Understanding The Credit Card Trap

Young couple uses credit card to pay for their stay at a pricey hotelDid you know the average American household carries $6,358 in credit card debt?

If that doesn’t sound too alarming, consider this: A debt of $5,000 with an interest rate of 24.99% (which is the current rate of a typical Capital One or Citibank card), where only the minimum payment is made each month and no additional charges are made to the card, accumulates $4,823 in interest over five years. That means the cardholder would be paying nearly double the amount that was originally spent!

Why do most Americans carry so much credit card debt and find themselves stuck in the debt trap? Let’s take a deeper look at credit card usage, debt and interest rates so we can understand this phenomenon and ensure credit cards are used responsibly.

The minimum payment mindset
According to the National Bureau of Economic Research website, a third of credit card holders make just the minimum payment each month.

Here’s how it usually happens: You use your card for a purchase you can’t really afford, or you want to defer paying for it from your savings. When your credit card bill arrives, you either choose to make just the minimum payment or it is all you can afford to pay at the time. You figure you’ll pay off the rest when your finances improve. Soon, you’re in the trap of pulling out your card whenever you want to purchase something beyond your budget. Since you’re only making the minimum payment, it seems like it doesn’t matter all that much if your credit card debt grows a little larger. From there, the cycle continues as debt climbs and you continue using your card for purchases you’d be better off not making.

This is a quick illustration to show how your “small balance” of just a few thousand dollars can really mean paying more than double that amount over the years because of interest.

Also, when you’re trapped in this mindset, your balance barely budges. With a debt of $5,000 and a minimum monthly payment of $150 (at 3% of the total balance), you’ll only be paying $47.30 each month toward your principal. The rest goes toward your interest accrued.

Take a moment to think about this the next time you decide to use your credit card to pay for something you can’t afford. Is it worth paying $5,000 over the next five years for a $2,500 vacation?

Credit scores and prolonged debt
Another important aspect of prolonged credit card debt is the detrimental effect it can have on your credit score. Your credit score gives potential lenders and employers an idea of how financially responsible you are.

One of the crucial factors used in determining your credit score is your debt ratio, or the percentage of available credit that you’ve already spent. In most credit score formulas, the more credit you’ve used, the lower your score. If you’ve fallen into the habit of using your credit card whenever you’re short on cash, and are only making the minimum payment each month, you likely use a high percentage of your available credit.

Even worse is when your credit card company sees that you’re running low on available credit, and may offer to increase your line — or even do it automatically. If you agree to the upgrade, there’s nothing stopping you from racking up another huge bill, further decreasing your score.

Another important component of your credit score is the trajectory of your debt. If you’re barely making progress on your balance, you won’t score high in this area either.

A low credit score can prevent you from qualifying for a mortgage, auto loan or even an employment opportunity. If you do get approved for such loans with your less than stellar credit score, you’ll likely be saddled with a hefty interest rate, which significantly increases your monthly payments and the overall interest you’ll pay.

Is it really worth racking up that credit card bill?

Should I throw out all of my credit cards?
Hold onto your cards. You need to have some open and active cards for maintaining a healthy credit score; however, it’s important you use your cards responsibly.

First, be careful not to fall prey to the minimum payment mindset. Live within your means and learn to find happiness in what you have instead of chasing the elusive and transient thrill of material possessions. Before using your card for something you can’t afford, imagine this purchase haunting you for years to come. Is it worth paying double the amount it costs in interest payments? Is it worth harming your financial health?

Second, if you’re already carrying a large credit card balance, stop using that card and work on increasing the amount you pay off each month. Even a relatively small monthly increase can make a big difference in the total amount you ultimately pay toward your balance.

Third, to use your cards responsibly and keep your score high, it’s best to use your credit card for non-discretionary payments, like your monthly utility bills. This way, you’ll be keeping your accounts active without running the risk of overspending. Remember to pay your credit card bill on time to avoid paying interest.

Finally, take a long look at your current cards. What’s the interest rate on your cards? As mentioned above, the current interest rate on a typical Capital One card is 24.99%, which can nearly double a balance of a few thousand dollars over the course of five years. Look at alternatives, like an Advantage One Platinum Rewards Visa® credit card that may offer you a substantially lower rate. If the new card rate is substantially lower, you could literally save yourself thousands of dollars over the coming years.

