What Is a Credit Limit?

A credit limit is the maximum amount of credit a financial institution extends to a client on a credit card or a line of credit. Lenders usually set credit limits based on specific information about the credit-seeking applicant, including their income and employment status. Credit limits are an important factor that can affect consumers’ credit scores and their ability to obtain credit in the future.

Key Takeaways

  • A credit limit is the maximum amount of credit you receive from a financial institution.
  • Products like credit cards and lines of credit have credit limits.
  • Lenders usually set credit limits based on the information in a consumer’s credit report, among other factors.
  • High-risk borrowers generally have lower credit limits, while lower-risk borrowers typically receive higher credit limits.
  • It is usually not ideal to use your maximum credit limit.
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6 Benefits Of Increasing Your Credit Limit

How a Credit Limit Works

A credit limit is the maximum amount of money a lender will allow you to spend using a particular credit card or revolving line of credit. Lenders set those limits based on several factors, including your credit score, personal income, and loan repayment history. Lenders generally offer higher limits to borrowers they view as lower risks.

Credit limits can apply to both secured and unsecured credit. If the line of credit is secured, or backed by collateral, the lender takes the value of the collateral into account and may offer a higher limit. For example, if you take out a home equity line of credit (HELOC), your credit limit will be based, in part, on the equity in your home.

Lenders will generally issue higher credit limits to creditors they consider to be lower risk and put lower credit limits on riskier borrowers.

A credit limit works the same way regardless of whether you have a credit card or a line of credit. You can spend up to the credit limit. If you exceed the credit limit, you may face fines or penalties on top of your regular payment. If the you spend less than the limit, you can continue to use the card or line of credit until you reach the limit.

A downside to high credit limits is that they can potentially lead to overspending, to the point where you cannot afford your monthly payments.

Credit Limit vs. Available Credit

A credit limit and available credit are not the same. The credit limit is the total amount you can borrow, whereas available credit is the amount that is remaining for you to use, including if you carry a balance.

For example, if you have a credit card with a $1,000 credit limit, and you charge $600, you have an additional $400 to spend. If you make a $40 payment, your balance would fall to $560, and you would then have $440 in available credit.

How Credit Limits Affect Your Credit Score

Your credit limits can have an impact on your credit score, an important number that lenders use to decide whether to issue you new credit and what interest rate to charge you for it. That’s because your credit utilization ratio, or the amount of debt you have outstanding at any given time as a percentage of the total credit you have access to, is one of the factors that goes into computing your score.

The lower that percentage, the better. So it pays to be aware of your credit limits and try to keep your borrowing well beneath them. Generally speaking, lenders look unfavorably on a credit utilization ratio that exceeds 30%.

Can Lenders Change Your Credit Limit?

In most cases, lenders reserve the right to change credit limits, either raising or lowering them. If you pay your bills on time every month and do not max out a credit card or line of credit, the lender may increase your credit limit.

An increased credit limit has a number of benefits, including potentially increasing your credit score by lowering your credit utilization ratio. It also gives you access to more credit if you should need it, such as in an unexpected emergency.

On the other hand, if you fail to make regular, timely payments, or if there are other signs of risk, the lender may opt to reduce your credit limit. A reduction of your credit limit will raise your credit utilization ratio and potentially damage your credit score. If a lender decides to lower your credit limit, it is generally required to notify you.

What is Available Credit?

Available credit is the unused portion of a credit limit. So, if you have a total credit limit of $10,000 on your credit card and you have used $5,000, you would have the remaining $5,000 as available credit. Available credit can fluctuate throughout the billing cycle based on account usage.

What Is a Credit Score?

A credit score is a calculated value that serves as a proxy for your creditworthiness or ability and likelihood that you will repay any debts on time according to the terms of the loan agreement. Credit scores are generated based on information collected by credit reporting agencies such as Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. They use formulas that assign weights to factors like payment history, amounts owed, length of credit history, and credit utilization.

Why Does a Credit Limit Matter?

A credit limit matters because it dictates how much money you can access to pay for expenses. You need to know your credit limit when you make purchases, so you do not go over the limit and incur fees. A merchant in that situation may also refuse to accept your card. In addition, your collective credit limits can impact your credit score, which is based in part on how much of your available credit you are using at any given time.

The Bottom Line

Credit limits can play a key role in your financial picture, and they are different for each person and for each financial product. If you use your credit according to your lender’s terms, and avoid exceeding (or even coming too close to) your limits, you are more likely to establish a good credit history, which can open up other financial opportunities.