If you’re so cute you don’t need to work for a living, then don’t worry about having a credit score. For the rest of us, we need to be smart about how the system works.
Here are four things you should know about how credit cards affect your FICO score:
1) If you carry a balance that is over 50 percent of the limit, you will lose credit points.
To remedy, either call your creditor and ask to have the limit raised, or spread out your spending over an additional card. I am assuming, of course, that you are not overspending for your income and budget. That is another topic altogether!
2) If you pay off your balance in full each month, you will be rewarded with additional credit points.
The credit system recognizes the proper use of credit and adds points to your FICO score when you don’t carry a balance from month-to-month. Moreover, you don’t waste your money paying interest that is non-tax deductible.
3) If your total use of credit is below 50 percent of your total available credit, you will gain points.*
Not only does the system look at your individual credit card balance-to-limit ratio, but it also looks at the total of all your available credit cards. So if you are maxing out all your cards, your score will receive a double whammy in point subtraction.
4) Any payment that is 30 days late will dock your score. If you’re 60 days late, it gets worse, and ditto for 90 days.
If you are 31 days late for the first time and call your creditor immediately, they might give you grace and not report you as late, especially if you are a long-time, perfect-paying customer.
If your one-off late payment has already reported, then you should take steps to get that removed from your credit report. The law gives you the right to dispute the late payment, and many creditors are happy to remove the late payment when you send the right type of letter through the good old-fashioned USPS mail system. Why? Because it is a good business practice for them, and it is within their legal right to do so. As the creditor, they own your credit information.
When you understand how the system works, you are in control of your own credit score.
* If you reduce the 50% credit usage to 30%, you gain even more points.
Having a score of 740+ puts you in the top tier for a conventional mortgage loan. If your score is 800 or higher, you gain respect, bragging rights, and may qualify for slightly better terms, depending on the lender and loan program.
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Unless you’re as cute as a cat or have just won the lottery and plan to pay cash for everything for the rest of your life, you need excellent credit and a high FICO score in order to obtain the best financing, the cheapest insurance premiums, and save money.