Does Paying the Minimum Hurt Your Credit Score

Credit card bills can be confusing. If everything was straightforward and clear, credit card debt wouldn’t be such a big issue. But it’s not clear, and debt is a massive issue for millions of consumers. 

One of the most confusing aspects is the minimum payment, with few consumers understanding how this works, how much damage (if any) it does to their credit score, and why it’s important to pay more than the minimum.

We’ll address all of those things and more in this guide, looking at how minimum credit card payments can impact your FICO score and your credit report.

What is a Credit Card Minimum Payment?

The minimum payment is the lowest amount you need to pay during any given month. It’s often fixed as a fraction of your total balance and includes fees and interest.  

If you fail to make this minimum payment, you may be hit with late fees and if you still haven’t paid after 30 days, your creditor will report your activity to the major credit bureaus and your credit score will take a hit.

When this happens, you could lose up to 100 points and gain a derogatory mark that remains on your credit report for up to 7 years. Making minimum payments will not result in a derogatory mark, but it can indirectly affect your credit score and we’ll discuss that a little later.

Firstly, it’s important to understand why you’re being asked to pay a minimum amount and how you can avoid it.

How Much is a Minimum Credit Card Payment?

Prior to 2004, monthly payments could be as low as 2% of the balance. This caused all kinds of problems as most of your monthly payment is interest and will, therefore, inflate every month so that every time you reduce the balance it grows back. 

Regulators forced a change when they realized that some users were being locked into a cycle of credit card debt, one that could see them repaying thousands more than the balance and taking many years to repay in full.

These days, a minimum payment must be at least 1% of the balance plus all interest and fees that have accumulated during that month, ensuring the balance decreases by at least 1% if only the minimum payment is met.

Do I Need to Make the Minimum Payment?

If you have a rolling balance, you need to make the minimum monthly payment to avoid derogatory marks. If you fail to do so and keep missing those payments, your account will eventually default and cause all kinds of issues.

However, you can avoid the minimum payment by clearing your balance in full.

Let’s assume that you have a brand-new credit card and you spend $2,000 in the first billing cycle. In the next cycle, you will be required to pay this balance in full. However, you will also be offered a minimum payment, which will likely be anywhere from $30 to $100. If this is all that you pay, the issuer will start charging you interest on your balance and your problems will begin.

If you spend $2,000 in the next billing cycle, you have just doubled your debt (minus whatever principal the minimum payment cleared) and your problems.

This is a cycle that many consumers get locked into. They do what they can to pay off their balance in full, but then they have a difficult month and that minimum payment begins to look very tempting. They convince themselves that one month won’t hurt and they’ll repay the balance in full next month, but by that point they’ve spent more, it has grown more, and they just don’t have the funds.

To avoid falling into this trap, try the following tips:

  • Only Spend What You Have: A credit card should be used to spend money you have now or will have in the future. Don’t spend in the hope you’ll somehow come into some money before the billing period ends and the credit card balance rolls over.
  • Get an Introductory Interest Rate: Many credit card issuers offer a 0% intro APR for a fixed period of time, allowing you to accumulate debt without interest. This can help if you need to make some essential purchases, but it’s important not to abuse this as you’ll still need to clear the full balance before the intro period ends.
  • Use a Balance Transfer: If you’re in too deep and the intro rate is coming to an end, consider a balance transfer credit card. These cards allow you to move your full balance from one card (or cards) to another, taking advantage of yet another 0% APR and essentially extending the one you have.
  • Pay the Minimum: If you can’t pay the balance in full, make sure you at least pay the minimum. A missed payment or late payment can incur fees and may hurt your credit score. 

Why Pay More Than the Minimum?

You may have heard experts recommending that you pay more than the minimum every month, but why? If you’re locked into a cycle of credit card debt, it can seem counterproductive. After all, if you have a debt of $10,000 that’s costing you $400 a month, what’s the point of taking an extra $100 out of your budget?

Your interest and fees are covered by your minimum payment and account for a sizeable percentage of that minimum payment. By adding just 50% more, you could be doubling and even tripling the amount of the principal that you repay every month.

