FICO has finally disclosed how much late payments, maxed out credit accounts, or more serious mishaps can damage your credit score. You know paying late is bad for your score, but now you know how bad. Paying thirty days late can drop your score 60 to 80 points. Even if you pay on time, maxing out your card can drop your score 10 to 45 points.The good news? This kind of hit can be put behind you relatively quickly--your most recent history counts most when it comes to calculating your scores. Also, paying late enough to incur a late charge but less than thirty days late does NOT get reported to credit bureaus and does NOT impact your score.

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FICO refers to these hits as "damage points" and they are subtracted from your score if you do not pay as agreed or appear to be in financial trouble (which is what maxing out available credit implies). Great credit scores require not only paying on time every month, but using credit conservatively--carrying low or no balances and only using a few accounts.

FICO scores range from 300 to 850, and these days it takes a score of 720-740 or better to be eligible for the best mortgage interest rates. While FHA itself doesn't have hard-and-fast credit score rules, many FHA lenders do-you want a score of at least 620 to be eligible with many lenders.

Your payment history accounts for 35% of your credit score. Here is how the following events affect you if your score is 680:

  1. 30 day late payment: subtract 60 to 80 points.
  2. Debt settlement: subtract 45 to 65 points (but keep in mind that most debt settlement companies have to stop making payments for several months before attempting to settle your debts, so the hit to your score from several months of non-payment can be hundreds of points).
  3. Foreclosure:subtract 85 to 105 points (but again, most people in foreclosure miss a few payments before this happens--so the score can go significantly lower than this).
  4. Bankruptcy: subtract 130 to 150 points, plus whatever penalties you incur for paying late before filing.

Those with higher scores can see bigger drops in their scores from the same events. If your score is 780 instead of 680, expect a bankruptcy to drop your score a whopping 220 to 240 points. Note that most bankruptcies start with several months' of missed payments, so by the time you get around to filing your score could go considerably lower than 130-150 points. If bankruptcy or foreclosure is in your future, you can minimize the impact by making your payments on time up to the day you file.

Another part of your score is credit utilization--the idea being that financially responsible people use credit for convenience, not because they are spending more than they earn. Using a large chunk of your available credit or carrying balances month after month is a good sign that your earnings are not keeping up with your spending. That's why maxing out a card triggers a 10 to 45 point drop in your FICO score.

Some events that can cause your score to drop aren't even in your control. It's been all over the news--credit card companies have been cutting customers' credit lines like crazy. Thirty-three million had their credit lines reduced an average of $5,100 between October 2008 and April 2009. Twenty-four million of these people had excellent payment records with average FICO scores of 760, according to the Washington Post. And unfortunately, a drop in available credit automatically increases your credit utilization ratio and can drop your score.

Of course, knowing the impact on a FICO score and actually avoiding credit boogers are two different things. You can't get blood from a turnip, and people witout jobs can't pay their bills like they used to.

While knowing the numbers may not be able to help you keep your score high if your job evaporates, the information may help you make the best decision in the face of financial tragedy--for example, it may be preferable to file for bankruptcy protection immediately rather than pay your bills late for six months and then have to file anyway. Or raid your savings to make your minimum payments no matter what until you find a new job. Protecting your credit score as best you can is important for your long-term financial future.