You’ve started from the bottom with little to no credit (or maybe bad credit) and managed to get your credit score to around 680, which is within the “good” credit range suggests is decent enough to be approved for some auto loans, rewards credit cards, and apartment rentals. Now you’ve got your sights set on the best rates: here are the excellent credit habits you need to learn:
Good Habits to Help You Build Credit
The road to excellent credit is paved by credit card users with keen financial literacy who use credit strategically versus out of necessity. If you want excellent credit, then build the best habits of credit card users with excellent credit. If you’re disciplined and strategic enough, you’ll be on your way to the many benefits that come from having excellent credit.
Monitor Credit Reports
Credit card users with excellent credit are quite invested in their credit scores, and they monitor their credit reports regularly. Since any negative activity is a hindrance to their FICO scores, they regularly receive and check credit reports to make sure any fraudulent charges on any of their accounts aren’t showing up.
The first thing you should do is also get copies of your credit report so you can begin to assess your situation in the eyes of the credit reporting bureaus. If you go to AnnualCreditReports.com you can get a free copy of your credit report from the three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.
If you want to actively monitor your credit score and whether it’s increasing, consider getting a free copy of your credit report just once every four months from each credit bureau versus asking for three copies all at once. This way if fraudulent accounts were opened in your name and you’ve disputed them, you can check to make sure they’ve been removed the next time you pull a credit report four months later.
Pay the Balance in Full
It may not come as a shock, but credit card users with excellent credit rarely if ever carry a balance from month-to-month. What gives them such a shiny glow to the credit bureaus is the fact that they avoid interest by paying their credit card balance in full every month and consistently paying on time. A credit card isn’t an excuse to splurge or live outside of your means.
To avoid paying interest and hurting your credit score, make sure you keep track of when all your credit card bills and installment loans are due. Even if you can only make the minimum payment it’s better than missing the payment altogether. If it’s easier for you to consider setting as many of these bills to autopay so they’ll automatically pay themselves and you don’t have to worry about forgetting to pay them.
If you have three credit cards, and two of them don’t have a balance consider putting one set of recurring charges on one card, and another set of recurring charges on another card. Then set both cards to autopay once the charges have run through both cards.
Payment history accounts for almost a third of your credit score. Credit utilization, or how much credit you use, amount for another 30% of your FICO Score, meaning paying in full can solve two problems with one good habit.
Track All Spending and Set Up Alerts
Anyone who has worked hard enough to end up with excellent credit knows to track all their spending and to regularly check their credit card statements for any errors. Credit card fraud can easily thwart the plans of any person on a mission to improve their credit score, which is why catching any errors the moment they show up is crucial.
Also, be sure to properly consider how you dispose of your credit card statements as they could contain information that thieves could use to steal your identity. Many people use shredders to destroy credit card statements and old, inactive credit cards as they make it nearly impossible for identity thieves to glean any valuable info from someone’s trash.
If you want to be extra vigilant about preventing fraud make sure you sign up for alerts through your credit card’s online portal so that you’ll receive a text or email every time the card is used above a specific amount. Doing so will prevent a thief who already has used your card fraudulently once from going on an all-afternoon shopping spree and leaving you to sort out the mess.
Know the Rewards
More and more people are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of credit card rewards, but the average credit card user hardly takes the time to do research on these rewards.
Anyone with an excellent credit score will tell you they spend hours calculating their personal spending habits and measuring them against the features of the card such as what the intro sign-up bonus is, what rewards cards give as far as perks, how many rewards points they’ll get per dollar spent, whether or not they can do a balance transfer, and even how much the annual fee counts against what they’re projected to spend annually.
If you want to understand the landscape of rewards cards, be sure to check out different credit card issuer pages to compare why you should get a travel rewards card from company A compared to company B. Everyone is different, and you’ll maximize the effectiveness of your rewards if you are thorough in your research.
Limit Hard Inquiries
Credit card users with excellent credit know how credit card companies typically frown upon too many inquiries in a specific time frame. A consistent pattern of applying for too many credit card offers signals to them that you may be having financial trouble, and they view you ask a risk to lend money to.
If you want to apply for any card from Chase, you aren’t allowed to have opened five or more personal credit cards from all banks in the past 24 months. This 5/24 rule is specifically a rule from Chase, but other issuers will surely take notice if you try to apply for too many credit cards in such a short amount of time, and the frequency of how often you’ve applied for credit cards will be heavily considered.
Furthermore, it is estimated that each hard inquiry will subtract three to five points from your score.
Have an Emergency Fund
Having excellent credit also means having healthy personal finance habits and knowing how to strategically use credit cards. Getting an excellent credit score requires a plan and discipline, and the best way to ensure you don’t miss a credit card payment is to have an emergency fund to protect you against a medical or auto repair bill.
A substantial emergency fund will also make sure you won’t have to use credit cards to pay for any emergency bills, risk accruing interest over time, and potentially ruining the progress you’ve made increasing your credit score.
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