Your Turn:
Have you gotten yourself out of the minimum payment trap? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
nytimes.com
creditkarma.com
genxfinance.com

Do My Monthly Bill Payments Affect My Credit Score?

Calculator and papers with credit rating on deskQ: I’m working on improving my credit score, so I’m being extra careful about paying my bills on time. But, since I don’t see these payments reflected in my score, I’m wondering: Do my monthly payments, like utility bills, count toward my credit score?

A: It’s commendable that you’re working toward improving your credit score, because building and keeping a strong credit history is crucial for your long-term financial wellness. However, unless you’re delinquent on a monthly utility bill, these payments will not affect your credit score.

However, there is a way out. Read on for four steps that can help your on-time monthly payments boost your credit score.

1. Use a Rent-Reporting Service
Your monthly rent payments can reflect positively on your credit score, but only if the credit bureaus know you’re paying your rent on time. They won’t accept this information from consumers, but you can sign up for a rent-reporting service, which will pass on this information to one or two of the three major credit bureaus. Some of these services are free, though most charge for the service, with fees of up to $100 a year.

Here’s a quick overview of some of the more popular rent-reporting services:

  • Rent Reporters: For a one-time enrollment fee of $94.95, your rent payments will be reported to TransUnion and Equifax for two full years. If you want to continue with the service after the initial two-year period, the cost is $9.95/month.
  • Rental Kharma: You’ll pay $25 for the initial setup and then $6.95/month. Rent reporting through this option is shared only with TransUnion.
  • RentTrack: Fees vary for this option, and it’s dependent on whether your landlord also uses the service. RentTrack, though, reports to all three credit bureaus.

2. Sign up for Experian Boost
Since early 2019, the Experian credit bureau has offered consumers the opportunity to have utility bills reflected on Experian credit scores. To sign up for the service, Experian requires access to your checking account information so the agency can identify your bill payments. Once it’s found the relevant information, Experian will ask you to verify the details and to confirm that you want this information included in your credit report. Once consent is received, your credit score boost will happen instantly.

Experian Boost only accepts on-time payments and, consequently, can only improve your score. However, if you neglect to pay any reported bills for three consecutive months, the change in your score will be reversed and will fall back to its previous level.

It’s also important to note that Experian Boost only increases your Experian score and does not affect your Equifax or TransUnion scores.

3. Use SimpleBills
SimpleBills is a service that currently reports utility bills to Equifax, with plans to include TransUnion and Experian in the future. The credit-reporting service charges $2.99/month and can be helpful for those who want to improve their score for building a credit history to qualify for a credit card or a loan payment.

Unfortunately, while your Equifax number may see an increase through SimpleBills, major score algorithms, like FICO and Vantage, might not consider this data when calculating your score.

4. Go Off the Beaten Track
If none of these options sound attractive to you, consider going the unconventional route by seeking an alternative score.

Alternative scores, like the PRBC or the FICO XD Model, will include information like your cable, rent, insurance, phone, utility and student loan payments, when calculating your credit score. Some alternative scores will integrate this data on their own, while others will allow you to self-report these payments, sometimes for a nominal fee.

While alternative scores can help individuals appear responsible for prospective employers and landlords, they won’t do much to build your real credit history or to make you eligible for a large loan.

If you’re serious about improving your score, you can take one or all of the steps outlined here to help your on-time bill payments boost your numbers. For the biggest impact on your score, make sure you are paying all your credit card bills on time, preferably in full. Don’t open any new cards while working on improving your score, and keep your credit utilization low.

If you need help managing debt and staying on top of your credit score, look no further than [credit_union]! Give us a call at [cu_phone] or drop us a line at [cu_email] to see how we can help. Your financial wellness is always our priority.

Your Turn:
Do you self-report your utility bills to any of the three major credit bureaus? Use the comments section to tell us how you do it and how it’s impacted your score.

SOURCES:

https://www.thebalance.com/add-positive-credit-history-to-your-credit-report-960100

https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/finance/credit-report-rent-payments-incorporated/

https://www.www.bankrate.com/credit-cards/boost-credit-score-by-self-reporting/amp/

https://www.prbc.com/how-it-works

https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/does-paying-utility-bills-help-your-credit-score/

https://www.creditkarma.com/insights/i/experian-boost-allow-utility-telecom-payments-credit-scores/

https://www.growingfamilybenefits.com/paying-bills-build-credit/

https://simplebills.zendesk.com/hc/en-us

A Guide To Opening Your First Credit Card

Young woman very happy about a paper statment that she is reading in her dining room in front of her laptop.Opening your first credit card is one of the rites of passage into genuine adulthood, but with so much conflicting information, it can all get confusing fast!

