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The bill for the holiday fun comes due in January when the credit card statements arrive. You may even have used a quick cash advance to get all your gifts purchased during November and December. Prepare now to tackle those bills AND improve your credit score throughout the new year.
The first of the year inspires all kinds of resolutions. If you want this new year to be when you get your financial house in order, it’s time now to tackle that daunting document: your credit report.
You’re entitled to a free credit report every 12 months. Annualcreditreport.com is the only free site authorized by the U.S. government’s Federal Trade Commission. Don’t be intimidated. Just fill out a few fields, check some boxes and it comes right to you.
Statement in front of you? Good. We’ll take it step by step.
The first element of your credit card examine is your credit utilization–basically, how much credit you have used compared to the total that banks are willing to lend you. Those using 50% of their available credit on any one account or 50% of credit offered across ALL accounts have lower scores than card holders using less than that halfway point. If you’ve spent $10,000 of a $15,000 limit, you’re using 67% of your available credit. Your annoying brother-in-law using only $5,000 of a $15,000 limit has a 33% credit utilization rate.
Credit utilization accounts for a whopping 30% of your score. It’s also rather simple to improve. How? Apply for new credit cards and ask for the highest limits. Then, assuming you start with the $15,000 credit limit we discussed above, an additional $10,000 in new credit available to you gets you to a new limit of $25,000. $10,000 out of an available $25,000 credit line creates a 40% credit utilization, far lower than 67%. Keep working on it and you’ll be below 30% in no time.
Credit card limits are tricky. Even if a credit card issuer approves you for $10,000 or $20,000, it doesn’t mean they think you have the income to spend all of that. Approved for $20,000? Best to keep your debt to $10,000 and under.
Your new January approach will be to work your credit card balances down below 50% of your limits or the amount your bank permits you to borrow. Whether that’s through paying down balances or opening new credit lines depends on your financial situation.
Where credit utilization accounts for 30% of your credit score, late payments impact it even more. Even one payment that’s late 30 days starts shaving points, but 60 and 90 day late payments wreck real havoc. At 120 days, most card issuers hand the account over to a collections agency. Now you’re talking about having your credit score drop into the 500s.
If you see that you have late payments, don’t despair. These three options may get them removed:
After you’ve addressed your credit utilization and payment history data, you can go forward knowing exactly how to put your best foot forward in rebuilding your credit.
With a firm understanding of how credit scores are calculated and how your behavior contributes to them, you can be confident about finding credit cards that will stabilize your finances.
Keep that positive in mind when you find out that you most like will need to start out by using “secured” credit cards that have fees, low limits and may even require a deposit. Banks and the U.S. government want you spending, so the secured credit card is the way they make it happen.
These credit cards work just like a regular credit card, except you deposit often the same amount of cash collateral that they permit you to spend. What’s the benefit, then? These secured credit cards report to the three credit bureaus ( Experian, TransUnion and Equifax ) that you’ve shown responsible use of your secured credit card. Every on-time payment gets documented.
Eventually, the secured credit card company should approach you about using an unsecured credit card, where you don’t have to put up the cash. If they don’t after six to nine months, by all means apply for a different unsecured credit card or approach your current company for the same opportunity. The credit card company will consider how you’ve managed –not only your secured card– but all of your credit cards and loans.
Once you get the unsecured card, your collateral from the secured card comes back to you, given you’ve paid all charges.
Holidays are not ALL about the gifts, but they sure make these few days out of the year more fun. And the fun is not just in receiving, but giving. In fact, studies have shown that those who spend money on others feel happier and have more of a sense of purpose than those who don’t. Gift exchange has promoted connection and well-being since prehistoric times. If your generosity is crushing your credit score, rest assured you can work your way out slowly but surely.
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