The Importance of Being Financially Fit

Are you ready to stretch those financial fitness muscles? We hope so, because it’s time to get financially fit!

Being financially fit means living a life of complete financial responsibility. The Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI), also known as the Financial Health Network, defines four basic components of financial health: Spend, Save, Borrow and Plan. These components reference everyday financial activities. As such, every choice you make in terms of these four activities either builds or detracts from your financial fitness. Like physical fitness, you can beef up those fitness muscles a little bit more each day.

Being financially fit is crucial for a well-balanced, stress-free life. Here’s why (and how):

Expand your financial knowledge

A financially fit person is constantly broadening their money knowledge. They read personal finance books and blogs, attend financial education seminars and are aware of the evolving state of the economy. This enables them to make monetary decisions from a position of knowledge and power, leaving much less up to chance or luck.

Stick to a budget

A financially fit person knows that tracking monthly expenses is key to financial health. They are careful to set aside money from their monthly income for all fixed and discretionary expenses and to stay within budget for each spending category.

Minimize debt

A financially fit person is committed to paying down debts and seeks to live debt-free. Constant budgeting, ongoing financial education and planning ahead enables them to make it through the month, and through unexpected expenses, without spiraling into debt.

Maximize savings 

A financially fit person prioritizes savings. In fact, savings is a fixed item on their monthly budget instead of something that only happens if there’s money left over. This allows them to think ahead and build a comfortable nest egg or emergency fund. In turn, having a robust safety net means sleeping better at night knowing there’s money available to cover unexpected expenses or a change in life circumstances.

Maintain complete awareness of the state of your finances

A financially fit person knows exactly how much money they owe, the accumulated value of their assets and the complete sum of their fixed and fluctuating expenses. This awareness takes the stress out of money management, allowing them to make better financial choices.

Maintain a healthy credit score

A financially fit person knows that an excellent credit history and score is a crucial component to long-term financial health. They are careful to pay all bills on time, hold onto their credit cards for a while and to keep their credit utilization low. This enables them to qualify for long-term loans with favorable interest rates, which saves them money for years to come.

Help your money go further

A financially fit person does not waste large sums of money on interest charges for purchases made using borrowed funds via credit cards or loans. They live within their means and only use these resources for purchases they can actually afford, or for large, long-term assets, like a car or a house. This means they have more funds at their disposal to help build their wealth through savings and investments.

Create concrete financial goals

A financially fit person has long-term and short-term financial goals. This enables them to keep their focus on the big picture when making everyday money choices, empowering them to actually realize their financial dreams.

Achieve financial independence

A financially fit person is independent. They don’t rely on loans from friends or family members to get by, and they don’t need to pay with plastic at the end of the month because they ran out of money. Their well-padded emergency fund means they don’t depend on their monthly income to put bread on the table, either. By sticking to a budget, prioritizing savings and maintaining an awareness of their finances, they are strong, secure and completely independent.

Being financially fit means living a life without battling anxiety about getting through the month or stressing about the future. You can achieve financial fitness by committing to making choices in each of the four components of financial health (spend, save, borrow, plan) that are forward-thinking and help to build your financial wellness.

Your Turn: Why is financial fitness so important? Share your reasons with us in the comments.

Learn More:
femcove.com
doughroller.net
moneybites.com
forbes.com
cbsnews.com

HisandHerMoney.com

When two people with opposite money views marry, it’s the ultimate in “He said, she said.”

He wants to save every penny so they can afford their dream house within the next five years, and she would rather live it up today while pushing off their dream a little longer.

She wants to budget every dollar to track everything they buy, and he thinks they can trust themselves to keep within their spending limit without accounting for every single purchase.

He thinks golf clubs with a four-digit price tag are a reasonable want, and she thinks they’re a ridiculous luxury reserved for the very wealthy.

And on and on it goes.

For Talaat and Tai McNeely, a pair of high school sweethearts ready to take their relationship further, the money differences were more than just an occasional spat — they were an obstruction standing between the couple and marriage.

As the McNeelys share on their blog, hisandhermoney.com, here’s a sampling of some of the financial issues they were dealing with before they married:

  • Do we let our credit scores dictate if we are compatible for marriage?
  • How will our previous money habits play a role in our marriage?
  • Do we merge our finances?
  • How can we work together to become better at life and win with money?
  • Am I a loser because I have now made my debt problems my future spouse’s problems?
  • Can I change, or is my past really who I am?
  • Should I have a secret account just in case our money situation gets worse?
  • How will we purchase a home? Do we put it in both of our names and risk not having a low interest rate due to the lower credit score?
  • Do I have to take full responsibility for our finances simply because I’m better at it?
  • Will we have to rely on two incomes to run our home?
  • What will our lives look like five years from now?

