I have two credit cards, one from a credit union with just over 10% interest and one from Chase with 9.99% interest. I just asked the credit union to increase my credit line to $20k so I can consolidate the two, as I thought it’d be best to keep my credit union account. I have a credit card through Wells Fargo that has an $18k limit, but it’s zero’d out and I don’t use it. Will this hurt my credit score? It’s in the mid-700’s.
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.
Rachel Kampersal said debt management plans require you to change your habits dramatically since you will have to stop using credit. “Per requirements from creditors, any card that is entered into a debt management plan will be closed, meaning you can no longer make charges to these cards. While difficult, it’s important to stop incurring new debt.”
If you’re thinking about filing for bankruptcy, be aware that bankruptcy laws require that you get credit counseling from a government-approved organization within six months before you file for bankruptcy relief. You can find a state-by-state list of government-approved organizations at www.usdoj.gov/ust, the website of the U.S. Trustee Program. That’s the organization within the U.S. Department of Justice that supervises bankruptcy cases and trustees. Be wary of credit counseling organizations that say they are government-approved, but don’t appear on the list of approved organizations.
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.
Closing out delinquent accounts or those with a history of late payments can also help, as long as you've paid them off in full. Because history is important, if you do decide to close a few more accounts, close the newest ones first. The length of your credit history is 15% of your score, so even after you've paid down your balances, keep your oldest cards open. Be sure use these cards to make occasional purchases (then pay the bills in full), so the card company won't close your account for inactivity.
A good idea would be to keep three to four credit card accounts open, but only use one or two of them; put away or cut up the others. Once you have paid off a card, though, keep the account open, even if you don’t want to use it anymore. Closing a card will lower your credit score, even if you always paid on time and never carried an outstanding balance. If a card's high annual fees are making it undesirable, try asking the credit card company for a downgrade to one of their free or lower-fee cards. This allows you to maintain a longer history with the company, which is important for a healthy credit score. The company will report to the credit bureau that you have a good record with them, which will increase your credit rating.
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