In a time when financial information can still seem complicated, one thing we're starting to better understand is how credit scores work. The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and VantageScore Solutions recently released the results of its second annual survey of consumers' knowledge about credit scores, which showed considerable improvement compared to 2011.

"In the numerous consumer knowledge surveys we have undertaken over the past several decades, I have never seen such improvement from one year to the next," said Stephen Brobeck, CFA's Executive Director in a statement. "However, credit reports and scores are so important to consumers that they should try to improve knowledge that remains deficient in several key areas."

The CFA-VantageScore hired ORC International to conduct its survey. The survey, a telephone poll of a representative sample of 1,000 adult Americans, took place in late April.

Nearly half of the respondents had obtained at least one credit score in the past year. The people who had gotten their score recently were more likely to know more about credit scores in general.

However, most people polled had some basic knowledge of what credit scores are and why they're used. 94 percent knew that mortgage lenders use them, and 90 percent knew that credit card issuers use them. Respondents also generally knew that other people and companies also use credit scores, namely landlords, home insurers and cell phone companies.

The survey showed that Americans also understandwhat negatively impacts a credit score, particularly missed payments, personal bankruptcy and high credit card balances, 94 percent, 90 percent, and 89 percent correctly knowing those respective items.

The recent attention and importance given to credit scores may also have contributed to consumers' increased knowledge about new, somewhat complicated consumer protections about credit score disclosures, such as knowing when lenders who use generic credit scores must inform borrowers what those scores are. 80 percent knew that they must receive their credit score after applying for a mortgage. 79 percent knew that consumers turned down for loans get access to their scores. 70 percent knew that when consumers apply for loans and don't get the best terms, such as the lowest interest rate available, they're entitled to get a copy of their score.

"Increases in consumer knowledge probably reflect in part the increased public attention given to credit scores because of the new protections," said Brobeck. "The improvements may also be related to increased efforts of financial educators, including our, to inform consumers about credit reports and scores."

Although the survey results showed great improvement in general credit score knowledge, they also showed a lack of understanding in certain aspects of credit scores, including some in which having a low credit score could be costly in terms of being able to receive good credit terms and interest rates.

The big red flag on the survey was that respondents didn't understand that having a low credit score meant higher interest rates, and in turn, more money out of their own wallets. Only 29 percent knew that on a $20,000, 5-year car loan, a borrower with a low credit score could play at least $5,000 more than the borrower with a high credit score.

What credit repair companies do also tended to confuse respondents. Just over half thought that these enterprises were "always" or "usually" helpful when it comes to fixing errors and improving scores. However, experts believe that credit repair companies don't do anything that consumers couldn't do themselves, and they often charge high prices for the service.

“While we are obviously delighted at the improvement of consumer knowledge about credit scoring, we remain committed to ensuring our educational resources will keep pace with the surging demand for credit-related education by consumers, including and especially underserved groups,” said Barrett Burns, President and CEO of VantageScore Solutions in a press release. The CFA and VantageScore quiz is available at