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Credit Scores Scare Me

Credit scores don't have to be scary: Start loving your credit by cleaning up old mistakes.I just turned off the TV.

Why?

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.

Check your credit score for FREE (for real -- no CC required). Learn how here.

Comments

  1. “There was an ad on about a furry, man-eating, house-soiling credit score run amuck.” Haha… I love those commercials, they make me laugh! But being debt free through and after college is very difficult. Most people in college rely on loans (student loans + credit cards) or parents to get through college because it is often difficult to work a job and go to school and do well. There are some who work part time jobs, but these jobs don’t really pay enough to pay any real bills or provide any real living. So it is an interesting predicament. As much as it is SOLID advice not to go into debt, especially so young, most college students do it simply because we have to. (and many do it without knowing or understanding the ramifications)

  2. All credit score above 700 was considered good before the Great Recession. But now it has become fluid and has reached 720 to 740. There’s no use aiming for that perfect 850 because besides its being near-impossible, the rewards aren’t really that great. When you’re in the mid-700s, you’re already among the cream of the crop.

    On the other hand, the minimum for a good credit score has also increased. From the usual 620, it has now been raised to 660. If you go below this rating, chances are you do not get decent offers and you are considered a subprime risk consumer, which could result in higher interest rates whenever your application for a loan is approved.

    Given these facts, you can see the significance of increasing your credit score beyond the minimum. Of course there will always be hounding questions on how to do that and how long will it take you. The truth is, each case is unique so there’s no generic solution. But there are three simple things to remember: pay on time, keep balances low, and only apply for new credit when you need it.

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