CardySark wrote:I've been carrying a balance that ranges between 15 and 20% of my card limit since then and my TU FICO has actually increased.
So is PIF really that crucial or am I lucking out here somehow?
It's not simply whether or not PIF is "all its cracked up to be or not" and you're assuming causality where it doesn't exist.
PIF'ing for one thing is done to avoid the accrual of interest. If one is playing the rewards game then PIF'ing is a must as interest will kill rewards.
As for scoring considerations, utilization is the second biggest factor (Amounts Owed):http://www.myfico.com/crediteducation/whatsinyourscore.aspx
However, it's not the only factor -- note all the other slices in that pie. It's certainly possible to have a score increase despite increased utilization. It's really a matter of how all the various factors involved add up. However, lower utilization will generally lead to better scoring. That said, there is a diminishing point of returns and you'd have to determine where that point lies specifically for your credit profile.
It's possible that you could see significantly better scores with lowered utilization. It's possible that you could see a negligible improvement or no improvement at all. Again, we can't say for certain for you. You'd have to adjust your reported utilization and monitor the effect.
The general recommendation is "only one balance reporting at 10% or less for optimal scoring". I've found that my score is just fine even with most of my cards reporting balances. I have some with intro offers so they are carrying balances but none of them exceed 30% and overall is typically around 10%. My scores for the most part tend to straddle ~800. Could they be higher with lower utilization and less balances reporting? Possibly but I'm fine with them where they are. I guess my point is that the guidelines are just guidelines and you really have to see how the various factors specifically affect your credit and where you want to draw the lines.