Lines of Credit and Other Types of Borrowing

Lines of Credit and Other Types of Borrowing

As suggested above, there are many similarities between lines of credit and other types of borrowing, but there are also many important differences that borrowers need to understand.

Credit cards

Like credit cards, lines of credit effectively have preset limits – you are approved to borrow a certain amount of money and no more. Also like credit cards, policies for going over that limit vary with the lender, though banks tend to be less willing than credit cards to immediately approve overages (instead they often look to renegotiate the line of credit and increase the borrowing limit). Also like credit cards, the loan is essentially pre-approved and the money can be accessed whenever the borrower wants, for whatever use the borrower intends. Lastly, while credit cards and lines of credit may have annual fees, neither charge interest until/unless there is an outstanding balance.

Unlike credit cards, lines of credit can be secured with real property. Prior to the housing crash, Home Equity Lines of Credit (HELOCs) were very popular with both lending officers and borrowers. While HELOCs are harder to get now, they are still available and tend to carry lower interest rates. Credit cards will always have monthly minimum payments and companies will significantly increase the interest rate if those payments are not met. Lines of credit may, or may not, have similar immediate monthly repayment requirements.

Lines of Credit and Other Types of Borrowing

Loans

Like a traditional loan, a line of credit requires acceptable credit and repayment of the funds, and charges interest on any funds borrowed. Also like a loan, taking out, using, and repaying a line of credit can improve a borrower’s credit score.

Unlike a loan, which generally is for a fixed amount, for a fixed time, with a prearranged repayment schedule, there is much greater flexibility with a line of credit. There are also typically fewer restrictions on the use of funds borrowed under a line of credit – a mortgage must go towards the purchase of the listed property and an auto loan must go towards the specified car, but a line of credit can be used at the discretion of the borrower.

Pawn Loan / Payday Loan

There are some superficial similarities between lines of credit and payday loans, but that is really only due to the fact that many payday loan borrowers are “frequent flyers” that frequently borrow, repay, and/or extend their loans (paying very high fees and interest along the way). Likewise, a pawnshop or payday lender does not care what a borrower uses the funds for, so long as the fees/loans are paid/repaid.

The differences, however, are more considerable. For anyone who can qualify for a line of credit, the cost of funds will be dramatically lower than for a payday/pawn loan. By the same token, the credit evaluation process is much simpler and less demanding for a payday/pawn loan (there may be no credit check at all) and the process is much, much quicker. It is also the case that payday lenders will seldom lend the amounts of money often approved in lines of credit (and banks will seldom bother with lines of credit as small as the average payday or pawn loan).

15-minute fixes to raise a credit score

15-minute fixes to raise a credit score

Setting up automatic bill payments can boost your number by as much as 50 points.

Improving your credit score can feel like a gargantuan task. But by spending just 15 minutes, you can give your credit score anywhere from a small bump to a major boost. Here are some tips from credit experts on quick — and sometimes easy — ways to raise your score.

1. Set up automatic bill payment or alerts.

“The one thing you need to do is pay bills on time — that has the biggest impact on your score,” says Carrie Coghill, director of consumer education for FreeScore.com. One way to do that is to set up automatic bill payment through your bank or credit union, at least for the typical minimum amounts of your bills, says Lita Epstein, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Improving Your Credit Score.” Or, if you’re not comfortable with automatic bill payment, Coghill recommends setting up regular email or text message alerts to remind you of bill due dates. On-time payments over a period of about six months can increase your score by as much as 50 points, says Epstein. “It shows you are getting responsible about your bills.”

2. Pay down revolving debt.

If your credit card debt is more than 35 percent of your credit limit, it’s probably dragging your score down, but paying balances down can provide a quick boost. Experts recommend setting up regular automatic payments to make a dent in your debt or making one big extra payment if you can sell something on Craigslist or eBay or if you get a windfall. “People sometimes get a sizeable tax refund. I recommend using that to pay off debt,” says Doug Borkowski, director of the nonprofit Iowa State University Financial Counseling Clinic. A good rule to follow is this: For every $1,000 of available credit, try to use less than $350, says Clifton O’Neal, a spokesman for TransUnion. “Say you have three cards, each with a $1,000 limit,” O’Neal says. “One has a $500 balance, one has a $350 balance and one has a $250 balance. Pay on all of them, but pay more on the first one to bring it down under 35 percent.”

