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How Much Did I Hurt My Credit Score Over the Holidays?

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You can admit it … you leaned on your credit cards pretty heavily over the holidays, didn’t you?  Presents, hotels, restaurants, and gas for your car put a hefty dent into your credit limits. Now that your credit cards aren’t smoking from the constant swiping any longer, how do you go about determining just how much credit score damage was done?

There are a variety of ways to pull off this exercise. One you can do on your own, for yourself. The other, you can let us do it for you. Let’s start with the latter.

Let us do the work

While you’re here on the CreditSesame website you should go ahead and sign up and claim your free credit score from Experian. You won’t need your credit card because it’s really free. And while you’re here you may want to sign up for your free Experian credit monitoring too. Again, no credit card needed.

If you’re able to claim your free credit score before the end of your current credit card billing cycle then you’ll see your credit score before all of the credit card debt hits your Experian credit report. Let’s call that your unaffected credit score, because it hasn’t been impacted by all of your shopping. The score is likely to fall somewhere between 600 and 800.

Now open up your calendar and set a reminder for the last day of next month. By then all of your credit cards will have been updated on your credit report to include all of your holiday shopping. And, you’ll also get a new Experian credit score. You might want to sit down for this part because the news may not be pleasant. This second score we’ll call your affected score.

If your second score is lower than your first then it’s likely lower because of the impact of the credit card debt. That’s the bad news. The good news is paying down/off credit card debt is the most actionable way to improve your credit scores quickly. And, if you’re able to do so, your scores will likely recover to their “unaffected” level within one month.

…Or you can do it on your own

For this method you’re going to need to pull at least one of your three credit reports.  They are all free at AnnualCreditReport.com, but only once every 12 months. For this method you’re going to need a calculator and something to write with because you’ll be doing some math.

Locate each and every open credit card on your credit report, even the ones that have no balance. This should include your general use credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover), retail store credit cards (Macy’s, Gap, Target, etc.) and gasoline credit cards. Now circle the credit limit and the balance on each one of those cards.

Next you’re going to want to add together ALL of the credit limits on ALL of those cards. Set that number aside. Now add together ALL of the balances on ALL of those cards. Set that number aside.

Don’t be tempted to use the actual current balance on your credit cards. I know you’ve probably made a payment on the cards and those balances on your credit reports aren’t actually 100% accurate. We have to do it this way because credit scoring models use the data straight from your credit reports for their calculations.

Now, take the sum of all your credit card balances and divide it by the sum of all of your credit limits.  So, if you had $10,000 in aggregate balances and $27,000 in aggregate credit limits then the result is $10,000/$27,000 = 37%. This percentage is what’s referred to as your revolving utilization or your debt-to-limit ratio. That number is very important to your credit scores.

For the second half of this exercise you’ll need a second set of your credit reports. The problem is if you claimed all three of your freebies via AnnualCreditReport.com then you won’t be able to get them for free for 12 months. So, I’d suggest pulling one of your three credit reports for the first half of this exercise and a different one of your three credit reports for the second half. They should be similar enough that any differences are immaterial.

Now it’s time to lather, rinse and repeat because you’re going to do that whole “balance divided by limits” exercise again. If your debt-to-limit ratio is considerably higher than it was the first time, your credit scores will undoubtedly be lower.

If your second score is lower than your first then it’s likely lower because of the impact of the credit card debt.  As with the first method, the good news is paying down/off credit card debt will improve your credit scores quickly.

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