I’m often asked if having certain types of credit or loans is better or worse than other types of credit or loans.
I get questions like, “John, is it better to have a car loan or a mortgage for my scores?” I also hear, “John, is it better to have a secured card or an unsecured card for my scores?”
In fact, you can swap in almost any type of credit-related account and I’ve been asked about that scenario.
I’ve been getting this type of question for almost 15 years now, and it seems that people believe there’s value or a penalty for having certain types of loans or accounts on your credit reports. That’s completely understandable and, thankfully, almost a complete myth.
First, let’s tackle the secured credit card, versus the unsecured credit card, versus the charge card question. The assumption is that the TYPE of card has a direct impact on your credit scores. That’s an incorrect assumption, meaning: you’re not penalized or rewarded for having one type of card over another.
That doesn’t mean one form of plastic isn’t better or worse for your credit than another. For example, a secured credit card is easier to max out than an unsecured credit card.
Why? The reason is because secured cards have considerably lower credit limits than unsecured credit cards. It has nothing to do with the fact that one is secured and one isn’t. It has everything to do with the credit limits.
When it comes to installment loans, the issue of credit limits disappears because installment loans don’t have credit limits. They do, however, have original loan amounts.
An auto loan is likely to have a considerably lower loan amount than a mortgage, home equity loan and perhaps even a student loan. And, balances do matter on installment loans, albeit slightly.
Exactly like credit cards, credit scores do not treat installment loans of one variety or another differently. The collateral issue of balances can cause variable score impact, however.
One thing we haven’t addressed yet is the issue of missing payments and defaulting. Defaulting on a credit card, secured card, charge card, auto loan, mortgage, or any other kind of credit card, is treated equally — as one default.
You’re not penalized because you’ve defaulted on one variety of credit account versus another. You can, however, have a much larger default amount on a mortgage than any other type of credit account and that’s where the score impact can be variable.
The bottom line is: it’s not really the type of account that’s important, but it’s the incident that matters.
One Exception to the Rule
There is one very small exception to this rule. In fact, it’s so small that I thought very hard about omitting it.
There’s a chance your score could be negatively impacted if you have too many finance company accounts on your credit reports. These are the loans offered by consumer finance lenders who often target the near or subprime consumer.
Notwithstanding the consumer finance issue, the lender is also meaningless in your scores. So, you don’t get rewarded for doing business with a large, well-known credit card issuer and you don’t get penalized for doing business with a subprime credit card issuer.
In fact, credit scores are brand agnostic when it comes to your credit accounts. The most important factor is how you manage them.
John Ulzheimer is the President of Consumer Education at SmartCredit.com, the credit blogger for Mint.com, and a contributor for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. He is an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring and identity theft. Formerly of FICO, Equifax and Credit.com, John is the only recognized credit expert who actually comes from the credit industry. The opinions expressed in his articles are his and not of Mint.com or Intuit. Follow John on Twitter.