Men Aren’t the Smartest When It Comes to Credit

The majority of men—61 percent—describe their knowledge of how credit scores work as good or excellent.

They might want to take a refresher.

More than 40 percent of men and women questioned in a new poll think a person’s age, marital status, and ethnicity are among the components that determine a credit score. Of course, none of them are. On all three of those questions, a significantly higher percentage of men thought those things played a part in a credit score, according to the annual survey of credit understanding from The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and VantageScore Solutions LLC.

The national questionnaire of 1,000 American adults showed that the biggest gender-knowledge gap was about whether marital status affected your credit score: Some 48 percent of men thought that was true, compared with 38 percent of women. Maybe those men are thinking back to earlier times: Until the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974, banks weren’t required to issue credit cards to single women and married women could only get bank credit cards if their husband co-signed.

Additionally, fewer men correctly choose three ways a consumer could improve a credit score, or maintain a high one. Those strategies included paying on time, checking credit scores annually, paying down balances rather than moving debt to another card or a home equity loan, and not using too much of your total credit limit.

How much of your credit limit can you safely use without seeing your score dinged? “Don’t use much above 40 percent of your total credit limit, and be wary of consolidating lines of credit, which would inadvertently give you a higher credit utilization number,” said Barrett Burns, chief executive of VantageScore. He also cautions against opening store credit cards. “If you’re going to buy $1,000 worth of merchandise, they are going to give you a $1,000 limit, so that would show 100 percent of that line being used,” said Burns.

While 64 percent of men surveyed knew it’s important to make sure their credit report is accurately represented by the three main credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax), 72 percent of women got that memo. And while 63 percent of men said they’ve obtained a free copy of their credit reports, 67 percent of women reported having done so. (You can easily get a free credit score report by going to www.annualcreditreport.com.)

Rather than a knowledge gap, what women may suffer from in the credit arena is a confidence gap: Even though they largely outdid men on the questions, fewer women—54 percent—rated their knowledge of credit as good or excellent. According to CFA executive director Stephen Brobeck, this may be an inadvertent boon to women. “Women think they know less [about credit] so pay more attention to their credit scores,” he said. “They tend to have both lower incomes and more dependents, but not less education, so have a greater need to know something about credit scores and the same ability to search for information.”

Both genders, however, showed a decline in their understanding of credit compared with last year’s survey. Fewer people had success with a multiple-answer question about how much more a person with a low credit score could pay on a 60-month auto loan, as well as with more basic facts such as how everyone has more than one credit score, and that credit repair companies rarely wind up actually repairing your credit.

So take heart, men: We are all apparently getting dumber about credit.

This article by Suzanne Woolley first appeared on Bloomberg Quint and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.