What Is Revolving Utilization and Why Is It So Important to Your Credit Scores?

If you want to have great credit scores then pay your bills on time every month. The previous statement is great advice; however, it is incomplete. Simply paying your bills on time is not enough to achieve and maintain great credit scores. In fact, only 35% of your FICO credit scores are based upon your payment history. The other 65% of your FICO scores have nothing at all to do with how timely you pay your bills.

30% of your FICO credit scores, plus a significant portion of your VantageScore credit scores, are calculated based upon information found in the "Amounts Owed" category of your credit reports. The primary factors considered within this category are largely based upon those little pieces of plastic you carry around in your wallet: your credit cards.

What Is Revolving Utilization?

Revolving utilization is a term used within the credit world to describe how much or rather what percentage of your credit card limits are being used. Your revolving utilization ratio is also known as your debt-to-limit ratio or your credit utilization ratio. It measures how much of your credit limits are in use on each of your credit card accounts and expresses that calculation as a percentage. Here is a quick look at how revolving utilization is calculated.

Credit Limit: $5,000
Balance: $3,500
Revolving Utilization: Balance ($3,500) Divided by Limit ($5,000) = Revolving Utilization (70%)

Why Is Revolving Utilization Considered in Your Credit Scores?

Your revolving utilization is an important consideration in your credit scores for one very simple and important reason: it is statistically predictive of higher credit risk. When you carry outstanding credit card debt on your credit reports you represent a higher credit risk than someone whose reports show paid off credit card balances.

All debt is not created equal. When you take out a mortgage loan or an auto loan, for example, you are opening an installment account. Credit cards, by comparison, are revolving accounts. Installment debt is much less risky for lenders to extend because the debt is generally secured by some sort of collateral (aka your house or your vehicle) which the lender can seize and resell in the event you stop making your payments. However, credit card debt is different.

Because of the nature of credit card debt, it is much more predictive of increased credit risk than installment debt. Think about it. If you begin to struggle financially due to an illness, divorce, job loss, or even poor financial management habits like overspending, which is the first obligation you will probably allow to slide in the event that you have more bills than money at the end of the month? Most likely you will not skip your mortgage payment, your rent, or your auto loan payment if you can help it. Credit card payments, however, are much more commonly skipped in the event of a financial shortage.

Additionally, increased credit card balances might indicate that a financial problem is looming. If a consumer loses his job then it is very common to rely upon credit cards to help finance every day expenses until a new source of income can be secured. As you can easily see, if your reports show that you are revolving balances on your credit cards from month to month, especially high balances when compared with your credit limits, it might make you appear to be a higher credit risk in the eyes of a lender.

The Good News

Although revolving unpaid credit card debt on your credit reports from month to month will almost certainly lower your credit scores, you can currently regain those lost points rather quickly, as soon as you start to eliminate the debt. The other goods news is that the score increase you may be eligible to earn from paying down your credit card balances and lowering your credit utilization can be earned incrementally (instead of an "all or nothing" scenario). In other words, as you pay down your credit card balances little by little you should begin to experience small credit score increases. You do not have to pay a credit card balance all the way down to zero on your credit reports before you can hope to receive a score boost.


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About the Author: Michelle Black is an author and leading credit expert with over a decade and a half of experience in the credit industry. She specializes in the areas of credit reporting, credit scoring, identity theft, budgeting, and debt eradication. She is featured monthly at credit seminars, podcasts, and in print. You can connect with Michelle on Facebook here