For example, assume you have a credit card with a $1,000 limit. It’s a rewards card, so you use it for everything. In fact, every month, you hit your limit. The statement arrives, you owe $1,000, and you send in a check to pay it off. But the credit card company is likely reporting the statement balance each month. So, it looks like you have a $1,000 limit and a $1,000 balance. That’s a 100 percent credit utilization rate.
If you are running out of time on your intro APR and you still have a balance, don’t sweat it. At least two months before your existing intro period ends, start looking for a new balance transfer offer from a different issuer. Transfer any remaining balance to the card with the new 0% intro offer. This can provide you with the additional time needed to pay off your balance. Ideally, look for a card that has a 0% intro APR and also no balance transfer fee.
Beyond that is creditor information, which makes up most of your reports. This includes different accounts you have (loans, credit cards, etc.), their status (open/closed, in collections), balances, credit limits and payment details. This may also include dates of missed payments or late payments, or when the accounts were sent to collections. From these details, your credit scores will be formed.
Credit utilization is the ratio of your account balance to your spending limit. It basically indicates whether you are using too much credit, which, for the purpose of maintaining good or excellent credit, is generally above 30% of what’s available. The ratio is calculated for each of your credit cards individually as well as for all of them collectively. The lower your credit utilization ratio(s), the better it generally is for your overall credit score.
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.
Harzog was a successful freelance journalist for over 20 years, writing for major national magazines and custom publications. She became so entrenched in the credit industry, that in 2008, she was approached by CardRatings.com to be a credit card spokesperson for their site. In 2010, Harzog then went on to become the credit card expert for Credit.com.
Additionally, the security deposit you used to obtain the card is used if you were to default on your payment. However, this is not the case if the balance in which you have defaulted happens to be higher than the security deposit amount. Using the security deposit means that even if you default, the card will be paid because it is secured by your funds and you will not have the account end up in collections due to nonpayment.
Yesterday, Margot used Card #3 to buy an $800 flat-screen TV. Although she only used 8 percent of her total credit limit of $10,000, she charged 80 percent of Card #3’s $1,000 limit. While it’s not an exact science, making an effort to even distribute expenses will likely help your score. Next time Margot wants to spend $800, she should take advantage of Card #2, which would only charge 16 percent of its limit. Utilization can be a friend or foe—practice some planning and let this credit repair component work for you.
Cons: Some cards charge a balance transfer fee, such as 3 percent or $5, on the amounts you transfer. Also, the combined transferred amounts and fees usually cannot be higher than your credit limit, which might not accommodate all your debts. Some lenders also don’t allow you to use a balance transfer to pay off credit cards or loans from the same lender.
Checking your credit report on a periodic basis, at least annually, is a good way to catch any instances where you might be the target of identity theft – or the credit bureau has accidentally mixed up your history with someone of a similar (it happens more than you'd think). If you are concerned about others accessing your credit report without your permission, you can freeze it, which will limit who can access the information and under what circumstances. If you think you are a victim of identity theft, contact your local law enforcement authority immediately.
Like credit builder loans, secured credit cards are an easy way to build or rebuild credit history. The application process is the same, but secured credit cards require a deposit between $50 and $300 into a separate account. The bank then issues a line of credit that is typically equal to the deposit, allowing you to build a credit history without putting the lender at risk.
Paying your outstanding balance a few days after you receive your paycheck, rather than waiting until your due date, will help minimize the balance that’s reported to the credit bureaus and used to calculate your credit utilization. This can work both with multiple monthly payments or a carefully timed single payment. Automating withdrawals from a bank account is a great way to enforce the plan and eliminate forgetfulness.
The good news is that, by choosing a nonprofit credit counseling agency, you can end up with an affordable option that will leave you better off. Despite the monthly fees these plans charge, debt management can help you save thousands of dollars through reduced interest rates and creditor concessions. Plus, you get valuable advice and financial guidance all along the way when you choose to work with a nonprofit credit counseling agency versus a for-profit agency who is “not directed to provide coaching or advice,” said McClary.
Johnson said it makes sense to use this type of loan to help consolidate high interest debt such as with various credit cards because “the savings can be significant.” Using home equity loans to pay off other debts, such as student loans might also be wise, said George Burkley, owner of American Mortgage & Financial Services in Indiana — “[the] rates are usually much lower.”
If you need a long time to pay off at a reasonable rate, and have great credit, it’s hard to beat this deal from Unify Financial Credit Union, with an APR of 6.99%-18.00% Variable with no expiration. The rate is variable, but it only varies with the Prime Rate, so it won’t fluctuate much more than say a variable rate mortgage. There is also no balance transfer fee.
You cannot use your existing credit cards while you’re on a debt management plan, nor can you open new accounts. McClary also said that if you do manage to open new credit card accounts during your debt management plan, existing creditors who find out may stop participating in your debt management plan and reset your account to its original terms and interest rate.
In general, older consumers have higher credit scores than younger generations. Credit scoring models consider consumers with longer credit histories less risky than those with short credit histories. The Silent Generation and boomers enjoy higher credit scores due to long credit histories. However, these generations show better credit behavior, too. Their revolving credit utilization rates are lower than younger generations. They are less likely to have a severely delinquent credit item on their credit report.
Some folks swear by setting automatic payments using their bank’s online bill-paying system or their creditor’s automatic-payment system. If you prefer more control, at least sign up for automatic payment alerts from your lender, via email or text. Then set up a place in your house where you always pay bills, and get an accordion file that enables you to arrange the statements by due dates. Be sure to time your payment so the check or electronic funds transfer will arrive on time.
Common ways to consolidate credit card debt include moving all your credit card debt onto one card, or taking out a loan to pay off the balances. In addition to reducing stress, when you consolidate, you may be able to score a lower interest rate. That can make it easier to pay off the debt faster, which is one important factor that can help improve your credit scores.
A personal loan may also help improve your credit score. One of the major factors in determining your FICO® Score is your utilization ratio: the combined balances on all your credit cards as a percentage of the overall credit limits on the cards. The lower your utilization rate, the better. Moving card balances to a personal loan might lower your utilization ratio.
You can compare your debt consolidation program options by using a debt consolidation calculator. The calculator will help you determine how much you can save by comparing your current interest rates with the proposed debt consolidation program’s interest rate. It will also help you determine your monthly payment based on your total debt balance, interest rate and repayment term.
If you need money fast, a home equity loan might be a good option. A home equity loan can provide you with a lump sum of money in a matter of weeks; the borrowed amount can then be paid off on a monthly basis for a fixed rate. It can be especially helpful to use this type of loan to help consolidate your current debt. A home equity loan can combine debt from various lenders, such as different credit card companies, and place it into one convenient payment.
Having bad credit can tempt you to use your child’s credit. You might think you’d never do that but you never know what you’ll do when you’re desperate. Say you have to have electricity turned on, but your credit’s too bad. You could easily rationalize using your child’s credit to have the electricity turned on. Keep your own good credit and you won’t think about exploiting your child’s.
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.
The key to this strategy is obtaining more credit, but not using more credit. In other words, if your limit goes up $1,000, don’t go out and charge half of it. Think of the boost as a way to save money later when you apply for an auto loan, home loan or another form of long-term debt where a high credit score will likely result in big savings via a lower interest rate.
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