Here’s some background to help demystify the process. Your credit score utilizes historical data from your credit report to predict your future risk of default. The information on your credit report is usually an accurate reflection of your financial life. And finally, your financial life is a subset of the rest of your life. So if you’re having hard times, more than likely it will show up in your financial life, credit report and then credit score.
There are a lot of myths out there about credit scoring – hopefully we can help you understand FICO scoring, so you can take action to build your score. There are five major components FICO uses to determine a credit score. Fortunately, understanding the secret sauce can help you build a strong score and healthy credit report. Both a 700+ score and healthy credit report will help keep the rest of your financial life cheaper by enabling you to get lower interest rates on loans and approved for top-tier financial products.
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"Unlike a credit card exchange, where you swipe your card and get it back, you actually give away your cash when you spend it," says Joshua Schumm, a financial coach who owns Kansas Financial Coaching in Hutchinson, Kansas. Using cash "creates a loss-type feeling in your mind and makes you less likely to make impulse purchases." Schumm says that until he and his wife began using cash at the grocery store, they often missed their budget goal. "Now, with cash, we can't overspend it," he says.
Did you just get a tax refund, a bonus, a raise or an inheritance? Instead of spreading it out and making small extra payments to all of your debts, opt for the snowball method. Consider paying as much as you can towards the debt with the lowest balance so you can reduce or eliminate it entirely (while keeping the account open). This reduces your credit utilization dramatically and can increase your credit score just as dramatically and quickly. Reducing your credit utilization from 50% of your credit limit down to 30% of your credit limit can result in a 50-point score lift, according to the VantageScore report.
If you use your credit card at an ATM, it will be treated as a cash advance. Most credit cards charge an upfront cash advance fee, which is typically about 5%. There is usually a much higher “cash advance” interest rate, which is typically above 20%. And there is no grace period, so interest starts to accrue right away. A cash advance is expensive, so beware.
Carefully review older debt that shows as charged-off. Before contacting the creditor or collection agency, check your state laws to see if the debt is statute-barred or time-barred, meaning that it is too old for creditors to attempt further collection. If it is not statute-barred, even contacting the creditor can re-instate the debt as currently collectible, which can drop your score.
Aside from all things finances, lenders and agencies will also consider your living history. While this is not typically disclosed, it’s a facet that must be taken into consideration. Are you the type of individual who moves from location to location? Have you lived in the same home for over 10-15 years? Chances are, if you are categorized in the latter, lenders will be more interested in helping you. Keep in mind, lenders are taking a deeper looking into individual characteristics and traits. An individual that continues to move may be inconsistent or risky. If you are quick to move from location to location, are you quick to spend all the credit lent to you?
With credit consolidation, you take out a new loan and use it to pay off smaller loans. Because you now only have one loan, you have one monthly payment. However, taking out a big loan can be tricky. If your credit score is not high, you may not qualify for a consolidation loan. If you do qualify, you may not qualify for competitive interest rates. Additionally, whenever you take out a new loan, there are loan origination fees which can run into the thousands. Finally, if you are able to secure a debt consolidation loan with a low monthly payment, it may be at the expense of the repayment period: you may be paying the loan for a decade or longer.
Ultimately, the best way to consolidate credit card debt depends on your financial situation. If you want a quick application process and the potential for no fees, you may choose a balance transfer credit card. Meanwhile, if you don’t have the good or excellent credit needed for a balance transfer credit card, you may look toward loans. If that’s the case, the question becomes whether you’re willing to put your home up for collateral to get a potentially higher loan amount, or withdraw from your 401(k) or simply receive cash from an unsecured option like a personal loan. And, if you struggle with managing payments for various credit card debts, you may lean toward a debt management plan. Whichever option you settle on, make sure you have an actionable plan that allows you to fully repay the loan during the term and maintain a debt-free life.
