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If you want to whip your finances into shape, hereâs a good New Yearâs resolution: improving your credit score.
A lot of New Yearâs resolutions fail because theyâre so extreme. Think of all the bonkers weight-loss and money-saving goals that surface at the start of every year.
This resolution is different. No extreme measures are required. But there arenât any shortcuts. Building good credit is a goal you need to commit to 12 months a year.
How to Build Good Credit in 10 Steps
Ready to make 2021 the year you finally prove your creditworthiness? Or are you looking to recover from a 2020 setback? Hereâs how to build good credit in 10 steps.
1. Stay on Top of Your Credit Reports
Itâs essential to monitor your credit reports, especially if you received a hardship agreement from a lender due to COVID-19. Under the CARES Act rules, lenders are supposed to report your account as paid in full while the agreement is in effect, as long as you werenât already delinquent. But mistakes happen. Even in normal times, about 1 in 5 credit reports contained inaccurate information.
Through April 2021, you can get one free credit report per week from each bureau. (Typically, youâre only entitled to one free credit report per year from each bureau.) Make sure you access your reports at AnnualCreditReport.com, rather than one of the many websites that offer âfreeâ credit scores but will make you put down your credit card number to sign up for a trial. File a dispute with the bureaus if you find anything you think is inaccurate or any accounts you donât recognize.
Your credit reports wonât show you your credit score, but you can use a free credit-monitoring service to check your score. (No, checking your own credit doesnât hurt your score.) Many banks and credit card companies also give you your credit scores for free.
If the bureaus agree to remove information from your credit reports, expect to wait about 30 days until your reports are updated.
2. Pay Your Bills. On Time. Every Single Month
Yeah, you knew we were going to say this: Paying your bills on time is the No. 1 thing you can do to build good credit. Your payment history determines 35% of your score, more than any other credit factor.
Set whatever bills you can to autopay for at least the minimums to avoid missing payments. You can always pay extra if you can afford it.
A strong payment history takes time to build. If youâve made late payments, theyâll stay on your credit reports for seven years. The good news is, they do the most damage to your score in the first two years. After that, the impact starts to fade.
3. Establish Credit, Even if Youâve Made Mistakes
You typically need a credit card or loan to build a credit history. (Sorry, but all those on-time rent and utility payments are rarely reported to the credit bureaus, so they wonât help your score.)
But if you have bad credit or youâre a credit newbie, getting approved for a credit card or loan is tough. Look for cards that are specifically marketed to help people start or rebuild credit. Store credit cards, which only let you make purchases at a specific retailer, can also be a good option.
4. Open a Secured Card if You Donât Qualify for a Regular Card
Opening a secured credit card is one of our favorite ways to build a positive history when you canât get approved for a regular credit card or loan. You put down a refundable deposit, and that becomes your line of credit.
After about a year of making your payments on time, youâll typically qualify for an unsecured line of credit. Just make sure the card issuer you choose reports your payments to the credit bureaus. Look for a card with an annual fee of no more than $35. Some secured card options we like (and no, weâre not getting paid to say this):
- Discover it Secured
- OpenSky Secured Visa Card
- Secured Mastercard from Capital One
5. Ask for a Limit Increase. Pretend You Never Got It
Increasing your credit limits helps your score because it decreases your credit utilization ratio. Thatâs credit score speak for the percentage of credit youâre using. The standard recommendation is to keep this number below 30%, but really, the closer to zero the better.
If you have open credit, ask your current creditors for an increase, rather than applying for new credit. That way, youâll avoid lowering your length of credit, which could ding your score.
The downside of a higher credit limit: Youâll have more money to spend that isnât really yours. To get the biggest credit score boost from a limit increase and avoid paying more in interest, make sure you donât add to your balance.
Donât believe the myth that carrying a small credit card balance helps your credit score. Paying off your balance in full each month is best for your score, plus it saves you money on interest.
6. Prioritize Credit Card Debt Over Loans
Tackling credit card debt helps your credit score a lot more than paying down other debts, like a student loan or mortgage. The reason? Your credit utilization ratio is determined exclusively by your lines of credit.
