Veteran journalist/blogger Tom Jackson has worked for newspapers in Washington D.C., Sacramento, Calif., and Tampa, Fla., racking up state and national awards for writing, editing and design along the way. Tom also has been published in assorted sports magazines, and his work has been included in several annual “Best Sports Stories” collections. Most recently, his blogging for various websites on the 2016 election won a pair of top honors from the Florida Press Club. A University of Florida alumnus, St. Louis Cardinals fan and eager-if-haphazard golfer, Tom splits time between Tampa and Cashiers, N.C., with his wife of 40 years, college-age son, and Spencer, a yappy Shetland sheepdog.
Become familiar with the information contained in each of your credit reports. They'll all look very similar, even if you've ordered them from different bureaus. Each credit report contains your personal identifying information, detailed history for each of your accounts, any items that have been listed in public record like a bankruptcy, and the inquiries that have been made to your credit report.
Your credit score partly depends on your credit utilization – the amount of debt you carry as compared to the total amount of debt available to you. If all of your credit cards are maxed out, opening a new one increases your available debt and causes your utilization ratio to go down, and that could help your score. But your score will take a ding any time you carry a high balance on any one card. So if you transfer multiple balances to a single card and get close to (or reach) your credit limit, your score will suffer even if your other cards are paid off.
We agree that it is very important for individuals to be knowledgeable of their credit standing. When you have a credit-monitoring tool like freecreditscore.com on your side, you get e-mail alerts whenever there’s a change in your credit score–and you can also see your credit score whenever you want. With the free credit report from the government, you only see your report once a year. If you monitor your credit score regularly, it’s easier to catch inaccuracies before it’s too late.
Here is a simple test. (This is not 100% accurate mathematically, but it is an easy test). Divide your credit card interest rate by 12. (Imagine a credit card with a 12% interest rate. 12%/12 = 1%). In this example, you are paying about 1% interest per month. If the fee on your balance transfer is 3%, you will break even in month 3, and will be saving money thereafter. You can use that simplified math to get a good guide on whether or not you will be saving money.
So, the first thing you should do is assess the damage by looking at a current credit report issued from one (or all) of the three major credit bureaus. Under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, every American has the legal right to receive one free report from each one of the companies per year, which will save you some money on processing fees. You can get access to each one at the site annualcreditreport.com.
Your credit score (often referred to as your FICO score) provides a snapshot of your credit status. It's determined by a variety of factors, and obviously, you need to understand the components that affect your credit score before you can start to repair it. Although the exact formula used by the Fair Isaac Corporation, which compiles the score, is proprietary and not publicly disclosed, here's basically what it looks at, and how each factor is weighed:
This is easier said than done, but reducing the amount that you owe is going to be a far more satisfying achievement than improving your credit score. The first thing you need to do is stop using your credit cards. Use your credit report to make a list of all of your accounts and then go online or check recent statements to determine how much you owe on each account and what interest rate they are charging you. Come up with a payment plan that puts most of your available budget for debt payments towards the highest interest cards first, while maintaining minimum payments on your other accounts.
If you have missed payments, get current and stay current: the longer you pay your bills on time after being late, the more your FICO Scores should increase. Older credit problems count for less, so poor credit performance won't haunt you forever. The impact of past credit problems on your FICO Scores fades as time passes and as recent good payment patterns show up on your credit report. And good FICO Scores weigh any credit problems against the positive information that says you're managing your credit well.
If you are juggling multiple credit card bills, you may benefit from the convenience of having one consolidated monthly payment. Consider all of the bills that the modern household pays (mortgage/rent, utilities, cell phone, cable, internet, etc.). Adding 5-10 monthly credit card bills can overwhelm your bill-pay. Multiple payments are due every week. Going on vacation or having a hectic few days can result in several late payments and hundreds of dollars in fees.
A higher credit score: If you have maxed out your credit cards, your utilization ratio will be very high. That ratio can have a big, negative impact on your credit score. By paying off credit cards with a loan, you will be reducing the utilization on your cards. According to a study by Lending Club , people who used a loan to pay off credit cards saw an average score increase of 21 points within three months of the loan. The best way to improve your credit score is to eliminate your credit card debt burden completely.
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If you have impossibly high interest on those credit cards, then do cancel them. It doesn’t help to have open credit cards if the interest rate makes it nearly impossible for you to get the balance down. In fact, banks currently have hardship programs, where they will reduce your interest rate TO ZERO if you agree that they will cancel your cards. Yes, you wll take an immediate hit on your credit score, but that will quickly improve as you pay down your credit cards, which you can now do because you don’t have those usurious interest rates to pay.