Like many people, you may have made a New Year’s resolution to get out of debt this year. Have you considered making a resolution to have better credit, along with your resolution to get out of debt? Learning good credit habits will actually help you get rid of and stay out of debt faster, so consider adding these credit resolutions to your money resolutions this year.
Get your free credit report. You should check your credit report at least once a year to make sure there are no errors, and even worse, no fraud on your report. In addition, if you expect to have a big purchase soon, such as a new car, or a new home, then you should check your credit well before the date of the purchase to make sure there are no items on your credit report that will keep you from qualifying for financing. You can get a free copy of your credit report at http://www.annualcreditreport.com.
Learn more about credit. The more you know about credit and credit scores, the better chance you have to build a good credit history. Find out how borrowing affects your credit score, as well as how late payments, defaulting on your payments, and closing accounts can affect your credit score.
Pay your bills on time. Your payment history – whether you pay your bills on time or not – is the biggest factor in determining your credit score, so it’s important that you pay your bills (this includes all of your bills, not just your credit cards) on time.
Reduce your interest rate. Start by calling your current credit card companies and ask them to reduce the interest rate you are currently paying. Let them know you have received offers to transfer your balance to a lower interest rate card. Chances are they will lower your rate rather than risk losing you as a customer (they can’t make money off you if you’re not a customer). If that doesn’t work, go ahead and transfer your high interest balances to lower interest credit cards, but don’t do this too often as it could have a negative impact on your credit score.
Stop paying late or overdraft fees. Make a “date” with yourself to pay your bills every week. Or, even better, setup an automatic payment plan so that your credit cards are always paid on time. Another way to avoid paying late fees is to set up your credit card accounts for online payments. Some credit cards will let you make your payment on the day it’s due to avoid late payments (others charge to make same-day payments). Late and overdraft fees can really add up, and even worse, you pay interest on those late fees. Talk about adding insult to injury!
Finally, start an emergency fund. While this doesn’t seem like it would directly affect your credit score, it can have a huge impact on how you use credit. If you have an emergency fund in place, you are less likely to turn to credit cards for unexpected expenses, like car repairs, medical expenses, etc. In addition, if you have an emergency fund, you have options if a credit card company suddenly raises your interest rate.