Bonus: Paying off credit card debt first will typically save you money, because credit cards tend to have higher interest rates than other types of debt.
7. Keep Your Old Accounts Active
Provided you arenât paying ridiculous fees, keep your credit card accounts open once youâve paid off the balance. Credit scoring methods reward you for having a long credit history.
Make a purchase at least once every three months on the account, as credit card companies often close inactive accounts. Then pay it off in full.
8. Apply for New Credit Selectively
When you apply for credit, it results in a hard inquiry, which usually drops your score by a few points. So avoid applying frequently for new credit cards, as this can signal financial distress.
But if youâre in the market for a mortgage or loan, donât worry about multiple inquiries. As long as you limit your shopping to a 45-day window, credit bureaus will treat it as a single inquiry, so the impact on your score will be minimal.
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9. Still Overwhelmed? A Debt Consolidation Loan Could Help
If youâre struggling with credit card debt, consolidating your credit card debt with a loan could be a good option. In a nutshell, you take out a loan to wipe out your credit card balances.
Youâll get the simplicity of a single payment, plus youâll typically pay less interest since loan interest rates tend to be lower. (If you canât get a loan that lowers your interest rate, this probably isnât a good option.)
By using a loan to pay off your credit cards, youâll also free up credit and lower your credit utilization ratio.
Many debt consolidation loans require a credit score of about 620. If your score falls below this threshold, work on improving your score for a few months before you apply for one.
10. Keep Your Credit Score in Perspective
All the credit-monitoring tools out there make it easy to obsess about your credit score. While itâs important to build good credit, look at the bigger picture. A few final thoughts:
- Your credit score isnât a report card on the state of your finances. It simply measures how risky of a borrower you are. Having an emergency fund, saving for retirement and earning a decent living are all important to your finances â but these are all things that donât affect your credit score.
- Lenders look at more than your credit score. Having a low debt-to-income ratio, decent down payment and steady paycheck all increase your odds of approval when youâre making a big purchase, even if your credit score is lackluster.
- Donât focus on your score if you canât pay for necessities. If youâre struggling and you have to choose between paying your credit card vs. paying your rent, keeping food on the table or getting medical care, paying your credit card is always the lower priority. Of course, talk to your creditors if you canât afford to pay them, as they may have options.
Focus on your overall financial picture, and youâll probably see your credit score improve, too. Remember, though, that while credit scores matter, you matter more.
Now go crush those goals in 2021 and beyond.
Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder. She writes the Dear Penny personal finance advice column. Send your tricky money questions to DearPenny@thepennyhoarder.com.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.
Join bloggers Amanda and Corey Hendrix as their family embarks on a new homebuying journey. From previously living in older homes that require plenty of love (and renovations), they’re looking at opening up their option into new build territory.
When you’re a first-time home buyer approaching the finish line in the journey to your new home, you want nothingÂ to go wrong, right?
Thatâs why weâve put together a home closing checklist, which outlines your action points in those few days leading up to settlement. Keep this closing process list handy to know you’ve done what you need to in order to close the deal.
1. Get all contingencies squared away
Most purchase agreements haveÂ contingenciesâthings that buyers must doÂ before the real estate transaction is official, explainsÂ Jimmy Branham, a Coral Springs, FL, real estate agent at the Keyes Company. These are the most common contingencies that are part of your new home closing process:
- Home inspection contingency: This gives buyers the right to have the home professionally inspected. If something is wrong, you can request that it be fixedâor you can back out of the sale. Itâs rarely advisable to waive an inspection contingency. Although the averageÂ home inspection costsÂ $300 to $500, itâs a drop in the bucket considering the costly home issues you might uncover, saysÂ Claude McGavic, executive director of the National Association of Home Inspectors.
- Appraisal contingency:Â With this contingency, a third party hired by your mortgage lender evaluates the fair market value of the home. If the appraised value is less than the sale price, the contingency enables you to back out of the deal without forfeiting yourÂ earnest money deposit, saysÂ Bishoi Nageh, president of the Petra Cephas Team at Mortgage Network Solutions, in Somerset, NJ.
