Five questions with Steve Brobeck, Executive Director, Consumer Federation of America

Date: June 25, 2020

What are some highlights of this year’s Credit Knowledge Survey results?

We were pleased by small improvements in consumer knowledge about credit scores in comparison with 2014. For example, more Americans know that age, marital status and ethnicity are not used to calculate credit scores; and that making all loan payments on time, using a credit card but keeping low balances, and avoiding opening several credit card accounts at the same time will raise a low credit score or maintain a high one.

However, serious consumer knowledge gaps remain. For instance, only 20 percent of Americans know that low credit scores are likely to increase the finance charges on a $20,000, 60-month car loan by more than $5,000, and more than two-fifths (41 percent) incorrectly think that the additional charges would be less than $3,000.

A summary of the survey results is available for download here.

Following the 2014 survey, you cited lower awareness of credit scoring and related issues among survey respondents under the age of 35. Did that “Millennial gap” change?

Compared with 2014 survey findings, Millennials showed improvements in several areas of credit score knowledge: For instance:

· The portion of respondents under age 35 aware of the high cost of a low score on an auto loan rose to 22 percent, up from 15 percent. (Although correct responses are still in the minority, this is a fairly large improvement.)

· The portion of Millennial respondents who know consumers have more than one credit score increased to 77 percent, from 72 percent in 2014;

· Millennial respondents who recognize the importance of checking credit-report accuracy rose to 73 percent, from 69 percent;

· The portion of respondents under 35 who know the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is the federal agency best suited to resolving problems about credit scores and reports increased to 70 percent, from 65 percent.

These knowledge improvements among Millennials accompanied a sizable increase in that age group’s reported acquisition of credit scores and credit reports, compared with 2014. 57 percent of respondents age 18-34 reported having obtained a free copy of their credit report within the past 12 months, up from 49 percent in 2014. And 53 percent reported having received a credit score in the past year, versus 44 percent in 2014.

Despite this narrowing of the Millennial gap, a credit score knowledge gap between Millennials and older Americans. For example, there is greater awareness among all respondents than among millennial respondents that the three main credit bureaus collect information on which scores are based (70 percent versus 61 percent) and that 700 is usually a good credit score (81 percent versus. 73 percent).

What was the thinking behind the revamp of the Credit Score Quiz website (CreditScoreQuiz.org)?

Four years is a lifetime in the online world, and the Quiz website was literally starting to feel “old school,” as both its chalkboard-and-classroom design and its behind-the-scenes code base were becoming dated. The new site has a streamlined, modern design that’s optimized for use on smartphones and tablets as well as PCs. It also condenses the quiz for quicker completion and adds features that simplify sharing results via social media and inviting friends to try the quiz for themselves. It’s a new better version of a great educational tool.

Why does CFA consider it so important that consumers understand personal credit and credit scores?

Credit reports and credit scores play an important and increasing role in the American marketplace in allocating and pricing credit and other services. A bad credit record and low scores can lead to denial of access to credit, utility service, or a rental property, and also greatly increase the prices of these services. A bad credit record can even make it difficult for you to get a job.

But the good news is that consumers can exercise some control over these credit reports and scores by the choices they make. Making loan payments on time every month, and not carrying large credit card balances, will help ensure that your reports and scores are positive. But just to make sure that the information in your reports is accurate, check this accuracy periodically. You can do so for free once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com.

What is the most important advice you would give to consumers who want to attain or preserve high credit scores?

Don’t borrow unless you are certain you can repay the loan. Then, make all payments on time every month. One or two missed payments on a credit card or auto loan could well lower your credit scores by more than 50 points.