3. Pay your credit card bill early.

If you use your card for everything from groceries to utilities to a pack of gum to get rewards — but pay in full each month — pay early. Because if you charge, say, $2,000 each month, but pay your bill after you get your statement, it looks as though you’re carrying a large balance when you’re not, Epstein says. “Check when the statement closing date is,” Epstein says. “Making the payment before the statement closing date — just five or six days early — can make a big difference over time. It will be reported to the credit bureaus as a $0 balance and will look like you’re holding less credit.”

4. Ask your credit card company to raise your limit.

If you carry a credit card balance but have been making payments on time and make enough money to support a higher credit limit, a quick phone call to your credit card company could raise your score. A higher credit limit will lower your credit utilization ratio (the amount of available credit you’re using), experts say. However, experts also say it’s important to be honest about whether that step would tempt you to rack up more debt. “It’s about knowing yourself, asking, ‘Am I going to be responsible using that credit card?'” Borkowski says. “Because what if your limit is $4,000 and it gets raised to $8,000 and all you end up with is more credit card debt? But, for those who can handle it, yes, call and try to get your limit raised so you’re at a one-third or less [credit utilization ratio].”

5. Go online to dispute an item on your credit report.

Some experts advise consumers to dispute a possible credit report error by registered mail, and to include evidence. But, let’s face it, many never get around to making copies, hunting down a stamp and heading to the post office. All three major credit bureaus offer the option of filing a dispute online — and it can be faster and easier, experts say. “The first thing to do is pull a copy of your credit report from all three bureaus. You can do it free once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com,” says O’Neal. “Look at each one and see if there’s anything you don’t recognize. If you have any questions about information on your reports, you can file a dispute online. You can track it online, too, so it’s a lot quicker.”

6. Just say no to too many inquiries.

When you’re buying those cool new sunglasses and the cashier asks if you’d like to get a 10 percent discount by signing up for a store credit card, just say no. “Whenever you take new credit, you get a ding on your credit score, so don’t apply for new credit cards all the time,” Epstein says. In fact, she recommends applying for new credit, at most, twice a year.

7. Get a late payment removed from your credit report.

In the “it-can’t-hurt-to-ask” category, it sometimes pays to call a creditor and ask to have a late payment removed from your credit report. “I always say, ‘just ask,'” says Borkowski, who recommends asking for the hardship department whenever you call a credit card company to make such a request. “A lot of times, general customer service might say they can’t help you, but the hardship department — or its equivalent — might,” Borkowski says. “They make a lot of money from the person who misses a payment every now and then but carries a big balance. They like to keep those customers.”

It is often repeated that, when it comes to credit scores, there are no quick fixes. However, if you follow these tips, you could see a big improvement in your credit score — with just a small investment of time.

Six red flags for your credit report

Six red flags for your credit report

You know bankruptcy and missed payments, but they can be just as bad.

You pay your bills on time and never miss a payment. If you’re still having problems with credit, something on your credit report could scare lenders.

Everyone knows the gremlins that haunt the major credit reports: items such as bankruptcies, foreclosures and payments, late or even missed. Less dramatic items can also cause some anxiety among lenders inconsistent.

When you apply for a loan or a card account, lenders review your credit score and pull your credit report. Or they can take this report and pump through one of their own rating systems.

If they do not like what they see, you may be rejected. Or you can get approved with less favorable conditions. And it’s not just new applicants who have run the gauntlet. Credit card issuers to periodically review the records of existing customers, too.

Even more confusing is that different lenders zero elements of the credit report. So it’s quite possible that even for the same loan, no two lenders will see your credit history, in exactly the same light.

Think there might be something hateful about hiding your credit report? Here are six items that could scare lenders.

1. Multiplying Lines of Credit

Opening a new map is normal. Opening three in a short period of time could signal something bad happens in your financial life.

When it comes to card issuers of credit, “the window auditing has shrunk,” said Norm Magnuson, vice president of public affairs for the Consumer Data Industry Association, the trade association of companies credit. “It used to be months and months. Now, you will find firms that monthly monitoring of account or every two months.”

And the only thing that these issuers do not want to see is that you ask all in town to lend you money.