Despite one partner being debt-free and the other carrying $30,000 in debt, the McNeelys decided to get married. They knew the financial road ahead could be bumpy, but they were prepared to weather the storms together for the sake of their relationship.

Today, after years of struggling to chart their own joint money path, the McNeelys are completely debt-free, have paid off their mortgage and run a 6-figure business online. They have learned enormous life lessons on their journey toward financial wellness, and they generously share these lessons on their blog, podcasts, videos and through their private community of couples seeking financial guidance.

The couple is passionate about helping others overcome their financial differences and build a better relationship and a better future together. Check out hisandhermoney.com to learn their secrets.

Your Turn: How do you and your partner deal with money differences? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
paychecksandbalances.com
hisandhermoney.com

Your Complete Guide to Using Your Credit Cards

Q: I’d love to improve my credit score, but I can’t get ahead of my monthly payments. SeptFeatured2020_credit-card-scam
I also find that my spending gets out of control when I’m paying with plastic. How do I use my credit cards responsibly?

A: Using your credit cards responsibly is a great way to boost your credit score and your financial wellness. Unfortunately, though, credit card issuers make it challenging to stay ahead of monthly payments and easy to fall into debt with credit card purchases. No worries, though; Advantage One Credit Union is here to help!

Here’s all you need to know about responsible credit card usage.

Refresh your credit card knowledge
Understanding the way a credit card works can help the cardholder use it responsibly.
A credit card is a revolving line of credit allowing the cardholder to make charges at any time, up to a specific limit. Each time the cardholder swipes their card, the credit card issuer is lending them the money so they can make the purchase. Unlike a loan, though, the credit card account has no fixed term. Instead, the cardholder will need to make payments toward the balance each month until the balance is paid off in full. At the end of each billing cycle, the cardholder can choose to make just the minimum required payment, pay off the balance in full or make a payment of any size that falls between these two amounts.

Credit cards tend to have high interest rates relative to other kinds of loans. The most recent data shows the average industry rate on new credit cards is 13.15% APR (annual percentage rate) and the average credit union rate on new credit cards is 11.54% APR.

Pay bills in full, on time
The best way to keep a score high is to pay credit card bills in full each month — and on time. This has multiple benefits:

  • Build credit — Using credit responsibly builds up your credit history, which makes it easier and more affordable to secure a loan in the future.
  • Skip the interest — Paying credit card bills in full and on time each month lets the cardholder avoid the card’s interest charges completely.
  • Stay out of debt — Paying bills in full each month helps prevent the consumer from falling into the cycle of endless minimum payments, high interest accruals and a whirlpool of debt.
  • Avoid late fees — Late fees and other penalties for missed payments can get expensive quickly. Avoid them by paying bills on time each month.
  • Enjoy rewards — Healthy credit card habits are often generously rewarded through the credit card issuer with airline miles, reward points and other fun benefits.

Tip: Using a credit card primarily for purchases you can already afford makes it easier to pay off the entire bill each month.

Brush up on billing
There are several important terms to be familiar with for staying on top of credit card billing.

A credit card billing cycle is the period of time between subsequent credit card billings. It can vary from 20 to 45 days, depending on the credit card issuer. Within that timeframe, purchases, credits and any fees or finance charges will be added to and subtracted from the cardholder’s account.

When the billing cycle ends, the cardholder will be billed for the remaining balance, which will be reflected in their credit card statement. The current dates and span of a credit card’s billing cycle should be clearly visible on the bill.

Tip: It’s important to know when your billing cycle opens and closes each month to help you keep on top of your monthly payments.

Credit card bills will also show a payment due date, which tends to be approximately 20 days after the end of a billing cycle. The timeframe between when the billing cycle ends and its payment due date is known as the grace period. When the grace period is over and the payment due date passes, the payment is overdue and will be subject to penalties and interest charges.

Tip: To ensure a payment is never overdue, it’s best to schedule a time for making your credit card payments each month, ideally during the grace period and before the payment due date. This way, you’ll avoid interest charges and penalties and keep your score high. Allow a minimum of one week for the payment to process.

