to generate the extra income that may be needed to pay off debt.

“It is much easier to keep working for another year or two than to try and come back into the workforce when they are older and the employer needs have changed,” says Linda Farinola, a certified financial planner in Princeton, N.J.

In my latest for the Associated Press, three loans to consider before you stop working.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: This could be the biggest blow to your retirement. Also in the news: How one couple ditched their debt, why good credit is essential when remodeling a home, and how to apply for a credit card with no credit.

This Could Be the Biggest Blow to Your Retirement
The battle with healthcare costs.

How I Ditched Debt: ‘It Became Like a Game to Us’
One couple’s story.

Remodeling Your Home? Good Credit Offers a Strong Foundation
The better the credit, the better the offers.

How to Apply for a Credit Card With No Credit Score
Exploring the options.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 5 proven ways to increase your home’s value. Also in the news: Paying off debt while saving for retirement, fresh ways to save some green at the farmer’s market, and how some employers are helping to pay student loans in order to attract workers.

5 Proven Ways to Increase Home Value
Enhancing your curb appeal and interior.

Q: Pay Off Debt or Save for Retirement? A: Both
You don’t have to choose.

Fresh Ways to Save Some Green at the Farmers Market
Avoiding high prices at the supermarket.

Employers Help Pay Student Loans to Attract Workers
Now that’s a perk.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Why new grads shouldn’t snooze and lose on their employer’s 401(k). Also in the news: Ditching debt by working side gigs, how to decide if that life insurance rider is worth it, and how freelancers can save for retirement beyond an IRA.

New Grads, Don’t Snooze and Lose on Your Employer’s 401(k)
One of the biggest steps you’ll take in your new financial life.

How I Ditched Debt: Paying With Cash, Working Side Gigs
One man’s experience paying down his debt.

How to Decide If That Life Insurance Rider Is Worth It
A look at the extra benefits.

How Freelancers Can Save for Retirement Beyond an IRA
Other options to consider.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 5 ways to rebuild your retirement savings later in life. Also in the news: What you need to know about stock dividend reinvestment plans, the true story of young adults who are totally debt free, and how to boost your retirement fund with a few minor lifestyle changes.

5 Ways to Rebuild Retirement Savings Later in Life
It’s never too late to start saving,

Stock Dividend Reinvestment Plans: What You Should Know
Reinvesting your dividends.

These Young Adults Are Totally Debt-Free — True Story
How they live debt-free.

Boost Your Retirement Fund With These Minor Lifestyle Changes
Small changes that can add up over time.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to build your ‘Oh, Crap!’ fund. Also in the news: A strategy that could help new grads retire sooner, United Airlines sets a new pet transport policy, and what happens to your debts when you die.

How to Build Your ‘Oh, Crap!’ Fund
Don’t get caught empty-handed.

New Grads, This Strategy Could Mean Retiring Sooner
Doesn’t that sound nice?

United Airlines Sets New Pet Transport Policy
The policy will ban dozens of dog breeds from being transported in cargo.

What Happens to Your Debts When You Die
They don’t disappear.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Need a gift for a college graduate? Consider a Roth IRA. Also in the news: An Olympian’s victory versus debt, how to tackle common home worries with a plan, and the best jobs to have when the economy tanks.

Need a Gift for a College Graduate? Consider a Roth IRA
A gift that will keep on giving.

How I Ditched Debt: An Olympian’s Medal-Worthy Juggling Act
Winning the gold in paying off debt.

Tackle This Common Home Worry With a Plan
Don’t let repairs catch you off-guard.

The best jobs to have when the economy tanks
Is your job economy-proof?

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Beat the retiree crowds to these 5 places abroad. Also in the news: Better options for student loan repayments, the pros and cons of travel loans, and why millennials are piling up debt to keep up with their friends.

Beat the Retiree Crowds to These 5 Places Abroad
Before they become popular.

Student Loans: Are You Making Repayment Harder?
Finding better options.

Fly Now, Pay Later: Are Travel Loans a Good Deal?
Convenience comes at a cost.

Millennials Pile Up Debt To Keep Up With Their Friends, Survey Finds
FOMO.