What’s more, your interest accumulates every single day and this interest compounds. Imagine, for instance, that you have a balance of $10,000 today and with interest, this grows to $10,040. The next day, the interest will be calculated based on that $10,040 figure, which means it could grow to $10,081, which will then become the new balance for the next day. 

This continues every single day, and the larger your balance is, the more interest will compound and the greater the amount will be due over the term. By paying more than your minimum payment when you can, you’re reducing the balance and slowing things down.

Does Paying the Minimum Hurt My Credit Score?

Paying the minimum amount every month ensures you are doing the bare minimum to avoid hurting your credit history or accumulating fees. However, it can indirectly reduce your score via your credit utilization ratio.

Your credit utilization ratio is a score that compares the credit limit of all available credit cards to the total debt on those cards. It accounts for 30% of your credit score and is, therefore, a very important aspect of the credit scoring process.

The more credit card debt you accumulate, the lower your credit utilization rate will be and the more your score will be impacted. If you only pay the minimum, this rate will become stagnant and may take years to improve. By increasing the payment amount, however, you can bring that ratio down and improve your credit score.

You can calculate your credit utilization score by adding together the total amount of credit limits and debts and then comparing the latter to the former. A combined credit limit of $10,000 and a balance of $5,000, for instance, would equate to a 50% ratio, which is on the high side.

Can Credit Card Fees Hurt My Credit Score?

As with interest charges, credit card fees will not directly reduce your score but may have an indirect effect. Cash advance fees, for instance, can be substantial, with many credit card companies (including Capital One) charging 3% with a $10 minimum charge. This means that every time you withdraw cash, you’re paying at least $10, even if you’re only withdrawing $10.

What many consumers don’t realize is that these fees are also charged every time you buy casino chips or pay for some other form of gambling, and every time you purchase money orders and other cash products. 

Along with foreign transaction fees and penalty fees, these can increase your balance and your minimum payment, making it harder to make on time payments and thus increasing the risk of a late payment.

Does Paying the Minimum Hurt Your Credit Score is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Source: pocketyourdollars.com

Dear Penny: How Do I Save for Retirement on a Teacher’s Salary?

Dear Penny,

I’m 51 years old and don’t have a large nest egg. I’m a single parent with three kids. I’m a second career middle school teacher, so there is not a lot of money left over each month. 

How much money should I be saving to be able to retire in my 70s? Where should I invest that money?

-B.

Dear B.,

You still have 20 years to build your nest egg if all goes as planned. Sure, you’ve missed out on the extra years of compounding you’d have gotten had you accumulated substantial savings in your 20s and 30s. But that’s not uncommon. I’ve gotten plenty of letters from people in their 50s or 60s with nothing saved who are asking how they can retire next year.

I like that you’re already planning to work longer to make up for a late start. But here’s my nagging concern: What if you can’t work into your 70s?

The unfortunate reality is that a lot of workers are forced to retire early for a host of reasons. They lose their jobs, or they have to stop for health reasons or to care for a family member. So it’s essential to have a Plan B should you need to leave the workforce earlier than you’d hoped.

Retirement planning naturally comes with a ton of uncertainty. But since I don’t know what you earn, whether you have debt or how much you have saved, I’m going to have to respond to your question about how much to save with the vague and unsatisfying answer of: “As much as you can.”

Perhaps I can be more helpful if we work backward here. Instead of talking about how much you need to save, let’s talk about how much you need to retire. You can set savings goals from there.

The standard advice is that you need to replace about 70% to 80% of your pre-retirement income. Of course, if you can retire without a mortgage or any other debt, you could err on the lower side — perhaps even less.

For the average worker, Social Security benefits will replace about 40% of income. If you’re able to work for another two decades and get your maximum benefit at age 70, you can probably count on your benefit replacing substantially more. Your benefit will be up to 76% higher if you can delay until you’re 70 instead of claiming as early as possible at 62. That can make an enormous difference when you’re lacking in savings.

But since a Plan B is essential here, let’s only assume that your Social Security benefits will provide 40%. So you need at least enough savings to cover 30%.