Spend smartly
Credit cards can easily turn into spending traps if the cardholder is not careful. Following these dos and don’ts of credit card spending can help you stick to your budget even when paying with plastic.

  • Do:
    When making a purchase, treat your credit card like cash.
    Remember that credit card transactions are mini loans.
    Pay for purchases within your regular budget.
    Decrease your reliance on credit cards by building an emergency fund.
  • Don’t:
    Use your credit card as if it provides you with access to extra income.
    Use credit to justify extravagant purchases.
    Neglect to put money into savings because you have access to a credit card.

Using credit cards responsibly can help you build and maintain an excellent credit score, which will make it easier to secure affordable long-term loans in the future.

Your Turn
: How do you use your credit cards responsibly while keeping your score high? Share your best tips with us in the comments.

Learn More:
moneyunder30.com
npr.org
debt.org
creditcardinsider.com

 

Am I Really Ready to Buy a House?

Young black couple signs paperwork with agentQ: I’ve saved a down payment, narrowed my choices of neighborhoods and drawn up a wish list of what I’m looking for in a home, but I’m getting cold feet. How do I know if I’m really ready to buy a house?

A: It’s perfectly normal to feel hesitant about going through with what may be the biggest purchase of your life. To help put you at ease and to make sure you’re really prepared for this purchase, we’ve compiled a list of questions to ask yourself before buying a new home.

Can I afford to buy a house?
Before viewing properties, remember that purchasing a new home will cost more than just the down payment. Buyers also need to cover closing costs, which typically run at 2-4 percent of the total purchase, as well as moving costs, and possibly new furniture and renovations for their new home.

Can I afford the monthly mortgage payments?
Most lending companies will grant a loan to a home buyer if the monthly mortgage payments do not push the buyer’s debt-to-income (DTI) ratio above the recommended 43 percent. This means that the total monthly debt the buyer carries, including their mortgage, credit card, loan, and car payments, do not exceed 43 percent of their monthly income. You may want to work out the total for your pre-mortgage debt before applying for a loan so you have an idea of how much house you can afford.

When determining whether you can actually afford your monthly payments, though, remember that there’s more to home ownership than a monthly mortgage payment. Be sure to include calculations for taxes, insurance and a possible increase in utility bills. A mortgage lender should be able to provide some of these numbers for you.

Am I ready to settle down?
The average length of time that homeowners in the U.S. live in a house is only seven years. Buyers who don’t plan on staying in their homes long-term may end up incurring a loss. Consider factors like your career, family planning, changing demographics of a neighborhood and more when trying to answer this question. Experts advise buyers to only purchase homes they plan on living in for a minimum of five years.

Does buying a house in my neighborhood make financial sense?
Many Americans view home ownership as a rite of passage into adulthood, but that doesn’t mean purchasing a home always makes financial sense. In some neighborhoods, rentals are relatively cheap while houses sell for far more than they are actually worth. In these neighborhoods, buying a home may not be the logical choice, even if the buyer can easily afford the purchase.

Is my credit score high enough?
A fairly decent credit score is necessary to qualify for a home loan. Most lenders will only grant a home loan to borrowers with a credit score of 650 or higher. A score that doesn’t make the cut can be increased by being super-careful about paying all bills on time, not opening new credit cards in the months leading up to the home loan application, paying credit card bills in full each month and keeping credit utilization low.

Do I have a plan in place for repairs?
When a renter has a leaky faucet, they call the landlord and the problem becomes theirs. When a homeowner has a leaky faucet, it’s their own problem. They can either fix it or hire someone to do the job, but it’s a good idea to have a plan in place before the first thing in a new home needs fixing. If you’re handy enough to handle repairs on your own, you’ll need to be ready and willing to give up some of your free time on weekends to tend to things around the house. Otherwise, it’s best to have a tidy sum put away to pay for necessary repairs before purchasing a home.

Sometimes, an appliance or a system in the house will be broken beyond repair and will need replacing. Homeowners need to have enough money stashed away in their emergency fund or rainy-day account to cover these purchases, too.

Buying a first home is an exciting milestone that only happens once in a lifetime. If you think you’re ready to take this step, first make sure this purchase is the right choice for you at this time on a financial and practical level.

If you’re ready to get started on your home loan application, click or call to hear about our fantastic home loan options.

