"If they looked manually at your credit report and saw that debts were being repaid through a debt management program, they probably wouldn't open a new account for you," Sweet says. Of course, "you shouldn't be opening a new account if you're in a debt management plan."
However, most lenders these days will never see your actual report.
"They don't look at reports manually anymore," Sweet says. "Some small creditors might, but most of any size use automated scoring systems of one model or another."
Once you've successfully emerged from credit counseling with your formerly tattered credit pieced back together, the history of consistent payments is what matters the most. "Even mortgage lenders will work with consumers who have successfully gone through debt management counseling and will work to get them a mortgage," McNaughton says.
3. Canceling credit cards boosts my scoreOpen accounts spell available, potential debt, so better to close them, runs the legend. But experts agree that most creditors want to see at least two or three pieces of active credit to prove you can manage debt responsibly.
And, Watts chimes in, those unused cards lying in your jewelry box aren't wreaking havoc with your score.
"The myth is that they look ominous to potential lenders," he says. "Reality is that paying your bills on time and not being overextended is more important than having $5,000 worth of available credit on a card you're not using. We continue to evaluate this 'total credit limits' statistic, and we simply don't find it falling into one of those highly predictive areas."
On the other hand, extremes never look good. Opening one charge account occasionally to take advantage of a 10 percent offer is negligible. Going wild and signing up for five during the holiday season probably would invite a decreased score, he says.
4. Too many inquiries hurt my scoreOnce upon a time, this statement was true. But get with the times -- in this millennium, the credit agencies recognize a shopping mind-set when they see one. If a batch of mortgage or car loan inquiries arrives within 30 days, it doesn't count at all, Watts says.
"Outside that 30-day period, if we locate a mortgage or car inquiry that occurred 180 days ago, and then see more mortgage- or auto-related hits in the accompanying 14-day window, we err on the consumer's side and still assume she's shopping for one item," he says.
"We really feel like we are capturing the true consumer experience and not holding it against them for being an aggressive or smart rate shopper."