Let Advantage One walk you through the process to help you build a strong credit score and credit history that will serve you well throughout your life.

Choosing a credit card
The way people typically build a credit history is by opening a credit card. But ironically, many credit cards won’t accept your application because you don’t yet have that credit history!

You’ll need to build your credit history from the ground up, and many people make the mistake of starting with cards that offer a very low limit but will accept almost any applicants, such as those offered by Capital One or Credit One. We encourage you to stop by Advantage One to ask about the credit cards we offer our members. We specialize in helping those with limited or damaged credit get back on track. If you’re outside our Field of Membership, we’d strongly encourage you to consider a local credit union. You’re more likely to get the personalized service you need at this critical phase of your financial journey.

Don’t apply to just any card that’ll have you. Look for these features when making your choice:

  • No annual fees – You shouldn’t have to pay money to use your card. Sometime in the future, you may want to open up a high-perk card with an annual fee to match, but for now, just concentrate on building your credit score.
  • A low interest rate – For your first credit card, you likely won’t be offered a really low interest rate, but that doesn’t mean you should be taken for a ride. Shop around for a card offering a reasonable rate, maybe only slightly higher than the average rate. If you can find one with a reasonably low fixed interest rate, even better.
  • Incentives for good behavior – Why not earn brownie points for playing by the rules? Look for a card that offers incentives, such as a bonus points, a grace period or no foreign-transaction fees.

Credit card dos and don’ts
Once you’ve opened your card, or cards, make sure you use them to build and maintain that excellent score. Follow these guidelines and you won’t go wrong:

Do …

  • Pay your bill on time each month.
  • Check your credit score monthly.
  • Review your statements for suspicious activity.
  • Keep your cards in a safe place.
  • Accept offers of a higher line of credit.

Don’t …

  • Pay just the minimum balance due each billing cycle.
  • Open new cards just before taking out a large loan, like a mortgage or auto loan.
  • Use all of your available credit.
  • Allow unsecured websites to save your card information.
  • Share your card information with anyone.

Your Turn:
Did you recently open your first credit card? Share your best tips on the process with us in the comments!

SOURCES:

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.forbes.com/sites/lucymueller/2018/03/14/the-no-fear-guide-to-getting-your-first-credit-card/amp/

https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/11-credit-card/

https://www.magnifymoney.com/blog/college-students-and-recent-grads/a-beginners-guide-to-using-a-credit-card499639894/

5 Ways To Avoid Credit Fraud

Middle-aged red-haired woman in modern studying credit report witha look of concernkitchenHere are five ways that you can avoid credit fraud.

  • Keep your credit cards safe. Store your cards in a secure wallet or purse. After making a purchase, immediately return your card to that place.
  • Don’t allow websites to “remember” your card number. Only let secure payment portals, like GooglePay and PayPal, remember your card number. An even better practice is to never check the “remember card number” box for any site or portal.
  • Be wary when shopping online. Before using your credit card online, verify the site’s security and that the URL is authentic—there’s an “s” after the “http” in the web address, and a lock icon as well.
  • Report lost or stolen cards immediately. The sooner you report a missing card, the less liability you’ll have for fraudulent charges made with your card.
  • Review your monthly bill. Always look through your monthly statement to check for suspicious account activity.

Your Turn:
How do you avoid credit card fraud? Share your own tips with us in the comments.

Debt Consolidation: Not A Silver Bullet, But Still A Good Idea

cartoon of a person buried under a pile of billsUsing a personal loan to refinance your existing debt can make your debt more manageable. You’ll have one monthly payment at one interest rate instead of many smaller bills due on different days of the month.

Will personal loans work for you?

1.) Have I fixed the debt problem?
Think about why you’re in debt. If a medical bill, job loss or some other temporary hardship describes your situation, the fact that you have a job or have paid the medical bill means you’ve solved the problem that caused the debt in the first place.

If, on the other hand, you accumulated debt by overspending on credit cards, a debt consolidation loan may not be the answer just yet. First make a budget you can stick to, learn how to save and gain responsibility in your use of credit. Getting a debt consolidation loan without doing those things first is a temporary solution that can make matters worse.