Your Turn:
How did you know you were ready to buy a house? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

Learn More:
investopedia.com
thebalance.com
rubyhome.com
creditsesame.com
moneyunder30.com

How’s Your Credit?

Medium credit score displayed on a man's smartphoneGive your credit its annual review by ordering your free annual report from Annualcreditreport.com. Check your score and read through the report carefully to see if there are any suspicious charges, unfamiliar accounts or mistakes of any kind. If you find an error, be sure to dispute it and follow up on the mistake. You’ll want to close any inactive accounts as well, as they can drag down your credit file.

Keep that score climbing!

Your Turn:
How do you monitor your credit? Share your best methods with us in the comments.

Why Does My Credit Score Matter?

Woman holding her credit reportYour credit score is made up of three numbers, serving as an indicator of your financial history, wellness and responsibility. These three little numbers can spell the difference between approval and rejection for a mortgage, a job, a rental unit and so much more.
We have outlined how your credit score is calculated, why it matters and steps you can take to improve your score.

How is my credit score calculated?
There are three major credit bureaus in the U.S.: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. Each one collects and shares information about your credit usage with potential lenders and financial institutions. Most lenders use this information along with the FICO scoring model to calculate your credit worthiness. Some lenders use the VantageScore model instead of FICO.

While there are several slight differences between the FICO and the VantageScore formulas, both scoring models look at the following factors when calculating your score:

  • The age of your credit
    How long have you had your oldest credit card? When was your first loan? An older credit history generally boosts your score.
  • The timeliness of your bill payments
    Are you paying all of your monthly bills on time? Chronic late payments, particularly loan and credit card payments, can drastically reduce your score.
  • The ratio of your outstanding debt to available credit
    The VantageScore formula views consumers with a lot of available credit as a liability, while the FICO formula considers this a point in your favor.
  • The diversity of your credit
    Lenders want to see that you have and have had several kinds of open credit. For example, you may be paying down an auto loan, a student loan and using three credit cards.
  • The trajectory of your debt
    Are you accumulating new debt each month, or slowly working toward paying down every dollar you owe?
  • Your credit card usage
    Financial experts recommend having several open credit cards to help boost your credit score, but this only works if you actually use the cards and pay off your bills each month. It doesn’t help much to have the cards sitting in your wallet.

How does my credit score affect my life?
Your credit score serves as a gauge for your financial wellness to anybody who is looking to get a better idea of how responsible you are with your financial commitments.
Here are just some ways your credit score can affect your day-to-day life:

  • Loan eligibility
    This is easily the most common use for your credit score. Lenders check your score to determine whether you will be eligible for a loan.
  • The larger the loan, the stricter the requirements
    A poor credit score can hold you back from buying a house, a car, or getting a personal loan at Advantage One Credit Union.
  • Interest rates on loans
    Here too, your credit score plays a large role in your financial reality. A higher score can get you a lower interest rate on your loan, and a poor score can mean paying thousands of extra dollars in interest over the life of the loan.
  • Employment
    A study by the Society for Human Resources Management found that 47 percent of employers look at the credit scores of potential employees as part of the hiring process.
  • Renting
    Many landlords run credit checks on new tenants before signing a lease agreement. A poor credit score can prevent you from landing that dream apartment or it can prompt your landlord to demand you make a higher deposit before moving in.
  • Insurance coverage
    Most insurers will check your credit before agreeing to provide you with coverage. Consumer Reports writes that a lower score can mean paying hundreds of dollars more for auto coverage each year.

How to improve your credit score
If you’re planning on taking out a large loan in the near future, applying for a new job, renting a new unit or you just want to improve your score, follow these steps:

  • Pay your bills on time
    If you have the income to cover it but find getting things paid on time to be a challenge, consider using automatic payments.
  • Pay more than the minimum payment on your credit cards
    Your credit score takes the trajectory of your debt into account. By paying more than just the minimum payment on your credit cards, you can show you’re working on paying down your debt and help improve your score.
  • Pay your credit card bills before they’re due
    If you can, it’s best to pay your credit card bills early. This way, more of your money will go toward paying down your outstanding balance instead of interest.
  • Find out if you have any outstanding medical bills
    You may have an unpaid medical bill you’ve forgotten about. These can significantly drag down your credit score, so be sure to settle any outstanding medical bills as quickly as possible.
  • Consider debt consolidation
    If you’re paying interest on multiple outstanding debts each month, you may benefit from paying off your debt through a new credit card that offers an introductory interest-free period, or from taking out a [personal/unsecured] loan at Advantage One Credit Union. This way, you’ll only have one low-interest or interest-free payment to make each month. (Note: If you’ll be applying for a large loan within the next few months, it’s better not to open any new cards.)