“It would raise some questions,” he said. “This could be an indicator of something going on. I do not think it’s in the best interest of all consumers to go and be a collector of credit lines.”

2. A short-sale housing

“We told people short sales will not hurt their credit,” says Maxine Sweet, vice president of public education for Experian credit bureau. “But there is no such thing as a” short sale “in terms of how the sale is reported to us.”

“The way the account is closed is that it’s settled for a lesser amount than what you agreed to pay originally,” she said. “Status is” settled “. And it is just as negative as a foreclosure. ”

A tip: negotiating for the lender does not report the difference between your mortgage and what you paid as a “balance due” on your credit report, says John Ulzheimer, formerly of FICO, now president of consumer education for SmartCredit.com. Your credit score will take a heavy blow, but this action will not soften the blow, he said.

Sweet’s advice is not to dismiss the notion of a short sale, just go on with your eyes open.

“This may be the right decision to leave the house,” she said. It can be “better than a foreclosure in the economy, moving from the house and move on with your life. Do not expect to walk away with no impact on your credit history. ”

3. Someone Else’s Debt

Here’s something you might not know: When you co-sign on the dotted line to help someone else get a loan or card, the entire debt is on your credit report.

While the fact that you co-signed is neither good nor bad, it means – to the extent that any potential lenders are concerned – you of the debt yourself. And will be included in your existing debt burden when you apply for a mortgage, credit card or any other form of credit, said Ulzheimer.

And if the person you co-signed stopped paying, paying late or missing payments, that bad behavior is likely to go on your credit report.

So when someone tells you that co-signature is painless, because you never have to part with a penny, you can tell them that this is not true. Co-signing means accepting not only to repay the obligation, if necessary, but also to allow the debt – and all non-payment – as against you the next time you apply for credit you same.

Co-signing for a friend or family member “plays well with the Thanksgiving table, but it does not play well in the underwriting office,” said Ulzheimer.

4. Minimum Payments

If creditors make money when you carry a balance, the lenders who view your credit report does not like to see you pay just the minimum.

“It suggests that you are experiencing financial stress,” says Nessa Feddes, vice president and senior advisor for the American Bankers Association. “You can be delinquent,” she said.

Pay the minimums from time to time does not necessarily signal a problem, she said. For example, minimum pay in January, after holiday spending. Minimum one month or pay you expect your annual premium to reach.

But always pay the minimum after months months signals that you can not pay the full balance, and your current and future lenders will see that as a red giant “stop” sign when it comes to grant additional credit.

5. A Lot of Inquiries

This is similar to hiring a large number of new loans. When tightened lending standards, many borrowers, subprime borrowers in particular, had trouble getting credit, said Sweet. This meant they had to be applied several times to try to get what they wanted.

And with the VantageScore at least, that “really influenced the impact of investigations – they are more important than they used to be,” she said.

With the FICO score, the impact of investigations has remained about the same, according to Ulzheimer. Every time you allow a potential lender to pull your credit report, your score can take a small hit. The exact impact varies with the consumer, the score and the number of inquiries.

And if you apply for a mortgage, auto or student, you can minimize the damage by all applications within two weeks. When you do this, the beam score of all similar investigations and treats them as such. Unfortunately, there is no grace period for applications like credit card.

6. Cash Advances

“Cash advances, in many cases, provide the despair,” says Ulzheimer. “Either you have lost your job or are underemployed. Nobody comes out cash advances against a credit card because they want the money sitting in a bank somewhere.”

Because the interest rate is usually higher than the cost of credit card “, you are usually borrow from Peter to pay Paul,” he said.

How it hurts: first, the cash advance is immediately added to the balance of your debt, which lowers your available credit and can lower your credit score, says Ulzheimer. And all potential lenders will see your score.

Second, card issuers more regularly re-evaluate the behavior of their customers. To do this, they often get the credit report, the FICO score and history of the customer’s account and put these three ingredients through their own rating systems, said Ulzheimer. Many scoring models penalize for cash advances, which are often considered risky, he said. From your account history is only available to the issuer, only your behavior score with this card is likely to be affected, he said.

However, if the issuer slices of your line of credit or cancel your account, which could affect your credit score. And that could affect your relationship with other lenders.

Most annoying fees on credit cards

Most annoying fees on credit cards

There seems to be little logic to why some companies tack on nuisance charges.