2.) Can I commit to a repayment plan?
If you’re struggling to make minimum monthly payments on bills, a debt consolidation loan can only do so much. It’s possible that the lower interest rate will make repayment easier, but bundling all of that debt together could result in a higher monthly payment over a shorter period of time. Before you speak to a loan officer, figure out how much you can afford to put toward getting out of debt. Your loan officer can work backward from there to figure out terms, interest rate and total amount borrowed.

If you’re relying on a fluctuating stream of income to repay debt, it may be difficult to commit to a strict repayment plan that’s as aggressive as you like. You can still make extra principal payments on a personal loan, so your strategy of making intermittent payments will still help. You just can’t figure them into your monthly payment calculation.

3.) Is my interest rate the problem?
For some people, the biggest chunk of their debt is a student loan. These loans receive fairly generous terms, since a college degree should generally result in a higher-paying job. Debt consolidation for student loans, especially subsidized PLUS loans, may not make a great deal of sense. You’re better off negotiating the repayment structure with your lender if the monthly payments are unrealistic.

On the other hand, if you’re dealing with credit card debt, interest rate is definitely part of the problem. Credit card debt interest regularly runs in the 20% range, more than twice the average rate of personal loans. Refinancing this debt with a personal loan can save you plenty over making minimum credit card payments.

4.) Will a personal loan cover all my debts?
The average American household has nearly $15,000 in credit card debt.

If you have more than $50,000 in credit card debt, it’s going to be difficult to put together a personal loan that can finance the entire amount. It’s worth prioritizing the highest interest cards and consolidating those instead of trying to divide your refinancing evenly between accounts. Get the biggest problems out of the way, so you can focus your efforts on picking up the pieces.

Debt consolidation doesn’t work for everyone, but it can do wonders for many people. The ability to eliminate high-interest debt and simplify monthly expenses into one payment for debt servicing can change a family’s whole financial picture. Gather your account statements and your paycheck stubs, and head to [CREDIT UNION] today!

Your Turn:
What’s your secret weapon in the battle against debt? Any tips and tricks that helped you get a handle on what you owe? Let us know!

Sources:

https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/credit-card-data/average-credit-card-debt-household/

http://lifehacker.com/5973715/should-i-get-a-debt-consolidation-loan-to-pay-off-my-credit-cards

https://www.credible.com/blog/what-are-average-student-loan-interest-rates/

https://www.debt.org/consolidation/

https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/loans/debt-consolidation-loans/

http://www.daveramsey.com/blog/debt-consolidation-truth/

Should You Cancel a Credit Card with $0 Balance?

The downsides of cancelling a credit card are usually not worth itCollage of overlapping credit cards
Many consumers are tempted to limit their debt by closing one or more credit cards as a result of the steady rise of the cost of living and credit card interest rates. However, though there are many reasons to close a credit card, there are ultimately even more and better reasons not to.

Adverse effect on credit score
If you care about maintaining a good credit score, you should avoid closing a credit card even if you have fully paid off the balance. This is because your credit score is based on a number of different factors that will almost all be adversely affected by closing a credit card.

“An account closure could wind up hurting your score because it eliminates the available credit line associated with the card and could easily skew your…credit utilization. It could also lower the age of your credit report, which may affect your score over time,” warns Jeanine Skowronski, credit card analyst and reporter for Bankrate.com.

According to FICO™, the United States’ biggest credit scoring service, 10 percent of your credit score is determined by credit mix. The more diverse the mix of your credit types, the better, so you should especially avoid cancelling a credit card if it is your only one or one of just a few.

Another 15 percent of your credit score is determined by the length of credit history. Because of this, you should take care not to close your oldest credit card. “Lenders tend to view borrowers with short credit histories as riskier than borrowers with longer histories,” writes LaToya Irby, credit and debt management expert, in a May 2017 article for TheBalance.com. “Closing your oldest credit card won’t impact your credit score immediately. But, once the credit card falls off your credit report several years down the road, you might see an unexpected credit score drop.”

More importantly, 35 percent of your credit score is determined by your payment history. If the credit card you want to close has a long and good history, closing it will hurt your credit score significantly. “If you have a good payment history on a card, then it is a good idea to leave that card open. This is especially important if you have a poor history with other cards or forms of credit,” says Chizoba Morah, contributor for Investopedia.com.