It’s crucial that you make the effort to improve and maintain your credit score. It’s more than just a number; it will impact your financial wellness for years to come.

Your Turn:
How do you keep your credit score high? Share your best tips with us in the comments.

Learn More:
discover.com
fool.com
nerdwallet.com
thebalance.com

Your Complete Guide To Identity Theft Protection

Young woman in business attire seated at an outdoor cafe stares worriedly at a laptop screen with her head in her hands.Did you know there were 14.4 million victims of identity theft in 2018? According to Javelin Strategy, each case cost the victim an average of $1,050 – and that’s only the cost in dollars. When an individual’s identity is stolen, the thief wreaks major havoc on the victim’s financial health, which can take months, or even years, to recover from.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent yourself from becoming the next victim. Here is your complete guide to identity theft protection.

1. Monitor your credit
One of the best preventative measures you can take against identity theft is monitoring your credit. You can check your credit score for free on sites like CreditKarma.com and order an annual report once a year from each of the three credit reporting agencies at AnnualCreditreport.com. Also remember that Advantage One offers members a free annual credit checkup as well. However you obtain your score, be sure to check for any sudden hits and look through your reports for suspicious activity. It’s also a good idea to review your monthly credit card bills for any charges you don’t remember making.

2. Use multi-factor authentication
When banking online, or using any other service that utilizes sensitive information, always choose multi-factor authentication. If possible, use your thumbprint as one means of identification. Otherwise, use multiple passwords, PINs or personal questions to make it difficult for a hacker to break into your accounts.

3. Use strong unique passwords
Never use identical passwords for multiple accounts. If you do so, you’re making yourself an easier target for identity thieves. Instead, create strong, unique passwords for every account you use. The strongest passwords use a variety of letters, symbols and numbers, and are never mock-ups or replicas of popular phrases or words.

If you find it difficult to remember multiple passwords, consider using a free password service, like LastPass. You’ll only need to remember one master password and the service will safely store the rest.

4. Only use Wi-Fi with a VPN
Did you know you are putting your personal information at risk every time you use the free Wi-Fi at your neighborhood coffee shop (or any other public establishment)? When using public Wi-Fi, always choose a Virtual Private Network (VPN) instead of your default Wi-Fi settings to keep the sensitive information on your device secure.

5. Block robocalls
Lots of identity theft occurs via robocalls in which the scammer impersonates a government official or the representative of a well-known company. Lower the number of robocalls reaching your home by adding your home number to the Federal Trade Commission’s No Call List at donotcall.gov. It’s also a good practice to ignore all calls from unfamiliar numbers, because each engagement encourages the scammers to try again.

6. Upgrade your devices
Whenever possible, upgrade the operating system of your computer, tablet and phone to the latest versions. Upgraded systems will keep you safe from the most recent security breaches and offer you the best protection against viruses and hacks.

7. Shred old documents
While most modern-day identity theft is implemented over the internet or through phone calls, lots of criminals still use old-fashioned means to get the information they need. Dumpster-divers will paw through trashed papers until they hit upon a missive that contains personal information. It’s best to shred all documents containing sensitive information as soon as you don’t need them.

8. Keep personal information personal
Be super-cautious about sharing sensitive data, like your Social Security number and banking PINs, with strangers – and even with friends. It’s also a good idea to use the strongest, most private security settings on your social media accounts to keep hackers out.

9. Invest in identity theft protection
If you’re still nervous about being the next victim of identity theft, you may want to sign up for an identity-theft protection service. Advantage One offers affordable Identity Theft Protection service in conjunction with our Benefits Plus checking account. Other services don’t come cheap, but services like LifeLock and IdentityForce will monitor your personal information online and immediately alert you about any suspicious activity.

Identity theft can be an expensive nightmare. Be proactive about protecting your identity and keep your information and your money safe.

Your Turn:
Which safety procedures do you follow in order to protect yourself from identity theft? Share them with us in the comments.

Learn More:
safesmartliving.com
wisebread.com
centsai.com

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

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.