A third of your overall credit score is based on the credit utilization ratio across all of your cards. Because of the way credit scoring works, it's better to carry a $1,000 balance on a card with a $5,000 limit (20% credit utilization) than to carry a $500 balance on a card with a $1,000 limit (50% credit utilization). That's why, in discussing payment pecking order, we recommended paying off the cards closest to being maxed out. That's also why you shouldn't terminate accounts. It'll increase the percentage of total available credit that you’re using – and that will reduce your score.
Check what your monthly payment on a debt consolidation loan would be. Are you at least paying that much towards your credit cards now? If the loan payment is more than you pay towards your debts (and it fits into your budget), it might be time to up the ante and just put more money to your credit cards. If the loan payment is less than you pay to your cards, you'll likely wind up paying way more interest over time, since your loan term will probably be long.
However, there is a big risk to using a debt consolidation loan. Once you pay off your credit cards, you will be tempted with a lot of newly available credit. If you got into debt because you spent too much money on credit cards, creating more spending power on your credit cards can be a dangerous strategy. Dave Ramsey regularly tells listeners that they cannot borrow their way out of debt. On his blog, he write that "debt consolidation is nothing more than a "con" because you think you’ve done something about the debt problem. The debt is still there, as are the habits that caused it — you just moved it!"
Start by getting debt help from a credit counselor. The counselor might even help you negotiate your own agreements with creditors. If you develop and follow a get-out-of-debt plan with the help of a counselor (as opposed to consolidating your debt), your credit score will rise over time faster than it will if you declare bankruptcy or ignore your debts, as you make on-time payments and reduce your overall debt load. You’ll also avoid the hit to your score that comes with the new hard inquiry we talked about earlier.
Many people, however, don’t have the time or don’t understand how to make their case, so they look into hiring a credit repair company to dispute errors on their behalf. These companies can charge a fee for their legwork (more on how that works in a minute), but there are times when the extra help can certainly be welcome. (Say you have multiple errors across credit reports or you’ve been the victim of widespread identity theft.)
Isolating your financial needs on different credit-card accounts will help you get the best possible terms on every transaction that you make. For example, you could get the best cash-back credit card for everyday expenses, the best travel rewards card for airfare and hotel reservations, and the best balance-transfer card for reducing the cost of your existing debt.
Here’s a good example of when a reputable credit repair service can help you do something you may not be able to accomplish yourself. If you have a collection account that’s been sold to a few different debt collectors, it may appear on your credit report multiple times. That information is accurate but having that one debt dinging your credit score multiple times may not meet the “fair” standard Padawer mentioned.
After getting approved for refinancing, the new loan may be reported to the credit bureaus, which could lower your average age of accounts. Your other loans will be paid off, but they could stay on your credit reports for up to 10 more years. Your overall installment-loan debt will stay the same, and as long as you continue to make on-time payments, your score may improve over time.
Unlike other types of credit, even people with deep subprime credit scores usually qualify to open a secured credit card. However, credit card use among people with poor credit scores is still near an all-time low. In the last decade, credit card use among deep subprime borrowers fell 16.7%. Today, just over 50% of deep subprime borrowers have credit card accounts.30
This part of your credit score will look at how much debt you have. Your credit report uses your statement balance. So, even if you pay your credit card statement in full every month (never pay any interest), it would still show as debt on your credit report, because it uses your statement balance. This part of your score will look at a few elements:
Transitioning from a secured to an unsecured credit card: The transition from an unsecured card to a secured card is fairly simple for the cards mentioned below, with many conducting periodic reviews of your account to evaluate if you can move to an unsecured card. And, when you’re transitioned to an unsecured card, you’ll receive your security deposit back. Another way to be refunded the deposit is by paying off any balances and closing the card — though we don’t recommend closing the account since that jeopardizes your credit score.
With that being said, I went to apply for a personal loan to be added to my 5,500 loan for $3,500 to pay off the CC debt and eliminate the high interest rate payments (saving me over $100 a month), but was declined due to increase of debt. So I guess my question is, how is someone to pay off other debts if credit unions are judging your debt off a mortgage payment? My debt to income has not changed since the original loan and I have a “fair” credit score according to a credit simulator. I just purchased a home which wiped out my savings, so what is my best option here?