Debt and identity theft
Limiting debt and preventing identify theft are among the top two reasons people might decide to close a credit card. According to Morah, “When people feel they are spending too much money and cannot resist the lure of the credit card, they close the account.”

Furthermore, Morah adds that “by closing a credit card, they can lessen the chances that their identity will be stolen,” a risk that is increasingly at the front of people’s minds given the increase in identity theft in recent years.

While these are legitimate reasons to cancel a credit card, there are alternative methods to tackling these without incurring penalties on your credit report.

Alternative methods
There are a couple of steps you can take to keep a credit card open while making it very difficult to use it, thus limiting the aforementioned temptation and risk of identity theft. One step is to remove your credit card information from any online retailer that still has it, such as Amazon, so that it can never be unintentionally used by you or the retailer.

Another step is to destroy the physical credit card itself so that there is no risk of losing it or having it stolen. “If you have an inactive credit card or a card with a high balance, cut it up instead of closing it so that the history remains on your credit report but you won’t accumulate more charges on it,” advises Morah.

Ultimately, the negative consequences of canceling a credit card more than offset the potential benefits, especially as these benefits can be explored via alternative means. Unless the credit card you want to cancel is very new, mostly unused and one of many other credit cards, you are likely better off leaving it open.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

Should You Save Your Credit Card Information Online?

How to protect your information when shopping on the internet
Woman using a tablet to make an online purchase using a credit card
It seems all too common these days to hear about major breaches at retailers that leave consumers’ credit card numbers and personal information vulnerable to identity thieves. In perilous times, it feels tenuous enough using a credit card to complete purchases in-store, let alone online. If you shop online frequently, the question of whether it is safe to store credit card information online for the purposes of faster and easier check outs is a valid one that can be approached a number of ways.

Assume the worst
In an April 2014 article on NerdWallet entitled “Should I Save My Credit Card Payment Information on Retail Websites?”, website contributor Lindsay Konsko states the obvious in a blunt fashion: “[Y]ou must understand that anything you put on the internet should be considered completely unsafe and available to the public. No matter how much a website boasts about its security, it may still be vulnerable.”

You can save your credit card information with retailers if you shop there frequently enough that it might warrant it, but you should only do so fully understanding the level of risk involved. Some retail outlets like Amazon.com provide two-step authentication to protect your information and help you spot when someone might be attempting to access your account, but even then, it is not entirely protected from the possibility of data breaches.

Consider the alternatives
CNET Senior Editor Lexy Savvides recommends protecting yourself from the possibility of having your credit card information stolen from an online retailer by considering instead the option of shopping online with a prepaid card. According to Savvides, prepaid credit cards are advantageous in that they can help curb impulse shopping and can easily be reloaded (for a small fee), but arguably the biggest advantage that they provide online shoppers is that “even if the card’s details are compromised somewhere along the chain, there is a limit to the amount of money that can be taken.”

Be proactive
The reality, as unfortunate as it may be, is that there can be no guarantee of the complete safety of your credit card information. Having said that, it is within your power to determine how much risk you face. Savvides notes that you should only enter credit card information when checking out online if the website has an https connection and “a padlock or another digital security certificate to ensure that you are only entering your details on a site that encrypts the transaction end-to-end.”

Savvides also recommends being attentive when it comes to monitoring transactions. Konsko notes that most credit card companies offer fraud protection and low or zero liability for fraudulent charges, but it is not always guaranteed that a credit card company will notify you when a charge goes through even if it is unusual. As such, frequent or even daily monitoring of your balances and transactions can be key to shutting down identity thieves before they have an opportunity to do any major damage.

Savvides notes that credit card companies like MasterCard and Visa offer secondary levels of security to protect your credit card information by requiring a private code or password before completing a purchase. Before deciding whether you feel comfortable storing your credit card information with a retailer online, make sure that your credit provider will protect you in the event of having that information compromised. When it comes to credit, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

When to Use Credit (and When to Avoid It)

person holding credit card and using a laptopIf used carefully, credit can be a helpful financial tool. For example, using credit to purchase a home now, rather than trying to save up the whole purchase price, makes financial sense. The home provides a place to live that will perhaps increase in value and the mortgage interest offers a tax deduction. Credit may also help you deal promptly with costly emergencies.

Many consumers turn to credit when faced with unexpected home or auto repairs, as well as medical emergencies. And credit offers convenience, enabling you to rent a car or hotel room or buy airline tickets over the phone or online. In many situations, credit offers peace of mind; there is no need to carry large amounts of cash when shopping or traveling.