Fees for this, fees for that — even a fee for paying a fee. Where does it end? I’m afraid I know the answer. In this tough economy, businesses of all types are trying to nickel and dime us with add-on charges. They want you to believe these fees are necessary to cover the cost of doing business, but more often than not, they simply mislead the consumer by adding a hidden mark-up to the advertised price.

Sometimes the fees are small, but other times they can be severe. The mortgage loan industry has been doing this forever, but now the practice has spread like the plague to many other services. I can’t be the only person who is outraged by this continuing practice. Or am I?

Here are eight classic fees that really gnaw at me. Some of them I do a pretty good job of avoiding. Others, not so much …

1. Unlisted Phone Number Fees

This is arguably the granddaddy of them all. I currently get charged $1.75 per month for my unlisted telephone number — $21 per year. Why does it cost the phone company more to keep my number out of the phone book than in it? That’s a rhetorical question, but I’ll answer it anyway: It doesn’t.

2. Convenience Fees

I recently bought four tickets online from Ticketmaster so I could take the wife and kids to see the Harlem Globetrotters. Cost: $300 for the set. But on top of that was a “convenience charge” of $5 per ticket that added $20 to my bill. Usually, buying online saves a company money that they’d otherwise spend on a telephone operator or a store clerk. So why am I being charged to make Ticketmaster’s existence more convenient?

3. Fees for Printing Tickets

I’m not done with Ticketmaster. After gagging on the $20 “convenience” charge for my Globetrotter tickets, Ticketmaster wanted to charge me $2.50 so that I could print the tickets from my home printer. Keep in mind that I also had the option to get the tickets via the postal service — for no charge. Where’s the logic in that? How much do you think it costs Ticketmaster to print the tickets on heavier stock paper, using their ticket machines, and then pay their staff to place the tickets in envelopes with the proper postage and mail it to my house? I don’t know either, but I made sure that’s exactly what Ticketmaster did.

4. Hotel Safe Fees

There are more than a few hotels out there that charge you just for the privilege of using their in-room safes — whether you use it or not. Here’s one hotel that charges $1.69 per night. What a joke. Whenever I see this fee, I ask to have it waived.

5. Tax e-Filing Fees

Among the most egregious fees out there are the ones that charge money for essentially doing nothing more than making a mouse click or pushing a couple of keys on a computer keyboard. How much money does it cost to send some bits of information through the Internet? Well, if you ask TurboTax, it’s $36.95. That’s what they charge to e-file a state tax return. So rather than printing out the return and sending it through the mail, I clenched my teeth and reluctantly paid it. Hey, if you paid attention you’ll find a lesson on opportunity cost buried in there.

6. Tax Refund Fees

After spending four hours doing my taxes with the online edition of TurboTax, I was due a refund. “Perfect!” I thought, “I’ll have TurboTax simply deduct what I owe them directly from my refund.” Unfortunately, it turns out TurboTax charges an additional $29.95 if you choose to go that route. My only other option was to pay by credit card — at no charge. How does that make any sense? So I paid with plastic. I hope TurboTax had to pay the credit card company an interchange fee for me using it too. Dummies.

7. Mortgage Junk Fees

There are dozens of mortgage junk fees out there, some more dubious than others, that make you scratch your head and ask what the heck is that for? Re-conveyance verification fees, commitment fees, and the infamous “warehouse fee” are just three classic examples.

8. And Then There’s This

It’s bad enough that airlines almost universally charge fees to people who have the audacity to travel with luggage. But a while back, United, US Airways, and Delta took things a step further by charging their “valued” customers who chose to pay for their bags at the airport, rather than online, an additional fee of between $2 and $3 per bag.

How to build a credit score from scratch

How to build a credit score from scratch

These measures help young adults to prove they are accountable to the owners and lenders.

When it is time for a student to start building their credit profile? The answer is simple: when ready. You will know by how they budget their money, track expenses and manage their checking or savings and debit cards.

Building good credit is a function of managing your bills responsibly. No teenager or young adult should be in bulk with a credit card or given responsibility for a car loan until they have proven they can manage their cash flow. This means they must show that can deal with obligations without constantly ask the Bank of Dad for more money.

