One of the biggest life lessons that will prove valuable over and over again: the credit-related mistakes made in your past can come back to haunt you in the future, particularly if you intend on purchasing a home, vehicle, or taking out any other type of credit.
Your payment history, types of credit used, new credit, length of credit history, and amounts owed play a huge role in the importance of a FICO® score, which in turn determines if you’re eligible to make significant purchases, such as a home or car.
The silver lining to this story is, even though you may have a terrible credit score, it is not finite. Your credit score changes monthly, and there are several things you can do to help steer yourself in the right direction. In this blog post, we’ll outline a simple, four-step process to help you begin improving your credit score and work toward achieving your financial goals.
If you need help or advice regarding your current credit score, here are some helpful sites:
Step #1: Find out what your credit score is.
Did you know that one in eight Americans is unaware of their credit score? In fact, even among those who have checked their credit score, 46% haven’t done so in over two months.
If you would like to maintain or improve your credit score, the first step is finding out what it is! You’ll want to get copies of your credit report from all three major bureaus. You can obtain a report once per year from each bureau for free (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion).
While your credit score alone does not determine whether a lender can issue you credit, it is very important. Credit scores range from 300—850. A credit score of 711 is considered “good” by most lending standards.
The components of FICO scores are made up of five categories: length of credit history, credit mix, new credit, payment history, and how much you owe. Once you determine where you stand, work to improve or maintain your credit score.
Related Reading: How Does Your Credit Score Stack Up?
Step #2: Pay down your outstanding debt.
Start by putting a stop to your credit card usage. Next, use your credit report as a reference to list all of your open credit. Use your credit card statements to determine how much interest you’re paying on each card, and prioritize which ones you’d like to pay down first. Try to pay off credit lines with the highest interest first, while maintaining minimum payments on the rest of your credit cards.
Some people may feel like paying down their debt is an unattainable goal, but with the right plan and perseverance, you CAN BE debt-free. There are numerous financial advisors, such as Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman, who have strategies on how to get out of debt; find an advisor and strategy that works best for you.
Step #3. Make on-time payments a habit.
Once you have a plan, be sure to adhere to it! Your payment history contributes to 35% of your overall credit report calculation, and late or missing payments are not easily corrected. If you have a pattern of making late payments and then make a series of on-time payments, your FICO score should improve.
Make it easy by setting up automatic payments for all of your recurring bills. By doing this, you’ll ensure you don’t miss paying any amounts due, which will help you since missing payments can trigger hits to your credit score and punitive charges like late fees. Paying your bills on time, every time will help build your credit score and keep more money in your pocket.
Step #4: Regularly monitor your credit score and usage.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to monitor your credit score and attend to the details of your financial plan to improve your credit score regularly. Having good credit can mean the difference between paying a 3.5% rate versus a 5.5% (or higher) interest rate on purchases such as your car or mortgage. That may not sound like much, but lowering a mortgage interest rate by as little as 0.5% could save as much as $150 a month on a $300,000 home loan.
Sites like CreditKarma, WalletHub, and Identity Guard offer free credit monitoring yearly and/or on a trial basis. It won’t always be easy, but nothing will compare to the satisfaction you will feel when you’ve improved your financial wellbeing.
Identifying and cleaning out any unnecessary expenses will help you keep your credit score on track going forward. Apps such as Mint, SWBC’s Vault platform, and most online banking services are also great tools to help you track your spending, manage your finances, and grow your wealth.