Despite all the advantages and conveniences credit can provide, there are some pitfalls associated with credit use. Credit can be expensive. Interest rates (often ranging from 14% to 22%), finance charges, annual fees, and penalties can dramatically increase the cost of any purchase made on credit. Then, there is a tendency to overspend on credit. It is much easier to spend more than you can afford when all you have to do is pull out the plastic. Over-extension gets thousands of consumers into financial trouble every year.

It is possible to have the best of both worlds, though. Designing a realistic spending and savings plan so you are aware of how much credit you can afford, as well as comparing the cost of credit and shopping around for the best deals, will help you avoid credit trouble.

Here are a few more tips:
Keep your charge receipts in an envelope with a running total on the outside. If the total exceeds an amount you consider appropriate, you know it’s time to curtail your spending.
Save monthly for expenses such as auto maintenance, holiday gifts, and the kids’ school clothes. That way you don’t need to use credit to cover these expenses, or, if you do charge them, you can pay the balance in full when the bill arrives.
Monitor interest rates. Choose lower-rate financing options whenever possible.
Limit the number of open credit card accounts you have. You don’t need more than one or two credit cards, and it’s much easier to keep track of your total outstanding debt with just a couple of accounts.

How Much Debt Is OK?
As a rule, no more than 15% of your net (take home) income should be committed to consumer debt payments each month. Another way to determine how much debt is appropriate for you to carry is to first complete a family budget. The amount remaining after you deduct your monthly savings and living expenses from your net income is the most you should have going to debt repayment. If you’re sending more than that to your creditors each month, you may want to consider credit coaching to help you reduce your debt load.

Shopping for Credit
When shopping for a credit card, you should first decide how you plan to use it so you can compare the features that are important for you. It is important to understand the difference between a charge card and a credit card. The balance on a charge card must be paid in full every month. Paying only a portion of the bill will cause your account to be delinquent. A credit card allows you to carry a balance for as long as you want, provided you make at least the minimum monthly payment due.

If you will pay your credit card bill off every month, a low annual fee is important. If you usually carry a balance, look for the lowest interest rate. Shop for a grace period, the amount of time after your purchase during which finance charges are not assessed. Some banks and finance companies give you up to 30 “free” days, but it has to be at least 21 days. However, interest starts accruing immediately on cash advances; there is no grace period and the interest rate is higher than that applied to regular purchases.

Depending on your payment and credit use habits, you may also be affected by late and, possibly, over-limit fees.

If you have no credit or a bad credit history, you may be able to obtain a secured credit card. A secured card works just like a regular credit card except that you must leave a deposit—usually between $250 and $500—with the issuing bank as collateral. If you default on your payments, the bank takes the money owed out of your deposit.

The interest rate and annual fee on a secured card are often a bit higher than on a regular card. But a secured card can offer you the convenience of a regular credit card and the opportunity to improve your credit record. When comparing cards, try to find one that does not charge an application or processing fee and confirm with the issuing bank that they will report your payment performance to at least one of the three major credit reporting bureaus, Experian, Trans Union, and Equifax. Make the most of this chance to build an unblemished credit report!

Used with Permission. Published by BALANCE Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

How Is Your Credit Score Determined?

The importance of understanding what influences your credit score
When it comes to buying a house, purchasing a new vehicle or applying for a credit card, your credit score is bound to come into play. As an influential factor in a financial institute’s decision whether to loan you money or not, your success often rests on this mysterious number. What is this important score and how is it determined? Learning this will help you take steps to raising your score over time.

Your credit score is calculated by a combination of five different factors, each contributing a different ratio of influence. According to Stacy Smith, Senior Publish Education Specialist for Experian, it involves your payment history, utilization, length of credit history, recent activity and overall capacity.

Payment history
Certainly the most persuasive factor in determining your current credit score, your payment history tells creditors about your likelihood of paying back any loans for which you’re currently applying. Amy Fontinelle, personal financial expert writing for Investopedia, explains that consistently paying your credit card, utility bills, student loan and other bills on time month after month will produce a higher credit score that reflects your financial reliability. On the other hand, a track record of late or below-minimum payments will bring your credit score down.