If you have a retirement plan through your job with an employer match, getting that full contribution is your No. 1 goal. Once you’ve done that, try to max out your Roth IRA contribution. Since you’re over 50, you can contribute $7,000 in 2021, but for people younger than 50, the limit is $6,000.

If you maxed out your contributions under the current limits by investing $583 a month and earn 7% returns, you’d have $185,000 after 15 years. Do that for 20 years and you’d have a little more than $300,000. The benefit to saving in a Roth IRA is that the money will be tax-free when you retire.

The traditional rule of thumb is that you want to limit your retirement withdrawals to 4% each year to avoid outliving your savings. But that rule assumes you’ll be retired for 30 years. Of course, the longer you work and avoid tapping into your savings, the more you can withdraw later on.

Choosing what to invest in doesn’t need to be complicated. If you open an IRA through a major brokerage, they can use algorithms to automatically invest your money based on your age and when you want to retire.

By now you’re probably asking: How am I supposed to do all that as a single mom with a teacher’s salary? It pains me to say this, but yours may be a situation where even the most extreme budgeting isn’t enough to make your paycheck stretch as far as it needs to go. You may need to look at ways to earn additional income. Could you use the summertime or at least one weekend day each week to make extra money? Some teachers earn extra money by doing online tutoring or teaching English as a second language virtually, for example.

I hate even suggesting that. Anyone who teaches middle school truly deserves their time off. But unfortunately, I can’t change the fact that we underpay teachers. I want a solution for you that doesn’t involve working forever. That may mean you have to work more now.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to AskPenny@thepennyhoarder.com.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

By: Kylee Dennis

I took out a credit card 4 years ago. At the time I had a job. A few months later I ended up getting pregnant and my morning sickness was so bad 24/7 I had lost my job, then was put on bed rest for my last 4 months of my pregnancy. After my daughter was born I could not afford daycare and my significant other made to much to get state assistance. I wasn’t able to pay back my credit card debt.it went into collections in 2013. I have not received any paperwork on the credit card or collection agency since early 2014. Now I received a paper in the mail for a summons to appear in court. I am still not working and have no income to pay for this and my boyfriend doesn’t make enough to help pay. I also have no family to help me. What should I do?

Source: credit.com

How Long Do Hard Inquiries Stay on Your Credit Report?

A young African American woman sits at her desk with her laptop in front of her as she looks off to the side.

Your credit report offers valuable insight into your financial history and affects most of your financial future. Everything from whether you get approved for a mortgage to what your credit card interest rate will be balances on your credit score.

Negative information on your credit report can be detrimental for years. Wonder how long hard inquiries stay on your credit report? It’s not always clear how long inquiries and other negative information stays on your credit report and affects your score. The length and severity vary, but here are four common types of inquiries and how long they affect your credit score.

1. How Long Do Hard Inquiries Stay on My Credit Report?

What is a hard inquiry?

Hard inquiries are created every time your credit report is accessed by a business when you apply for a line of credit. For example, when you apply for a car loan, mortgage, student loan or credit card, your credit receives a hard inquiry.

How long do hard inquiries stay on your report?

Inquiries remain on your credit reports for 24 months. However, hard inquiries impact your score for only the first 12 months. After that, they have no impact on your score.

How much do hard inquiries affect your credit score?

New credit—including inquiries and any new credit accounts—make up just 10% of your FICO score. A single inquiry typically only drops your credit score by three to five points. As long as you apply for credit only when you need it, this is one of the lesser hits to worry about.

It is important to consider the perception associated with numerous hard inquiries, though. Even if your credit score can take a few hits and remain good or excellent, perception can matter. If a lender pulls your history and sees you’re running up a string of inquiries, they may wonder why. It can look like you’re desperate for credit but not getting approved by lenders, which isn’t an ideal look on your credit report.

2. How Long Do Credit Accounts Stay on My Credit Report?

What is a credit account?

Credit accounts refer to all of the accounts for which you hold credit, including credit cards, mortgages and car loans. Credit scoring models like to see a healthy balance to the types of credit accounts you have and can manage effectively. Negative information on a credit account includes late or missing payments.