- Financing contingency:Â This contingency gives you the right to back out of the deal if yourÂ mortgage approval falls through. You have a specified time period, as stated in the sales contract, during which you have to obtain a loan that will cover the mortgage.
2. Clear the title
When you buy a home, you âtake titleâ to the property and establish legal ownershipâa process thatâs confirmed by local public land records. As part of the closing process, your mortgage lender will require a title search, and you’ll need to purchase title insurance to protect you from legal claims to the house.
Sometimes distant relativesâor an ex-spouseâmay surface with a claim that they actually own the home, and that the seller had no right to sell it to you in the first place. But clearing title will ensure this doesnât happen, saysÂ Marc Israel, president and chief counsel of MiT National Land Services, a title company in New York City.
As the home buyer of this piece of real estate, youâre entitled to choose the title company. You can get recommendations from your real estate agent, mortgage lender, and friendsâjust be sure to check out the license and reputation of each company online.
3. Get final mortgage approval
You’ve made that down payment, but before you can go to the closing table, yourÂ home loan must go through the underwriting process. Underwriters are like real estate detectivesâitâs their job to make sure you’ve represented yourself and your finances truthfully, and that you havenât made any false or misleading claims on your loan application.
The underwriterâemployed by your mortgage companyâwill check your credit score, review your home appraisal, and ensure that your financial portfolio has remained the same since you were pre-approved for the loan.
Since underwriting typically happens shortly before closing, you donât want to do anything while youâre in contract thatâs going toÂ hurt your credit score. That includes making a down payment on a car, boat, or similar large purchase that has to be financed.
4. Review your closing disclosure
If you’re getting a loan, one of the best ways to prepare is to thoroughly review yourÂ closing disclosure, also known as a HUD-1 settlement statement.
This official document outlines your exact mortgage payments, the loanâs terms (e.g., the interest rate and duration), and additional fees youâll pay, called closing costs (which account for anywhere from 2% to 7% of your homeâs price).
Youâll want to compare your closing disclosure to the loan estimate your lender gave you at the outset. If you spot any discrepancies, ask your lender to explain them.
5. Do a final walk-through
Most sales contracts allow buyers to do aÂ walk-through of the homeÂ within 24 hours before closing. During this stage, you’re making sure the previous owner has vacated (unless youâve allowed aÂ rent-back arrangementÂ in which they can stick around for a period of time before moving).
Youâre also double-checking that the home is in the condition agreed upon in the contract. If your home inspection revealed problems that the sellers had agreed to fix, youâll want to make sure those repairs were made.
6. Bring the necessary documentation to closing
Make sure you have the following items when you head to the closing table:
- Proof ofÂ homeowners insurance
- A copy of your contract with the seller
- Your home inspection reports
- Any paperwork the bank required to approve your loan
- A government-issued photo ID (Note to newlyweds who just changed their name: The ID needs to match the name that will appear on the propertyâs title and mortgage.)
Plan to sign a ton of paperwork. An attorney or settlement agent will guide you through the process. When youâre done, youâll collect the keys, and you’re finally home free!
The post Closing on a House Checklist: 6 Things Home Buyers Must Do Before They Move In appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.comÂ®.
Yuttachai Saechan/Getty Images; realtor.com
Those who are fortunate enough to still be collecting a paycheck while quarantined or sheltering in place might expect to build up some serious savings. While you work from home, you’re avoiding your usual commuting expenses, and you’re probably saving money by not going to bars, restaurants, and movies, or skipping that vacation to Fiji.
But as spending decreases in some areas during self-isolation, it can creep up in others. To brace yourself and your budget, keep an eye on these expenses while youâre self-isolating at home.
If youâve gone from office life to Zoom life, youâre spending more time at home than usual, which could ramp up your household expenses.
âYour utility spending might be considerably higher if you’re spending more time at home cooking, charging devices, using lights and appliances,â says Ted Rossman, industry analyst at CreditCards.com.
To keep your utility bills down, turn off lights when you leave the room, open windows during the day to let in cool air, unplug devices that youâre not using, and consider turning down your water heater by a few degrees.
Even if youâre not hoarding (and you shouldnât be), you might find yourself spending more on groceries while you shelter in place.