Utilization
Having a credit card and consistently using it will be reflected positively on your credit score over time, but using it too much could actually harm it. According to Dana Dratch, contributor at Bankrate.com, it’s important to keep your balance below 30 percent of your limit on every credit card—both individually and total. For example, if you have a $7,500 credit limit, you don’t want the balance to exceed $1,500.

So, if you’re maxing out your credit card every month for the bonus points—even if you’re paying the bill in full each month—that probably won’t look good to creditors who may see you as constantly spending in excess or charging everything to live paycheck to paycheck. If it reaches 30 percent, proactively pay the balance on the account before continuing to charge to it.

Length of credit history
This factor is not as influential as the first two and it covers multiple territories: how long has each account been open? Are all accounts still actively used or are some being neglected? Does the applicant have a variety of accounts—credit cards, auto loans, mortgages etc? This category is tricky because it is improved over time; suddenly opening a variety of accounts and using them religiously will only hurt your score, explains Smith.

Recent activity
While a healthy credit history is important, so is the current state. If you’ve taken on a loan or opened a new line of credit in the last 6 – 12 months and are applying to do so again, you are more likely to struggle with payments than you would be to excel. This is why you should not open multiple credit accounts around the same time, advises Smith.

Overall capacity
To a minor degree, your credit card reflects how much outstanding debt you have and how that impacts your overall financial situation. If you have a low amount of outstanding debt and a healthy, steady income, you don’t have to worry about this being an issue.

How to read your credit score
Your credit score actually consists of three scores calculated by major credit bureaus Equifax, Experian and Transunion. Each number generally ranges between 300 (low end) and 850 (high end). The higher the three-digit number, the healthier your credit is.

If your credit score is lower than you need it to be, worry not. The number is recalculated often, and healthy financial habits will steadily raise it over time.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.

Tips for Making Safe Credit Card Purchases Online

In today’s digital age, you need to be especially careful when making online purchases

With online shopping becoming the norm, people have also become more susceptible to identity theft. It’s imperative that you be careful and mindful of how you shop online.

A November 2016 article in The Balance by contributor LaToya Irby outlines seven tips for safe online shopping:

Conduct your online shopping only on websites you trust
It may sound obvious, but using your credit card to make online purchases only on those websites you know and trust could save you from becoming a victim of fraud. Never click on links provided via email; instead, type the entire URL of the website into your browser to open the site.

Never shop from a public place
Public computers are susceptible to hacker technology, such as software that captures your keystrokes and retains your personal and credit card information. Additionally, public Wi-Fi is unsecured and, as such, could redirect your device to a fake internet connection that an identity thief can monitor and use to intercept your personal information.

Keep your devices protected from viruses
Always stay up to date with virus and spyware protection software, and make sure you are using antivirus software that is reputable, not the type for which you receive an ad via email or in a pop-up window.

Check with the BBB first
The Better Business Bureau marks websites with poor customer service records, so make sure to check out the credibility of the site in question using the BBB before making a purchase.

Use credit cards, not debit cards
Credit cards have better protection services against fraud than debit cards, so you’re liable for fewer fraudulent charges if they occur. Additionally, you could lose access to your account and your funds while the financial institution sorts out a debit card that has been compromised, whereas with a credit card the only access that’s affected is that line of credit.

Make sure the website you use is secured
Always look for the green lock symbol at the start of your URL browser, and make sure you type in the website using “https” to ensure the site is secured to encrypt your information when making online purchases.

Keep track of your purchases with receipts
Just as with in-store purchases, printing a copy of the receipt of your online transaction will help you track your credit card activity. Use the printed copy to compare against your monthly credit card statement and watch for fraud.

In a November 2016 article in the Better Business Bureau by APR, CFEE Janet C. Hart recommends checking both your credit card activity and your bank account activity once a week, rather than waiting for the monthly statement. This ensures you catch fraudulent activity shortly after it’s occurred instead of finding out weeks later.

Hart also advises that we be wary of phishing scams—emails seemingly from a business claiming an error with your order or your account and asking you to confirm personal and identifying information. Legitimate businesses do not send these types of emails.

“Beware of ‘GREAT’ deals — if you find a website offering deals that seem too good to be true, they probably are. You may get a knock-off product, a product that is not the brand you ordered, or you may get nothing at all,” adds Hart.

Lastly, Hart recommends always checking the website’s privacy policy before making purchases online, so you know exactly how your personal information will be used.

Used with Permission. Published by IMN Bank Adviser Includes copyrighted material of IMakeNews, Inc. and its suppliers.