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What Should My Credit Utilization Ratio Be?

Your credit utilization ratio is an important indicator of how well you manage your spending and credit card debt. Here's what you should know about what your ratio should be.

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How much you owe is an important factor in determining your FICO® Scores, making up 30% of the total calculation. One of the elements that FICO considers in this factor is your credit utilization ratio.

Your credit utilization ratio provides insight into how you manage your credit card debt. While it's a good idea to avoid using too much of your available credit, it also doesn't help if you're not using any at all.

If you're trying to figure out how your credit cards impact your FICO® Scores, here's what you should know.

What Is the Credit Utilization Ratio and Why Is it Important?

Your credit utilization ratio is the percentage of the available credit that you're using on a given credit card account, as well as across all of your credit cards.

For example, let's say you have three credit cards:

  • Card A has a $5,000 credit limit and a $1,000 balance.
  • Card B has a $10,000 limit and a $4,000 balance.
  • Card C has a $1,000 limit and a $750 balance.

To get your utilization ratio for each card, divide the balance by the credit limit, and you'll get 20% for Card A, 40% for Card B and 75% for Card C.

To get your aggregate credit utilization ratio, you'll add up the three balances and credit limits, then run the same equation. This would give you a total utilization ratio of roughly 36%.

Your credit utilization ratio is important because it provides creditors with an insight into how you manage your finances. Credit cards are generally used for everyday spending, and if you regularly max out your credit cards or get close to it, it could indicate that you're having a hard time managing your money without the use of debt.

This could spell trouble if you take on a new credit account and don't have the funds to keep up with all of your financial obligations.

As such, the more of your available credit that you're using at a given time, the more at risk you are of defaulting on a payment, which results in a lower FICO® Score.

What Should My Target Credit Utilization Ratio Be?

Some financial experts recommend keeping your credit utilization ratio below 30%. However, the data doesn't support the implication that your credit score will dip once your utilization ratio crosses the 30% threshold.

Just like every other factor in your FICO® Score, the impact your credit utilization ratio will have on your score will vary based on a number of factors.

That said, generally the lower your ratio is, the better. Generally, keeping it below 10% (and consistently paying bills on time) can help you build and maintain a good FICO® Score.

That said, you want to be careful about having a utilization ratio of 0%. This is because it signifies that you're not using your credit cards at all, giving FICO less information about how you manage your money. While a 0% utilization ratio won't cause your FICO® Scores to drop significantly, it can prevent you from achieving maximum points for the amounts owed score ingredient.

How to Lower Your Credit Utilization Ratio

Your credit utilization ratio is determined by two things: your reported credit card balances and your available credit. Keeping the former low and the latter high is key to maintaining a low ratio. Here are some quick tips to accomplish that goal:

  • Avoid spending too much: Avoid using your credit cards too often, especially if you have trouble overspending or if you have cards with low credit limits. Even a balance of $200 on a card with a $300 limit (e.g. 66% utilization) could negatively impact your FICO® Scores.

  • Hold onto old credit cards: Closing a credit card takes away its available credit, which could increase your overall credit utilization ratio. As a result, it's best to avoid closing credit cards unless you're at risk of overspending and getting into credit card debt or there's an annual fee or security deposit, and you no longer use the card.

  • Make your payments strategically: Credit card companies typically report card balances to the credit reporting agencies based on your balance each month when your statement closes. Making a payment before that date could drop your utilization ratio enough to keep it at a satisfactory level. Alternatively, you could make multiple payments throughout the month to keep it low at all times.

  • Make paying off credit card debt a priority: If your credit utilization ratio is chronically high because you have a lot of credit card debt, make plans to pay down your balances as quickly as possible. Pay down your balances can not only benefit your FICO® Scores by lowering your utilization ratio, but it can also have a positive impact on your budget and overall financial health.

The Bottom Line

Your credit utilization ratio is an important factor in your FICO® Scores, so it's crucial that you know where you stand and take steps to maintain a low ratio every month.

Depending on your situation, this can take time, but the good news is that, as soon as you lower your ratio, your FICO® Scores will respond accordingly— you won't see lingering negative effects as you would with late payments and other negative items.

If you're not sure what your utilization ratio is, sign up for a credit monitoring service and keep track of where you stand. If you want to reduce your ratio, start taking steps now to reduce your credit card debt and maintain a low level going forward.

Ben Luthi

Ben Luthi has been writing about money and travel for seven years. He specializes in consumer credit and has written for several major publications and industry leaders, including U.S. News and World Report, Fox Business, Wirecutter, Experian, and Credit Karma.