Your child may be ready to manage credit as a rookie, especially if you are willing to look over his shoulder. I prefer to send children to college with pre-paid housing, a checking account and debit card related that does not allow overdrafts. In this way, they have no large monthly bills and can get used to the convenience of plastic without much threat dinging their credit profile.

On the other hand, this approach does little to build good credit. Debit cards and checking accounts do not count for much in the context of the major credit bureaus. Therefore each student must take specific steps to start building a good credit profile. In the real world you want and need from a potential employer or the owner or the car dealer who sees your credit report to see that you are reliable.

Contrary to what many people believe, you do not start adult life with a higher credit score falls as you embezzlement debt. You start with a score around 600 (highest score is 850) and must build through a history of timely repayment of borrowed money.

My oldest daughter is entering her final year at university and for us it’s time to start working on their credit score. After an overview of Erik Larson, founder of NextAdvisor, a financial comparison site oriented, here’s how we approach it:

• Get a credit card. This is by far the quickest and most effective way to begin a credit profile. If I did not think my daughter was ready, I would find a prepaid card or warranty that the reports for the watchdogs of credit (it will say on the application, or just ask). Because she is ready, we’ll choose from credit cards are best suited for students.

• Use credit cards wisely. A credit card opens all sorts of ways to damage your score. Never miss a payment. Pay in full if you can. If you must carry a balance that will not hurt you unless your balance is relatively large. Never charge more than 30% of your credit limit and preferably keep it close to 10%. And do not apply for more than one card at a time or with any frequency.

• Get another form of credit. Having different types of debt helps your score. Thus, a car loan or personal loan or other installment credit can help. It can even help to have a second type, but different card, like a gas card or card store. In some cases, buy furniture or appliances can help conditions monthly. But you have to ask the finance company if they report to credit bureaus.

• Pay all bills on time. If you live off campus, to pay the cable bill or electricity bill or the monthly fee for a new office or on television is a must. It will not do much to build your score. But if you relax and get referred to a collection company is a major ding on your score.

• Do not close unused card account. It’s against-intuitive. Canceling a card can lower your score, because it leaves you with less credit overall, and instantly raises the percentage of the debt capacity you use. A long credit history is part of what makes for a high credit score. So keep those old accounts and ensure that they are in order.

How to fight errors in your credit report

How to fight errors in your credit report

A well-designed dispute letter can help prevent rejection, the next time you apply for credit.

You’ve probably heard of “sticker shock”, but what about the shock of rejection of credit? This can happen when you apply for a new line of credit – a credit card airline miles new, or maybe even a mortgage – only to find yourself rejected for reasons you can not understand. Worse, when you get a good look at your credit report, you will find that you have entered do not even recognize, let alone agree with.

How do you fix something that was listed on your permanent record by one (or all) of these credit bureaus huge? Does this mean your credit is forever doomed? For starters, there is no need to panic, or anger. Unfortunately the errors on credit reports are not so rare. And even if it’s a pain in the neck, there are steps you can take to rectify the situation. This is the most important to be persistent, and document the process.

Know What You’re Up Against

Get a copy of your credit report from all three major agencies. You can do so online or by phone each of the major services: TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. Each credit report is divided into several sections, including a section covering personal information, requests for credit reports, accounts in good standing, elements of credit and potentially negative elements.

Analyze each of the three reports thoroughly and determine the accuracy of all information they contain. Much of what is on the report should be known to you as a loan you out, what you are looking for is errors. Make a list of all the elements that you feel doubtful or negative errors. (Also note the differences between the three credit reports). This will give you a start on solving problems and potentially improve your credit rating.

Documents and Disputes

If you find errors on your actual report, there are several steps that must be taken to resolve them. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), the credit reporting agencies are responsible to correct inaccuracies and incomplete information on credit reports. This allows you the freedom (and responsibility) to contact the reporting agencies, which publish documents, to correct any inaccuracies you find.
Read more “How to fight errors in your credit report”

5 common credit card habits that cost you

5 common credit card habits that cost you

Most of us are guilty of some bad habits in our lives. There are too eat the fun stuff, and not exercising enough to burn, and tomorrow, salary expenses today. Of course, able to obtain and maintain a budget can be difficult to follow patterns, but avoiding these five common bad habits can add a bit of easy money to your bottom line.

