If you’ve ever felt the rules of credit management to be elusive, you’re not alone. Luckily, credit reporting companies are fairly transparent about what it takes to build and maintain good credit, and much of what it takes to have good credit is in your control. Here are three steps to take that can help improve your credit management skills.
3 Steps to Help You Get Better at Credit Management
1. Check Your Credit
The first step to good credit management is to find out the state of your credit. That’s easy to do, as you can pull up all three of your credit reports for free once per year at AnnualCreditReport.com.
The reason you have three credit reports (and why it’s important to check them all) is that there are three credit reporting companies — all of which have individual reports on your credit. Financial institutions that report your credit activity to credit reporting agencies aren’t required to send the data to all three, so each of your reports can vary.
Here are a few of the things to look for when you’re reviewing your reports:
- Make sure your personal information is correct (and especially keep an eye out for typos in your name and social security number)
- Review each account to ensure that you have, in fact, opened or authorized every account that shows up
- Check the details of each account for accuracy, including things like payment history, account status, and balance
If you spot any errors as you review your credit reports, you can dispute those errors with the credit reporting agency whose report has the error. Before you do, note that your credit reports are not updated on a daily basis, so things like your balance won’t be accurate to the date. If something like that looks incorrect, you can verify the information by going to your financial statements to see if your balance matched that amount at any point in the previous month. Read here for more information on what you can dispute on a credit report.
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Also, if you’re on AnnualCreditReport.com and wondering why you don’t see your credit score, it’s because credit scores don’t show up on credit reports. These are two different products made by two different companies. (FICO® and VantageScore® are the two most popular credit scoring companies.) However, you can check your credit scores at a variety of websites for free, some of which you can see here.
2. Follow Credit-Building Steps
After you have a good idea of the state of your credit, the next step is to work on maintaining or improving that state. The good news is that the steps are relatively intuitive. Here are a few steps you may take to build or maintain good credit:
- Pay all of your bills on time (even non-credit accounts)
- Keep your credit card balances low — at or below 30 percent of your total credit limits, the lower, the better
- Open new credit accounts only when you need them, but know that it’s more than okay to have more than one type of credit (such as loans and credit cards)
- Keep old accounts open to maintain a long credit history
The basics of building credit are simple. Lenders want to know that you pay on time, that you’re not overextended on the credit you already have, and that you have a proven history of positive borrowing behavior. Following the steps outlined above can help you show just that.
3. Use Credit Solutions to Help You
Finally, there are a plethora of credit solutions emerging that can help you with your credit in various different ways. There are tools to help you monitor your credit, learn how to improve your credit, track your progress, and even dispute credit report errors.
What’s more, many of these tools (like some of the websites that enable you to view your credit scores) are free. With so much help available, you can be more empowered than ever to take your credit future into your own hands.
Better Credit Management Can Be Yours
It wasn’t long ago that people could barely get a glimpse into their credit scores. Now that transparency in the industry has improved so much, consumers can more easily understand where their credit stands and what to do to get it where they want it to be.