How long does negative credit account information stay on your report?

Negative account information, such as a late payment, can stay on your credit report for seven years from the date it was first reported as late. If you close the account, the entire account typically will be removed from your report after seven years. If the account remains open, the negative information should be removed after seven years while the rest of the account information stays on your report.

Positive information, on the other hand, remains on your credit report indefinitely. If you close the account, positive information typically stays on your report for 10 years past the closing date.

How much do credit accounts affect your credit?

Your credit mix accounts for 10% of your credit score. A healthy mix means more points. The age of your credit accounts also impacts your score, accounting for 15% of the score. If you don’t have many credit accounts or if you close your accounts, it could negatively affect your credit score.

Payment history accounts for 35% of your credit score, and making payments on time is the most important factor in determining your credit score. A single late payment can drop a good score by as much as 90 to 110 points.

Most lenders don’t report missed payments until accounts are more than 30 days past due, so if you can catch the missing payment in enough time, you might not notice a hit at all. Other lenders will let one late payment slide, especially if you’ve been a loyal customer for many years and have a good excuse for why you missed it.

3. How Long Do Collection Accounts Stay on My Credit Report?

What is a collection account?

When you fall behind on making payments on an account, your debt could end up in the collection’s department of that company. The creditor may also sell your debt to a collection agency, which reports it as a collection account. At this point, the original creditor that sold the debt should not continue to report a balance owed, but you should watch out for duplicate collection accounts.

How long will collection accounts stay on your report?

Collection accounts remain open for seven years plus 180 days from the date the account was delinquent. After that time, it must be removed regardless of when it was paid or when it was placed for collection.

How much do collection accounts affect your credit?

Understanding how collection accounts can affect your credit score is tricky. The most important factor that will affect your credit score when it comes to collections is how recently the collections occurred—the more recent the collection, the lower the score. Multiple collection accounts can also lower your score. Unfortunately, settling or removing a collection may not impact your score positively.

While there’s no way to tell exactly how much a collection account will affect your credit score, it is one of the higher penalties. The best course of action is to avoid having accounts sent to collection in the first place.

4. How Long Do Bankruptcies Stay on My Credit Report?

What are bankruptcies?

Bankruptcies are proceedings that let you restructure debt you have no way of paying. Depending on the type of bankruptcy you file, you may pay a portion of some of your debt back via a plan. Once your bankruptcy is over, outstanding debts are considered discharged and no longer owed.

How long do bankruptcies stay on your report?

Chapter 7, 11 and 12 bankruptcies stay on your credit report for 10 years from the date filed. Completed Chapter 13 bankruptcies are usually removed after seven years from the filing date.

How much do bankruptcies affect your credit?

In the aftermath of a bankruptcy, your score is likely to drop dramatically. However, the purpose of bankruptcy is to provide a last-resort option for restructuring your financial life. By making strong financial decisions during and after your bankruptcy, you can work on bringing your score back up.

How long do inquiries stay on your credit report? As you can see above, it depends. And the impact each has to your score is variable.

But one truth remains. Negative items on your credit report do impact your score. You can’t afford to ignore these items, especially since some may not even be accurate. Sign up for your free Credit Report Card today. You can check your credit, get a better grip on your credit report and learn how to get the most from your credit score. 

Sign up for your free Credit Report Card today >>

The post How Long Do Hard Inquiries Stay on Your Credit Report? appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

15 Numbers You Need To Know To Make Smart Financial Decisions

The Wall Street Journal lists 15 important numbers that everyone should know to make better financial decisions. Here they are, broken down by category.

The post 15 Numbers You Need To Know To Make Smart Financial Decisions appeared first on Bible Money Matters and was written by Peter Anderson. Copyright © Bible Money Matters – please visit biblemoneymatters.com for more great content.

Source: biblemoneymatters.com

How to Get Approved for Credit in a Financial Downturn

In a recession it’s common for many people to rely on credit cards and loans to balance their finances. It’s the ultimate catch-22 since, during a recession, these financial products can be even harder to qualify for.

