I just turned off the TV.
There was an ad on about a furry, man-eating, house-soiling credit score run amuck.
This is the stuff of nightmares. Most of us reading here bought what our parents and teachers sold to us all through adolescence: get good grades, get into a great college, do sports, participate in activities, and you will flourish. You will make lots of money, have no problems, and everything will work out.
What they didn’t tell us (nor did the school loan advisors who were eagerly pushing a pen into our hands at the ripe old age of 18), was that no sooner than the ink dries on our student loan promissory notes, databases around the country start to fill with our names, addresses, social security numbers…and credit scores. And when credit card companies see student loans on a credit report, they think:
Oh look! Somebody with NO money now, but a bright future ahead of them! Another perfect candidate to become a long-term slave to credit card debt.
And thus, within a few months of starting college, the credit card applications began arriving in the mail. American Express, Visa, Mastercard… So many cards. So much beer to buy.
Unfortunately, few of us understand the implications of using credit cards and building a good credit score when we’re in college. And that’s too bad, because most of us will eventually want to buy a first home, buy a car, or even get more student loans to further our education.
So if you’ve been ignoring your credit (whether out of innocent naiveté or pure terror), it’s time to buck up and deal with the monster under the bed.
The Secret to a Better Credit Score
The first step is to get your credit reports and scores from the three credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. You can get your reports free once a year from annualcreditreport.com. You can get your credit scores from CreditKarma for free here.
If your credit report and credit scores are good, then congratulations! You were probably a business or finance major and actually went to class.
For the rest of us liberal arts majors, read on.
Even the most promising credit score or credit report can use some attention, so suck up the fear of your credit score attacking you from under the couch, or sentencing you to a lifetime of attending renaissance fairs in a 1986 Ford Fiesta. Here’s what you need to do:
Pick up the phone.
It’s that easy, and nothing will change until you do.
Your credit report provides not only your credit score, but a list of outstanding loans and bills. If you are behind or have problems, contact the company directly.
Remember, you are not calling your Uncle Ed who lent you money you can’t pay back. You are calling an employee of a company whose job it is to answer the phone and help you to find a solution. No one is going to be mad at you. Your Uncle Ed doesn’t even have to know. In most cases monthly payments can be reduced, interest can be waived, and you can fix your credit score and go on with your life.
The simple truth is that ignoring your credit won’t change it (at least for seven years; the time most information stays on your report). And if you have bad information in your credit report, doing something—anything—about it is only going to help. So pay off an old debt, get current on a bill that’s behind, or ask a creditor to correct a mistake that’s years old.
The sooner you start, the sooner you can start to build better credit (and stop fearing the credit score monster).
My dad used to say, “Nothing is done that can’t be undone.” For the most part, this is true. While it may have been easier to do it right the first time, you are not the first or the last to struggle with credit, debt management, trying to get approval for first time home mortgages or credit card repayment plans. There is an entire industry devoted to these issues and chances are you can make a few calls, straighten out the biggest issues, and get on with your life with less stress and a brighter outlook.