Millions of Americans are suffering from dinged-up credit: the lingering result of the recession, the lack (until recently) of real increase in wages, the economy's sluggish growth. But a strong credit score is the backbone of an individual's financial health, and its importance goes beyond simply getting a low interest rate on a loan. A driver's credit score, for instance, is a major factor in pricing auto insurance.
Cons: You lower your retirement savings, and you may have to pay income taxes and an early withdrawal penalty if you’re younger than 59 ½. Also, you can usually only borrow up to 50 percent of your account balance (up to $50,000), and you must pay back the money within five years unless you’re using it to buy a home that will be your principal residence.
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.
Each time you apply for credit is listed on your credit report as a “hard inquiry” and if you have too many within two years, your credit score will suffer. In general, a consumer with good credit can apply for credit a few times each year before it begins to affect their credit score. If you’re already starting with below-average credit, however, these inquiries may have more of an impact on your score and delay your ultimate goal of watching your credit score climb.
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