1. By paying only the minimum balance. Paying just the minimum balance on your credit card each month to keep your creditors happy, but not to help you pay the interest costs more.

Corporate credit card to highlight the love Minimum Payment Due on your monthly bill – a trick they use to stretch your payments for years, costing you hundreds, even thousands of dollars in interest . For example, a $ 5,000 balance with a minimum monthly payment of 4 percent and an APR of 18 percent will take you a little over 11 years to repay, costs about $ 2,875 in total interest paid.

Do not believe? Discover what the credit card calculator to a good start today and see the real cost of paying only the minimum. The results are shocking, and you can rethink your habits minimum payment because it can cost you thousands.

Read more “5 common credit card habits that cost you”

Common mistakes new college students should avoid

Common mistakes new college students should avoid

Moving away from home and into the college dorms can be a stressful process. The chapter of your life known as “high school” has come to a close and now a new stage of your life is beginning.

Living away from home for the first time will be an adjustment. Mom will not be there to do your laundry, give you medication cold when you do not feel well, or cook your favorite meal on Sunday… not cool. However, I have some good news for you! If you avoid these 3 common mistakes that many students are new, you will be installed in the college life sooner than you think!

Mistake 1 – Staying Alone

You should try to spend as much time outside your dorm room as you do inside your dorm room. This is crucial to meet other students. Try working in the fitness center campus, or hanging in the center of the cafeteria or student. These are all great places to start a conversation with other students.

Research indicates that 1 in every 4 students leave campus before their second year. I think the inability for students to make friends and feel like they are part of the campus community is the main reason why students leave campus after their first year.

This is why it is important that you go out and meet other students with similar interests! Even if you were shy in high school, and not out of your comfort zone to university is sure to make your college experience less enjoyable.

An upperclassman at SIU-Carbondale said: “The students who remain in their dorms all day are usually the ones who go home in the first month.”

Remember, this is a scary process for any freshman college new others too, so you can take comfort in knowing they probably feel just as uncomfortable as you do!

Mistake 2 – Racking Up Credit Card Debt

Credit cards can be dangerous for new students. Before signing up for a credit card, make sure you understand the terms and are ready to handle this type of responsibility

A credit card is not free money. When you sign up for a credit card, you enter into a contract with the company credit card. In simpler terms, the contract states that you repay all the money you spend including interest.

Most students make the mistake of getting a credit card and go to the mall to load a pile of clothes or shoes, forgetting that the bill will come in the mail later.

If you decide to get a student credit card, here are some things you should keep in mind:

– Do not apply for every credit card student offers to you. Take time to read each application and select the one that has the lowest interest rate, no annual fee.

– If you can not afford it now, then you probably will not be able to afford when the bill arrives. Therefore, you should not use your credit card in case of emergency. Get a flat tire is an emergency, do not have enough money for pizza on Friday night is not.

– Pay your bills on time. Late fees and interest that you will pay just is not worth it.

How to break your worst money habits

How to break your worst money habits

Using some simple rules and tools can help you save plenty over the long haul.

Break bad habits: The science of habit change

Does it really take just 21 days to change a habit? Experts say it’s not that simple. “Breaking bad habits successfully depends on your readiness to act,” says Heidi Beckman, clinical health psychologist at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics and speaker on financial behavior change.

John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education at SmartCredit.com, agrees. “If it was easy, we’d all have big savings accounts, and none of us would have credit card debt,” he says.

Beckman says habits change more quickly when you’re in the action stage versus the ambivalence or preparation stages that come before. To catapult yourself into action, she recommends using this three-step approach daily.

1. Create a positive picture in your mind of the result you want, and act as if the bad habit is gone. Use a negative picture of the current stressful result of the bad habit to push yourself further toward action.

2. Identify and focus on your positive financial habits, as proof you can do things the right way.

3. Create simple rules to fall back on when tempted, such as: “Don’t browse shopping websites until all my bills are paid this month.”

Break bad habits: Resist impulse buying

“We’re wired for instant gratification,” says Ulzheimer. “But if you can’t afford to pay cash and whip out a credit card without thinking, then you’re on a downward spiral into debt and money mismanagement.”