This holds true, according to historical data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. It found that during the 2007 recession, loan growth at traditional banks decreased and remained deflated over the next four years. 

Credit can be a powerful tool to help you make ends meet and keep moving forward financially. Here’s what you can do if you’re struggling to access credit during a weak economy.

Lending becomes riskier in a weak economy. Does this mean you’re completely out of luck if you have bad credit? Not necessarily, but you might need to take the time to understand all of your alternatives.

How Does a Financial Downturn Affect Lending?

Giving someone a loan or approving them for a credit card carries a certain amount of risk for a lender. After all, there’s a chance you could stop making payments and the lender could lose all the funds you borrowed, especially with unsecured loans. 

For lenders, this concept is called, “delinquency”. They’re constantly trying to get their delinquency rate lower; in a booming economy, the delinquency rate at commercial banks is usually under 2%. 

Lending becomes riskier in a weak economy. There are all sorts of reasons a person might stop paying their loan or credit card bills. You might lose your job, or unexpected medical bills might demand more of your budget. Because lenders know the chances of anyone becoming delinquent are much higher in a weak economy, they tend to restrict their lending criteria so they’re only serving the lowest-risk borrowers. That can leave people with poor credit in a tough financial position.

Before approving you for a loan, lenders typically look at criteria such as:

  • Income stability 
  • Debt-to-income ratio
  • Credit score
  • Co-signers, if applicable
  • Down payment size (for loans, like a mortgage)

Does this mean you’re completely out of luck if you have bad credit? Not necessarily, but you might need to take the time to understand all of your alternatives.

5 Ways to Help Get Your Credit Application Approved 

Although every lender has different approval criteria, these strategies speak to typical commonalities across most lenders.

1. Pay Off Debt 

Paying off some of your debt might feel bold, but it can be helpful when it comes to an application for credit. Repaying your debt reduces your debt-to-income ratio, typically an important metric lenders look at for loans such as a mortgage. Also, paying off debt could help improve your credit utilization ratio, which is a measure of how much available credit you’re currently using right now. If you’re using most of the credit that’s available to you, that could indicate you don’t have enough cash on hand. 

Not sure what debt-to-income ratio to aim for? The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau suggests keeping yours no higher than 43%. 

2. Find a Cosigner

For those with poor credit, a trusted cosigner can make the difference between getting approved for credit or starting back at square one. 

When someone cosigns for your loan they’ll need to provide information on their income, employment and credit score — as if they were applying for the loan on their own. Ideally, their credit score and income should be higher than yours. This gives your lender enough confidence to write the loan knowing that, if you can’t make your payments, your cosigner is liable for the bill. 

Since your cosigner is legally responsible for your debt, their credit is negatively impacted if you stop making payments. For this reason, many people are wary of cosigning.

In a recession, it might be difficult to find someone with enough financial stability to cosign for you. If you go this route, have a candid conversation with your prospective cosigner in advance about expectations in the worst-case scenario. 

3. Raise Your Credit Score 

If your credit score just isn’t high enough to qualify for conventional credit you could take some time to focus on improving it. Raising your credit score might sound daunting, but it’s definitely possible. 

Here are some strategies you can pursue:

  • Report your rent payments. Rent payments aren’t typically included as part of the equation when calculating your credit score, but they can be. Some companies, like Rental Kharma, will report your timely rent payments to credit reporting agencies. Showing a history of positive payment can help improve your credit score. 
  • Make sure your credit report is updated. It’s not uncommon for your credit report to have mistakes in it that can artificially deflate your credit score. Request a free copy of your credit report every year, which you can do online through Experian Free Credit Report. If you find inaccuracies, disputing them could help improve your credit score. 
  • Bring all of your payments current. If you’ve fallen behind on any payments, bringing everything current is an important part of improving your credit score. If your lender or credit card company is reporting late payments a long history of this can damage your credit score. When possible speak to your creditor to work out a solution, before you anticipate being late on a payment.
  • Use a credit repair agency. If tackling your credit score is overwhelming you could opt to work with a reputable credit repair agency to help you get back on track. Be sure to compare credit repair agencies before moving forward with one. Companies that offer a free consultation and have a strong track record are ideal to work with.

