Smart About Money is one of the many programs of the National Endowment for Financial Education. NEFE is an independent, nonprofit foundation committed to educating Americans on a broad range of financial topics and empowering them to make sound decisions to reach their financial goals.
A section of the Smart About Money website lists 10 basic steps to get started and get smart about your money. One of the steps is building a strong credit report.
Your credit report is a record of how you've paid your debts in the past. It shows the current amount of debt you have, and how much debt you've repaid. Maintaining a strong credit report can help you in a number of ways. You can obtain more favorable terms on loans and mortgages, it will be easier for you to receive credit, and you might even get a better rate on your auto insurance.
It's a good idea to check your credit report once a year to make sure there are no errors on it. Everyone is entitled to one free credit report from each of the three main reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion) every 12 months. To order your credit report go to www.annualcreditreport.com.
To ensure that you have a good credit report, always pay your bills on time. Also, do not bounce checks. Usually, to build a strong credit history, you should have at least one credit card. However, the way you use that card can greatly affect your credit record.
To use your credit cards wisely, keep in mind these tips:
- Use only one or two cards.
- If you're just beginning to use a credit card, consider a secured card to impose some self-restraint. A secured credit card requires you to put money in your account in advance. Then, you only can spend the amount of money already in your account.
- Keep track of what you charge, just as you would with a checking account. This way, you won't be shocked when the statement arrives.
- Save for big-ticket items instead of putting them on a card. If you must borrow for that item, less expensive loans usually are available from banks and credit unions.
- Pay credit card bills as soon as they arrive, to avoid late-payment fees. Always pay more than the minimum balance due. If at all possible, pay off the entire balance each month.
- If the balance begins to increase, quit using the card for a while.
- If you still use the card and the balance continues to mount, call the credit card company and request to have the credit limit lowered.
- Use a low-interest-rate card, preferably with no annual fee. Shop around by using the Internet, or look at offers sent to you in the mail. Don't to forget to check with your bank or credit union too. Rates vary widely. (Retail cards issued by department stores tend to charge the highest interest rates.)
- Be wary of cards that offer extremely low interest rates "for a limited time." Frequently, when the "limited" time expires, a new interest rate is charged and it may be well above average