Your relationship with credit has a huge impact on the quality of your life. When it’s good, you have abundant options for where you live and what you buy and, in some cases, even where you work or who you date. But when it’s bad, you often end up being denied the things you desire most.
Like any other long-term commitment, your credit score flourishes with your attention, understanding and care – and wastes away with neglect.
Improve your odds and lower your chances of rejection by lenders and creditors by taking the following steps to have a healthy relationship with your credit.
Get to know your credit score.
The whole point of a credit score is to give potential lenders a way to access your creditworthiness so they can minimize their risk. In the U.S., credit scores range from 300-850, with “good” being 700 or above and “bad” at 550 or less. Around 70% of your credit score is determined by your payments history and your credit utilization ratio, which is how much you owe on your credit cards compared with the total limit on all of those cards combined. The lower the ratio, the better. In general, lenders want to see 30% credit utilization or less. Make sure you regularly check your credit scores from the top three credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax). Once a year, you’re entitled to a free report from each, or you can sign up for services that allow you to regularly check your credit scores and also notify you of any changes.
Make the date – don’t be late.
Paying your bills on time, always, is one of the most important and simplest ways to support a good credit score. This means all bills – rent, utilities, etc. – not just credit cards. While lenders and creditors may not necessarily report your good financial behavior (although they should!), they normally will report late or delinquent payments starting from just a month after the due date. This drags down your credit score. Once you’re 180 days late, credit cards will do a “charge-off,” which closes down your account. You’ll still owe the money, and it looks worse on your credit score than a standard late payment. You can lessen the impact if you pay your creditors back, but the overall lesson is to pay your bills on time or at the very least, as quickly as possible.
Get credit for healthy habits, like paying your rent on time.
You are entitled to build credit without going into debt. One of the best ways to do so it to make sure what’s likely your single biggest monthly expense – rent payments – are reported to all three credit bureaus. It’s worth asking your property manager if they can do this for you, and if not, we can help.
Care for your credit cards.
Credit cards, or any “revolving credit” accounts, can give you a great opportunity to demonstrate good financial habits to help up your credit scores. They can also be an easy way to get in over your head and negatively impact your scores. Here are important ways to keep your credit cards in check:
Keep your credit card balances low: Pay off your monthly balance when you can, or at the very least, keep your balance to no more than 30% of your card’s credit limit.
Minimize how many credit cards you open: Every time you apply for a card, there’s a “hard inquiry” on your credit report. Too many of these can negatively affect your score, since it will appear to potential lenders that you’re applying for multiple accounts and overextending yourself financially. And of course, more credit cards can tempt you into running up more debt.
Leave unused cards open: Rather than get rid of credit cards that you no longer use, especially if you’ve had them for a while, leave the line open but don’t use the card. This helps lower that important credit utilization ratio because it adds to your overall credit limit without increasing your debt.
Become an authorized user on someone else’s account: As long as that person uses credit responsibly, this can help you build your credit profile.
Don’t be afraid to fight for your rights.
If you see something wrong on your credit report, dispute it. The Fair Credit Reporting Act ensures your rights to have accurate information on your credit reports and makes it legal for you to dispute anything that’s incomplete or inaccurate. According to a survey by LendU based on publicly available data from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), 74% of people who filed complaints said their issue was about inaccurate information recorded on their credit reports. Someone else’s mistake is your burden; those inaccuracies can easily bring down your credit score. Take action immediately to dispute erroneous charges or inaccurate information.
Address large or late debts as soon as possible.
Debt isn’t all bad; in fact, some debt is absolutely fine if your account is current. In some cases, closing older accounts that have been open for a long time and are in good standing can actually help raise your score because it reduces the average age of your open accounts. Late payments and excessive debt, however, can negatively affect your credit scores for as long as seven years, and bankruptcy for up to ten years. Do your best to fix problems as soon as possible, and their impact will lessens over time.
Keeping a close relationship with your credit boils down to three key practices: Pay your bills on time (and look for ways to get credit for having good financial habits), be thoughtful about how you handle debt and dispute inaccurate charges on your credit reports. Your commitment will pave the way to support a lifestyle you love.