Raising your credit isn’t an immediate solution — it’s not going to help you get a loan or qualify for a credit card tomorrow. However, making these changes now can start to add up over time. 

4. Find an Online Lender or Credit Union

Although traditional banks can be strict with their lending policies, some smaller lenders or credit unions offer some flexibility. For example, credit unions are authorized to provide Payday Loan Alternatives (PALs). These are small-dollar, short-term loans available to borrowers who’ve been a member of qualifying credit unions for at least a month.

Some online lenders might also have more relaxed criteria for writing loans in a weak economy. However, you should remember that if you have bad credit you’re likely considered a riskier applicant, which means a higher interest rate. Before signing for a line of credit, compare several lenders on the basis of your quoted APR — which includes any fees like an origination fee, your loan’s term, and any additional fees, such as late fees. 

5. Increase Your Down Payment

If you’re trying to apply for a mortgage or auto loan, increasing your down payment could help if you’re having a tough time getting approved. 

When you increase your down payment, you essentially decrease the size of your loan, and lower the lender’s risk. If you don’t have enough cash on hand to increase your down payment, this might mean opting for a less expensive car or home so that the lump sum down payment that you have covers a greater proportion of the purchase cost. 

Loans vs. Credit Cards: Differences in Credit Approval

Not all types of credit are created equal. Personal loans are considered installment credit and are repaid in fixed payments over a set period of time. Credit cards are considered revolving credit, you can keep borrowing to your approved limit as long as you make your minimum payments. 

When it comes to credit approvals, one benefit loans have over credit cards is that you might be able to get a secured loan. A secured loan means the lender has some piece of collateral they can recover from you should you stop making payments. 

The collateral could be your home, car or other valuable asset, like jewelry or equipment. Having that security might give the lender more flexibility in some situations because they know that, in the worst case scenario, they could sell the collateral item to recover their loss. 

The Bottom Line

Borrowing during a financial downturn can be difficult and it might not always be the answer to your situation. Adding to your debt load in a weak economy is a risk. For example, you could unexpectedly lose your job and not be able to pay your bills. Having an added monthly debt payment in your budget can add another challenge to your financial situation.

However, if you can afford to borrow funds during an economic recession, reduced interest rates in these situations can lessen the overall cost of borrowing.

These tips can help tidy your finances so you’re a more attractive borrower to lenders. There’s no guarantee your application will be accepted, but improving your finances now gives you a greater borrowing advantage in the future.

The post How to Get Approved for Credit in a Financial Downturn appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

Spouse Has Bad Credit? How It Affects You.

Spouse Has Bad Credit? How It Affects You

It wasn’t until a few months after my husband and I got married that I decided to check both our credit scores. While my husband’s credit score wasn’t horrible, it certainly didn’t qualify as “excellent.” This got me thinking about how newlyweds’ financial histories can affect both spouses’ finances moving forward, and how critical it is to acknowledge this reality—ideally before getting hitched.

Why It’s Important to Have a Good Credit Score

Manisha Thakor cuts right to the chase in her book On My Own Two Feet: “Your credit score is essentially your financial reputation in numeric form.”

Aiming for an excellent credit score—generally defined as 750 or more—is a worthy goal, owing to the range of ways in which it can save you money. Credit scores are critical when applying for loans—for instance, car loans and mortgages. In addition, many employers consider prospective employees’ credit scores during the hiring process.

A high credit score means you can access lower interest rates when borrowing, because creditors will view you as reliable. The perceived risk that you’ll default on your loan is lower compared to those with poor credit scores. Lower interest rates, especially on large amounts borrowed over significant timeframes, can save you thousands and thousands of dollars!

A poor credit score can indirectly hurt your financial efforts as well; consider the fact that when you’re paying over the odds in debt repayments, you’re committing fewer dollars to saving and retirement planning.

photo credit: LendingMemo via photopin cc

Till Debt Do Us Part

Marriage makes you one combined financial unit.