Using credit cards to spend more than the cash you have while making only the minimum payments on the cards can build up their balances faster than you can pay them, he says. And if you pay late, penalty fees just add to the total. “You forgo the many benefits of the proper use of plastic, such as for reimbursable business traveling, establishing a good debt utilization percentage on your credit report… and for earning easy cash-back rewards,” says Ulzheimer.

Practice telling yourself “no” when tempted to spend, and try these tactics.

• Distract yourself by making a phone call or unwrapping a stick of gum until the “buy” urge passes.

• Make a rule to only charge for reimbursable business expenses or rewards and only when you have the cash to pay for it during the grace period before the date interest is charged. Double-check dates.

• If you must take drastic measures to curb spending, have your credit card company lower your limit and opt out of over-limit and overdraft spending so your card gets declined.

Break bad habits: Automate finances

Counting on willpower alone is not enough. “When you rely on willpower to meet your expenses, important financial obligations such as timely payments and depositing to an emergency cash or retirement fund are left up to your personal choice and can easily be mismanaged,” says David Bach, author of “The Automatic Millionaire.”

Ulzheimer warns that some use the excuse of not being organized or not having enough money, but paying late just means you pay more because many companies tack on a late fee (typically $39) and many also charge you interest on the unpaid balance as well.

Says Bach: “Make your important payments automatic so bills get paid on time, and important savings deposits that protect you and your family don’t get missed.”

Make payments automatic to avoid late fees.

• Set up shadow payment dates by subtracting seven days from the real due date.

• Make payments automatic using your bank’s or the payee’s online bill pay.

Break bad habits: Pay more than the minimum

Paying just the minimum is a good way to stretch out your debts for as long as you can. “When you only pay the minimum amount due on a credit card, you’re effectively rolling over approximately 97 percent of the balance and adding the interest applied,” says Ulzheimer. This is very profitable for mortgage companies and card issuers, but not you. “The only way to reduce your balance quickly is to pay more than the minimum, avoid fees and stop adding to balances,” advises Ulzheimer.

Pay more than the minimum with every payment.

• Set up automatic timely payments of a higher amount than the minimum.

• For fastest results, create a “debt snowball,” in which you pay as much as you can toward the lowest-balance card until it is paid off. Then you apply that same payment amount plus the new payment amount to the card with the next-smallest balance.
• Consider taking advantage of the automatic biweekly mortgage payment plan your lender may offer. For the one-time fee, the quicker pay-down is worth many thousands of dollars over the life of the loan.

Three steps to a great credit score

Three steps to a great credit score

1. Don’t close credit card accounts to improve your credit score.

You might have a good reason to shutter your account — you don’t want to pay an annual fee, you’re concerned about identity fraud, or you want to reduce the temptation to overspend — but don’t do it for the sole purpose of raising your credit score.

One factor in your credit score is your utilization, which is the ratio of balances owed compared to the credit limits on revolving accounts such as credit cards. Utilization is calculated for each credit card you have and across all of your cards. The lower your utilization, the better for your credit score. Closing a credit card account that has a zero balance excludes that credit limit from the overall utilization calculation, which can make your utilization increase and in turn, lower your score.

For the same reason, it’s also a bad idea to ask for lower credit limits on your credit cards if your goal is to improve your score. Doing so can only push your utilization higher.

Tip: If you must close a credit card account but want to keep your score high, pay down balances on other accounts to mitigate the effect.

2. Paying in full doesn’t hide a high credit card balance from your credit score.

If you’re consistently charging near the credit limit on your credit card but pay the balance in full when each bill arrives, you might be hurting your credit score. That’s because your score considers the account balance shown on your credit report. Your credit report will reflect the account balance at the time the issuer supplied it to the credit reporting agency, which will typically be the balance as of your last statement date.

Tip: If you pay in full each month but need to bump your score higher for an upcoming credit check, charge less on your credit cards.

3. Light use of credit cards is best for your credit score.

Maxing out your credit cards can obviously have a negative impact on your score. Using the majority of your credit limit is not good, either. Light use of your cards is best. Using 10 percent of your credit limit will be better than using 30 percent, which in turn is better than 50 percent. A small balance is actually slightly better than a zero balance (though it doesn’t matter to the score if you actually carry a balance).

Tip: If you need to raise your credit score, look at your monthly billing statements to see how your balances compare to your credit limits. Consider increasing your payments, or if you pay in full, using your credit cards less often.