Having good credit is not as hard as you think. Here are four things that will help you stay on top of your credit without too much hassle.
Matt Schulz has done thousands of interviews about money in his time as Senior Industry Analyst at CreditCards.com. He’s been in The Wall Street Journal, New York Times and USA Today. He has appeared on Good Morning America, CBS Evening News, Fox Business Network and CNBC as well as hundreds of local TV and radio affiliates throughout the nation. Over the years of doing these interviews, he’s seen many questions pop up over and over again – questions that impact nearly all Americans.
In this space, Matt will address these questions to help Americans get a better feel for how to find the right credit card, get it and use it the right way every day because he believes – and is living proof – that the right credit card can change your life.
Is credit as complicated as some people say?
Having good credit is not as hard as some websites, credit repair companies and credit scoring firms make it sound. That’s one of four things you should know about credit reports and scores. These are the other three:
Some websites try to make it sound confusing so you’ll read more about it and drive up their page views. Credit repair companies paint it as this battle that you can only win with someone else’s help.
And credit scoring firms keep much of their inner workings shrouded in secrecy to protect their business models.
1. Having good credit is not as hard as you think
But here’s the No. 1 thing that people don’t tell you about credit, even though they should: It’s not as complicated as people make it sound.
Good credit comes down to three things:
- Paying your bills on time, every time.
- Keeping your balances low.
- Not applying for too much credit too often.
Sure, there are other factors, and if you want a perfect 850 score, you might have to do a few more things, but the truth is that once you top 800 or so, all those extra credit score points are basically just extra cushion.
Here are a few more things that folks don’t tell you about your credit:
2. Credit reporting errors are more common than you think
Some studies show that 1 in 5 credit reports contains some sort of incorrect information. Credit report mistakes are more common than you think – and you may be paying for someone else’s mistakes.
Not all those errors would have a negative impact on your score, but the fact that about 20 percent of reports have mistakes means that there are millions of Americans whose credit is suffering through no fault of their own.
For example, if there is an inaccurate late payment on your report, it could send your score down 50 to 100 points. That’s a big deal.
If you see a mistake, speak up.
Requesting a fresh report directly from the credit bureaus and poring over the report for errors large and small are two initial steps you can take to set the record straight on your reports. See “10 surefire steps to get errors off your credit reports” for further advice.
If you dispute an error, don’t expect it to be corrected quickly or easily, but stick with your request. Be persistent. It’s important.
Tip: Making on-time payments is the most important thing you can do to keep your credit in good shape. Set up autopay for your credit card bill. Once you’ve done that, late payments should become a thing of the past.
3. You need to check your children’s credit report – and hope they don’t have one
Most children don’t have a credit card, nor do they need one.
Sure, some parents make their kid an authorized user on their credit card – without ever giving the kid the actual card – to give Junior a leg up on credit when they’re older. In that case, the child absolutely should have a credit report.
For the most part, however, if your son or daughter has a credit report, it’s probably a bad sign. Why? Because it may mean that your kid has been a victim of identity theft.
Bad guys love getting children’s personal information because they know that their misdeeds have a better chance of going undiscovered for a long time.
Don’t let that happen to you. Check your children’s credit reports, and if you find something amiss, report it immediately.
4. It’s never been easier to get your credit score and report at no cost
It wasn’t long ago that you had to work to find out your credit score or get a copy of your credit report. That’s not the case now.
Many credit card issuers and companies give free credit scores to cardholders:
- CreditCards.com lets you keep an eye on your TransUnion credit report and VantageScore credit score for free.
- AnnualCreditReport.com gives you free access once a year to reports from all three credit bureaus.
- Discover’s Scorecard offers free access to FICO scores for folks who don’t have a Discover card.
- Capital One’s CreditWise offers free access to VantageScores and you don’t have to be a Capital One customer.
As you can see now, achieving and maintaining good credit does require a little work and discipline – but it isn’t nearly as complicated as some people make it sound.
See related: Credit card fees you can (and can’t) negotiate with your issuer, 3 simple keys to great credit