Financial planning encompasses a host of strategies designed to help people enjoy the fruits of their labors. Financial planning is often associated with saving for retirement. However, smart credit management is an integral component of financial planning that can begin paying dividends long before adults are ready to retire.
Capital One notes that the benefits of a good credit score include lower credit card and mortgage interest rates, which can save individuals tens of thousands of dollars over the life of their home loans. In addition, the Federal Trade Commission reports that the better an individual’s credit history, the easier it is for that person to establish utility services, including electricity and internet service.
With so much to gain, individuals should do everything they can to be smart credit consumers. These strategies can help consumers use credit to their advantage as they look to gain from this vital component of financial planning.
• Recognize the factors that affect your score. A credit score is generated using a formula that takes various factors into consideration. These factors include payment history, credit utilization rate, length of credit history, and credit inquiries, among others. Each variable is important, but paying balances in full and on time each month is a great way to build a strong financial reputation in the eyes of creditors. In addition, avoid overutilization of credit, especially if you can’t pay balances in full each month.
• Check credit before looking for a job. One easily overlooked benefit of being a smart credit consumer is its impact on individuals’ ability to find a good job. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau urges individuals to check their credit reports before they begin looking for a job so they can correct any mistakes that may be on their reports. That’s because some employers look at applicants’ credit reports as part of their background checks. Smart credit consumers recognize that monitoring their credit is just as important as utilizing it wisely. Consumers can access reports from each of the three main credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) for free once every 12 months.
• Don’t wing it. Much like successful retirement planning is often the culmination of decades of hard work, strategizing and saving, becoming a smart credit consumer involves commitment to a well-developed plan to utilize credit. Impulsive use of credit can quickly compromise individuals’ credit histories and financial reputations, so develop a plan to use credit wisely and stick to that plan. A successful credit utilization strategy should be rooted in paying bills on time, and ideally in full, each month to avoid potentially costly interest charges. Identify any bad credit utilization habits and do your best to eliminate them. If necessary, work with a financial planner to develop your credit utilization strategy.
Various strategies can help individuals become smart credit consumers and reap the rewards that a strong financial reputation has to offer.