Good credit isn’t impossible, and takes less time than you think. If you don’t have any credit, or you’re coming back from a credit nosedive, use these habits to launch your credit score back up.
Would you like to enter a very privileged world, only available to a select few?
What if we told you the benefits of that privileged world included easy access to cars, apartments, and even certain jobs? Sounds like a great deal, doesn’t it?
The good news is that the world we just described is all within your grasp, once you build good credit.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg! The news gets even better once you realize that your credit score is something you can control long-term—if you practice good spending habits.
Fortunately, good spending habits aren’t so hard to develop, once you know what to do. Read on to learn our 7 top tips for money habits that’ll help you build your credit score and a great credit history.
1. Rate Shop the Right Way
Each time you apply for new credit, your credit score experiences a ding, meaning that it takes a slight dip that lasts for a year.
Take, for example, someone who wants to make a big purchase like a new car. Let’s say they shop around for a good loan rate, then decide to hold off on buying. So, they wait a few months before shopping around for a loan again. Each of those credit applications lowers their credit score.
That person could minimize the impact on their credit score by doing rate comparisons in a shorter time frame. This strategy works, because some credit score models view multiple inquiries—for mortgages, auto loans, and student loans--as just one inquiry.
But you have to get the timeframe right. That window can range from 14 to 45 days, depending on the credit score model being used.
So, for the best results, rate shop for car loans, mortgages, and student loans in a two-week period. That’ll ensure you don’t take any unnecessary negative hits to your credit.
2. Pay Off Small Balances on Credit Cards
Do you like to run a small balance on a lot of different credit cards? Many people do.
While it might seem like a reasonable tactic to use your retail credit cards every time you buy something at the mall and your gas cards whenever you fill up your tank, that’s a no-no, according to credit expert, John Ulzheimer.
It’s bad because every card that has a balance can negatively impact your credit score.
3. Stop Spending Impulsively
Are you an impulse shopper? If so, you’re hardly alone.
Most Americans report impulse shopping from time to time. For instance, more than half of them have made an impulse purchase over $100, and 20% of them report buying something on impulse that cost more than $1,000.
If you’re thinking to yourself, “guilty as charged,” you need to curb this bad habit.
While impulse shopping may be fun in the moment, it’s a lot less enjoyable once the “high” from your new clothes, electronics, or whatever, wears off. Worse still is paying for impulse purchases bought on credit later on.
Rather than allowing this spending habit to wreak havoc on your credit, the next time you see something you “must have,” wait for at least 24 hours.
In most cases, your desire for it will go away altogether. Even if it doesn’t, at least you’ve given yourself time to think through the consequences of buying it.
4. Pay Bills On Time for a Better Credit History
It’s tempting when you first start building your credit history to think that the occasional late payment doesn’t matter too much. Yet, in reality, late payments can have a big impact on your credit score.
In fact, the FICO scoring model—which is what most lenders use—uses your payment history to determine 35% of your total score.
So, instead of viewing late payments as “no big thing,” we recommend setting up a monthly reminder in your phone so you make those payments by their due dates, each and every time.
5. Create a Monthly Budget
It’s way too easy to spend too much money on overpriced lattes and happy hours with friends when you don’t have a budget. That usually leads to one of two scenarios--either you wonder where all your money went at the end of the month OR you run out of money and have to rely on your credit cards until you get paid again.
Rather than falling into that trap, create a budget and stick to it. Once you start tracking your spending money, you’ll make better decisions about where your money goes—and you won’t have to rely on your credit cards as often.
6. Start Saving Money
By saving money on a regular basis, you’ll be building a foundation for a lifetime of great credit.
Let’s face it—nobody starts off with the intention of ruining their credit. However, they do sometimes make dangerous assumptions about their future earning potential.
For instance, many people buy things on credit believing that they’ll pay their cards off in six months or a year. But, perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “Expect the unexpected”?
When people give themselves long periods of time to pay off credit card debt, they do so at the risk of experiencing an unexpected financial hardship that can take a toll on their ability to pay that debt off.
To prevent scenarios like that, save money from your paycheck each month and start building an emergency fund. Then, should the worst occur, you’ll at least have money set aside so you can make the minimum payments on all your bills.
7. Use Less Than 30% of Your Available Credit
You might think it’s fine to use your credit cards every day, as long as you pay off your balances in full each month. Yet unfortunately, that isn’t the case if you’re using a lot of your available credit. Whenever you use more than 30% of your credit limit, your credit score takes a hit.
Rather than doing that, we suggest you keep a close eye on your balances, so you don’t go over 30%. If it’s the middle of the month and you suspect you’re going to go over soon, then it’s a good idea to prepay your balance before it comes due.
Knowledge Is Power
The more you know about how your credit score is calculated and what you can do to develop good spending habits, the more control you have over your credit history.
With that control, you’ll have access to the good life we talked about earlier—the one where you have an easier time buying cars, qualifying for mortgages, and getting better-paying jobs.
So, if you’ve been on the fence about changing your money habits, now’s the time—take control of your spending today and watch your financial life improve for the better!
With an MBA in Marketing and a Digital Marketing Strategies certification, Jill Huettich frequently writes about marketing, entrepreneurship and wealth-building strategies.