Plus, anyone who takes on too much debt is likely to start missing payments. A single skipped payment can knock as much as 110 points off your FICO scores.

The key to having good credit scores is to have, and responsibly use, credit. Piling up debt isn't responsible, necessary or smart.

Misstatement No. 3: "Credit scores don't benefit consumers. They just help lenders squeeze more profits out of us."

There's a kernel of truth here. Credit scores were designed, wholly and entirely, to benefit lenders by helping them gauge the risk that you would default on a loan. Originally, you weren't even supposed to know that credit scores existed. Once upon a time, lenders were contractually obligated to keep them a secret.

But that doesn't mean the system has no benefit for individuals. Credit scores gave lenders the confidence to make credit more available -- and make it cheaper for those with good scores. That means if you're responsible with credit, you'll pay less for a loan than someone who has been less responsible. You won't have to cover the risk that the other guy will default.

Credit scoring is also pretty much colorblind. In the not-so-distant past, it was harder for women and people of color to get a loan. Discrimination hasn't entirely disappeared, but credit scores have gone a long way toward convincing bankers that it's unprofitable.

Misstatement No. 4: "I paid my old debts, but they're still showing on my credit reports."

Paying your debts doesn't erase them from your credit history. The credit bureaus can continue to report negative information for up to seven years and 180 days after an account first went delinquent. (Bankruptcies can be reported for up to 10 years.)

You may be able to persuade a collection agency to delete a collection account from your credit reports in exchange for payment. But you typically won't be able to erase what the original creditor reports about you, which means that the information that's most damaging to your credit scores -- the skipped payments and charge-off that occurred before the account was turned over to collections -- will remain on your reports for the full seven and a half years.

By the way, you shouldn't fall for a credit repair firm's pitch that it can erase true, negative information from your credit files. These outfits often flood the bureaus with disputes, but the vast majority of those disputes go nowhere, and the negative information remains on your files.

Misstatement No. 5: "If you don't pay your debts, you're stealing."

Theft is a crime. Owing money generally isn't.

There are exceptions, of course. If you rack up debt knowing full well you can't pay the bill, you're committing fraud. Refusing to pay the Internal Revenue Service (like actor Wesley Snipes) or court-ordered child support (like former NBA star Vernon Maxwell or hotel magnate Patrick Quinn) also can land you in jail.

Click here to become a fan of MSN Money on Facebook

But most people who owe debts they can't pay didn't start out intending to stiff their creditors. In fact, many people who struggle with debt wind up draining assets that would otherwise be protected from creditors, such as retirement accounts or home equity.

Most of us believe that skipping out on a debt you can afford to pay is morally wrong. Throwing in the towel on debts you can't pay, however, is sometimes the best of bad options.

Liz Weston is the Web's most-read personal-finance writer. She is the author of several books, most recently "The 10 Commandments of Money: Survive and Thrive in the New Economy" (find it on Bing). Weston's award-winning columns appear every Monday and Thursday, exclusively on MSN Money. Join the conversation and send in your financial questions on Liz Weston's Facebook fan page.