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RISMEDIA, February 3, 2011—People are having to make tough financial choices today, but many don’t have to wreck their credit scores if they know how the system works, according to credit expert Eddie Johansson, president of Credit Security Group.

“With the same amount of money, you can make decisions that kill your credit score or ones that keep your score—or at least give you the ability to rebuild your score quickly later,” he said. “Most people have wrong or little information about how the system works, and that’s a big reason scores go down when difficult decisions are made during a recession.”

Johansson advises major financial institutions and consumers on the FICO credit score model used by most lenders in deciding the borrower’s risk and interest rate. He described three common misconceptions that needlessly lower credit scores.

Misconception 1: Paying late didn’t hurt my credit since I’m caught up now. Johansson said recent late payments are the credit score killers he sees most often. “It’s great that you caught up,” he said, “but it doesn’t change the fact that you paid late. Anything other than ‘paid as agreed’ on accounts on your credit report hurts your score.”

Misconception 2: Dollar amounts matter in credit scores. An example of bad credit score advice here is “pay the highest bill first,” Johansson said. “Dollar amounts don’t matter in FICO scoring; ratios and recency do. The effect on your score is the same for a $1 late payment as a $1,000 late payment. The fewer late payments on your credit report, the higher your score—regardless of their dollar amounts,” he said.

Johansson emphasized the importance of paying all your bills on time, every time. However, he says that if you must pay late and want to avoid damage to your score, pay the accounts that report to credit bureaus first. You can find this information by getting a copy of your credit report.

Misconception 3: Closing credit card accounts helps your score. If you cancel a card, you may have just thrown away your chance to increase your score by continuing to build on years of positive credit. “Very long term positive account history can really boost your score,” Johansson said. “It’s best for your score to keep cards open and active, using them for small purchases. Next best is to just keep them open so you can build your score back up quickly by using them later.”

Don’t make a bad situation worse. In tough economic times, people often buy more on credit than they usually would. The amount they pay in interest on these purchases is largely determined by their credit scores. Poor decisions that lower scores combined with an already tight budget can be very costly, making money problems worse than they have to be. “What we’re trying to do,” Johansson said, “is help people get through these tough times with as little financial damage as possible. This is best for them, for lenders and for our economy.”

Johansson emphasized that lower credit scores may be unavoidable for some, and that credit scores are not the only factor to consider. “However,” he said, “good credit is an important part of financial security and must be considered when making the best long-term decisions. Having the right information is necessary to make good choices—now more than ever.”

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