Why the Age of Your Credit History Matters

A healthy credit score shouldn't be underestimated.

This three-digit number plays a pivotal role in your financial life, including whether or not you'll qualify for auto loans, mortgages, or credit cards, and if so, what interest rates you'll pay. It can even affect your career, particularly if it's in the finance field: A brokerage firm isn't likely to hire a candidate they suspect isn't good with money. (See also: 15 Surprising Ways Bad Credit Can Hurt You)

Given how much weight your credit score carries, you should do everything within your power to maintain a high score. Yet, before you can maintain a good score, you have to understand the components that make up your credit score.

What Makes Up Your Credit Score

Credit scores aren't determined by a single factor, but rather multiple factors. Once you open a credit account, your creditors report account activity to the credit bureaus on a regular basis. The bureaus compile data related to your accounts, and based on reported information, the bureaus formulate a credit score.

It probably comes as no surprise that your payment history and the amounts you owe have a tremendous impact on your personal score. Your payment history makes up 35% of your score, while the amount you owe makes up 30% of your score. If you pay your bills on time, avoid delinquencies, and keep your balances within a reasonable range, you'll eventually build up to a solid score.

But even when you take these measures, good credit doesn't happen overnight. Because there's another factor that contributes to your overall score: When credit bureaus formulate credit scores, they also take into account the age of your credit history.

The age or length of your credit history — which makes up 15% of your credit score — doesn't have as big an impact on your score as your payment history and amounts owed. Still, you shouldn't downplay the importance of credit age.

How Credit Age Relates to Credit Risk

Most of us rely on credit for an auto loan, a house, and a credit card. Even so, being a creditor is risky business, and banks don't arbitrarily approve credit applications. They consider several factors before approving financing, such as your income and your credit score. Even if you have adequate income and pay your bills on time, the bank might reject your application if you don't meet the minimum credit score requirement for a loan. This can happen if you have a young credit history. (See also: How to Build Your Credit From Scratch)

The age of credit history affects overall scores because a longer history provides a better assessment of risk level. Credit age takes two elements into consideration: the age of your oldest account, and the average age of all your accounts. The longer accounts remain open, the more your credit matures. And as your credit matures, credit scoring models slowly add points to your score.

To illustrate, if you've had a credit history for the past six years with no negative activity appearing on your credit report, credit bureaus evaluate your entire borrowing pattern, and based on your history and record, deem you a responsible borrower. This is a fairly accurate assessment given the length of credit history. As a responsible borrower, you're rewarded with additional credit score points.

But let's say you've only had a credit file for six months or a year. Given your short credit history, credit bureaus can't accurately rate creditworthiness. Despite paying your bills on time, you don't have a long borrowing track record. There just isn't enough evidence to gauge how well you manage credit — this happens with time. You have a short credit history, and unfortunately, your credit score pays the price. The good news, however, is that this is a temporary problem.

What Can You Do?

Credit scores range from 300 to 850. If you're aiming for a perfect credit score, understand that it takes years of responsible credit habits to achieve. It doesn't matter how well you manage your credit accounts in the first one or two years, you probably won't have as high of a credit score as someone who's had A+ credit for eight or nine years — but you can get there.

Remember, your payment history and the amount you owe make up 35% and 30% of your credit score, respectively. So while your credit score might be low due to a short credit history today, keeping your credit card balances low and making timely monthly payments will gradually increase your score. (See also: How to Use Credit Cards to Improve Your Credit Score)

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