However, that doesn’t mean your credit scores are merged; your credit history continues to be maintained on an individual basis. One spouse’s poor credit cannot directly damage the individual score of the other spouse.

That being said, if you apply for a loan as a married couple, creditors look at both your credit scores to determine your eligibility and terms. So, if one of you has the credit of an angel whereas the other’s credit history is limited or even littered with missed payments and liens, you may find your application is denied.

But, this is not just about loan applications—poor credit can belie more than just a few bad credit card habits. Other financial follies, like paying taxes late, not focusing on saving, and day-to-day overspending, could be lurking in the closet.

What Do You Do After You’ve Said I Do?

While bad credit isn’t good news, it’s not necessarily a reason not to get married. And, it’s not necessarily the precursor to divorce! It is, however, an alarm signaling that it is time to get clear on your joint financial situation and start communicating. Make sure you do this respectfully and compassionately to minimize blame and financial stress. (If you’re the type of person who’d like to know this information from prospective partners before things get serious, there are now dating sites catering just to you.)

Once you’ve identified that one of you has less-than-optimal credit, it’s time to take action. Here are four top tips for taking immediate action:

1. Check your credit report for mistakes: Errors are, unfortunately, pretty common and can be really detrimental. Check your report at least once per year.

2. Make payments on time: Yes, this is stating the obvious, but it needs to be said! Mary Beth Storjohann of Workable Wealth says, “35% of your credit score is based on how you pay your bills (making this the biggest determining factor for your score)! Are you often late of missing payments? The impact of just one 90-day late payment goes way beyond the three months you took to pay, so set up automatic bill payments.”

3. Lower your debt-to-credit ratio: This is how much debt you have as a proportion of your overall credit limits. 30% of your credit score is based on the amount of money you owe versus the amount of credit available to you. The higher the amount of credit you’re utilizing, the more negative the impact on your score. Keep the debt level as low as possible (30% of your limits, or less).

4. Pay down your debt faster: Make more than the minimum payments wherever possible by utilizing the snowball method or targeting the balance with the highest interest rate to pay down first.

photo credit: natloans via photopin cc

Alongside these tips, it’s super important to remember that improving your credit score won’t happen overnight. The length of time it takes for your score to improve is directly related to reasons for the drop. It can take anywhere from a few months to several years for your credit report to reflect the positive changes you’re making. As Mary Beth notes, “The most important thing is to be proactive in clearing up any issues.” In addition, two of the criteria factored into your score are the length of your overall credit history and the average age of your accounts.

So, don’t be discouraged—be patient and give it time.

And, Finally, Some Tips on What Not to Do!

There are always two sides to every coin so, while you’re following the tips above, make sure that you’re not unwittingly hurting your score and negating your good work.

Be mindful of the following ways that you could be hurting your credit score:

1. Opening too many new accounts: This comes back to the point that the average age of your accounts is a key factor. Opening lots of new accounts reduces that average.

2. Closing too many old accounts: Older accounts indicate that you have managed payments for a long time and increase the average age of your accounts. When you close credit card accounts, this also decreases the amount of credit available to you, which can reflect negatively if you have other accounts that are still carrying high balances (it essentially increases your debt to credit ratio).

3. Signing up for lots of retail incentive programs: Every time you apply for credit, the company issuing the credit will request information about you from the credit bureaus. Too many of these requests can reduce your score.

4. Over-utilizing your credit. Mary Beth advises, “If you’re depending on your credit cards to fund your daily expenses and lifestyle needs, but aren’t able to pay them off in full at the end of each month, something needs to change. Start tracking your spending and get a handle on your expenses.”

In summary, start taking positive steps, be aware of actions that can hurt your credit, and focus on building solid financial foundations for the future.

This post was written by Erika Torres of GoGirl Finance. GoGirl Finance is a fast-growing community of women seeking and providing financial wisdom across money management, lifestyle, family and career. For more finance tips, follow GoGirl Finance on Twitter @GoGirlFinance

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Source: mint.intuit.com