For some people, an uptick in grocery spending will be offset by the money saved from not dining at restaurants. But if your local store is picked overâor if you pay fees for grocery deliveryâyou could spend more on groceries than usual.
âIâve been to a local grocery store, and the only thing that was available was organic, so I couldnât buy the generic. I actually had to spend more money,â says Steve Repak, author of the â6 Week Money Challenge for Your Personal Finances.â
If your grocery spending feels out of hand, be flexible and creative with your menu. Cook the food you already have at home before you head back to the store. Sites such as Eater have compiled resources for home cooks, including Pantry Cooking 101 and How to Stock a Pantry.
If youâre using a delivery service, place infrequent, larger orders instead of several small orders. Or consider curbside service; many stores are allowing free pickups where they bring your groceries right to your car, so you can save on delivery fees and tips.
3. Meal delivery and takeout
You may not be able to enjoy a nice meal at a restaurant, but you can order takeout and deliveryâand those indulgences can add up quickly. After all, itâs not just the meal youâre paying for.
âThereâs probably still a service fee, and on top of that you have to leave a gratuity,â Repak says. (It’s also a good idea to generously tip the workers who are delivering your food in these times.)
If youâre on a budget, reserve takeout and delivery for special occasions or those days when you just canât muster the motivation to cook.
4. Alcohol and other sources of comfort
If you find yourself decompressing with a glass or two (or three) of wine every night, your drinking habit could do a number on your budget. And you wouldn’t be aloneâalcohol consumption has shot up nationwide, and in states where recreational marijuana is legal, dispensaries are reporting booming business.
âSocial isolation is really strongly linked to physical and mental health problems, and the way we cope with a lot of them is by drinking more,â Repak says. âPeople are going to smoke more and drink more … and we need to find other healthier coping mechanisms to offset that additional spending.â
You may not want to totally forfeit your evening glass of pinot, but you can make your supply last longer by sipping a mug of (far more affordable) chamomile tea on occasion, or opting for a calming yoga video or breathing exercise.
Watch: Our Chief Economist’s View on the Pandemic, Mortgage Rates, and What’s Ahead
Youâve rewatched all your favorite shows on Netflix and Huluâso, now’s the time to add a Disney+ subscription, right?
Not so fast, Repak says.
âSave a little bit of money by just picking one of the streaming services,â he suggests, or at least donât pile on new subscriptions to the ones you already have.
To free up your budget, take inventory of your other monthly subscriptions, services, and other recurring expenses, and see if there’s anything that can be eliminated.
âTen dollars a month may not sound like a lot, but if you have five of those, that’s $600 annually,â Rossman adds.
6. Online shopping
If you turn to retail therapy to soothe your soul, your budget could take a hit. True, many retailers are offering deep discounts in order to move merchandise, but even discount purchases add up.
âImpulse buying is a potential trap,â Rossman says. âSome people fall victim to it more than others.â
Instead of clicking âadd to cartâ as a coping mechanism, Repak suggests cleaning out your closet instead.
âThis is a great time that we can offset our budget by decluttering our house or apartment,â he says.
Use sites like Poshmark to sell your clothes, or Mercari for your household items. Many donation centers such as Goodwill are still accepting donations, tooâjust call ahead to make sure your local store or donation drop-off location will take your items.
7. New hobbies you’re trying in quarantine
Our spending habits are highly personal, and you might find yourself throwing money at a new habit or hobby to fight cabin fever.
âItâs a worthwhile exercise to track your spending, especially now that so much is different,â Rossman says. âLook through your credit card and bank statements from the past month. Do you see anything surprising? Are there areas where you spent extra but didn’t feel it was worth it? These could be good ways to cut back.â
And remember: Even if quarantine has eliminated some of your old day-to-day expenses, itâs easy to overestimate how much youâre saving.
âMost people don’t have a great handle on their budget and spending habits anyway, and so much has changed of late,â Rossman says. âIt’s easy to overlook things.â
The post Watch Your Wallet: 7 Hidden Costs of Self-Isolating at Home During Coronavirus appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.comÂ®.