Build Credit: The 30% Rule – Making Sense of Utilization Rates

What do you think is better? Having only one credit card that is near it’s credit limit that you pay in full each month or three to five credit cards with low balances that you pay off each month? If you picked the first option, you might be surprised to find out how harmful having a high credit balance actually is to your credit score.
Why would you want MORE credit cards with lower limits?
The proportion of debt that you carry on credit card to your credit limit is called a “utilization rate.” Credit bureaus look at this ratio as a factor in determining your credit score. The lower your utilization rate, the better your score. An ideal utilization rate is anything below 30%. We call this the 30% rule. That means that you only want to have credit balances that make up less than 30% of your actual credit limit. For example if your credit limit is $1000, your credit balance should never exceed $300.
What about if you pay your bills on time each month?
Credit bureaus are looking to see if you live within your means and use this 30% rule as measurement. Paying your bills on time shows you’re responsible for your debt, however it doesn’t reflect your lifestyle choices as well as the 30% rule does. That means you should NEVER let your balance exceed the 30% marker.
What about if you don’t have a preset limit?
In some cases, such as with American Express, you may not have a spending limit. In these situations the credit bureau will take the highest balance you ever had on your credit card use that amount as your default balance. If you’re highest balance was $8,000 that would mean your balance should never exceed $2400.
What should you do if you currently exceed the 30% rule?
The first option is to pay off any debt until your balance is under 30% of your credit limit. If this is not an option for you, you can transfer your debts between cards to keep them under 30%. In addition, you can try asking your credit card company for an increased balance. Just make sure to check they are reporting the new credit balance on your credit report or you may find yourself over the 30% limit.
Lastly, if you have less than 5 credit cards, you can try opening a new credit card to help move the balances around.