Deciphering the factors that contribute to a credit score and the ways to improve that magic financial number might seem intimidating, but achieving the great credit score of your dreams is a somewhat simple matter of discipline and attention.
Whether your score is poor or on the verge of great, you know you want to improve it because you've already checked it. Understanding what constitutes your score means more than knowing the number, though. There are three major bureaus that report your credit: Equifax (yes, that Equifax), Experian and TransUnion. It's smart to check all three reports annually for errors or inaccurate information.
A credit score is based on payment history, credit utilization, length of history, credit mix and the amount of inquiries on your accounts.
Some of these factors are worth more than others and the two highest-weighted factors are your payment history and credit utilization. To optimize your score, you'll need to manage all of these factors carefully. Here are the best tips to improve your credit score.
Pay all bills in full and on time
This includes credit cards, utilities, rent and loan payments. Any balance that carries over to the next month or any late penalties incurred will hurt your score and quickly undo the work you've begun. Paying off debt contributes 30% to a FICO Score while your payment history contributes 35%. If you've let a payment go by accidentally, you can ask for the company to forgive the mistake, convince them not to report it to the credit agencies, or, at least, ask them to waive any late fees. A person with a history of on-time payments will have more bargaining power to try to earn this forgiveness but it's always worth a shot.
To avoid late payments, see if the credit or utility company offers payment reminders and turn them on if they do. And, for an extra level of protection, set up automatic payments from a checking or savings account. Be sure that the company will pull the full balance that's due and not just the minimum payment amount. Late payments will remain on your reports for years but older mistakes count for less and less toward your score as they age. Every positive step builds good credit and, simultaneously, reduces the effects of the older, bad credit. The faster you take charge of your future credit, the faster you'll earn forgiveness for the past.
Credit utilization is the amount of your credit limit you spend each month. If a credit card offers a $3,000 limit and you spend half of it in one month, then your credit utilization for that month is 50%. The magic number according to most experts is 30%; keeping your usage under 30% (optimally, around 10%) will raise your score more quickly, as it evidences responsible borrowing.
The most obvious way to lower your utilization is to reduce overall spending but this might not be immediately possible. Paying off some of your balance before it's due will show the credit company a lower utilization when they close the statement. Opening another line of credit can increase your credit limit but do not open several lines in a short amount of time. This will sound like a warning alarm to the reporting agencies.
It's worth mentioning that closing old credit cards might not actually benefit you, though it sounds like the logical thing to do if you've stopped using a card. Some reports take into account the age of your oldest open account, and closing those unused cards might shorten your credit history and negatively affect your score.
Hard inquiriesAny time a company requests access to your credit report—such as for a car loan or mortgage—it is called a hard inquiry. Whether or not you are approved by the company, the hard inquiry affects your credit score. Several hard inquiries in rapid succession will negatively impact your credit. However, checking your own score has no effect.
Recovering from bad credit
All of the above steps are important long-term choices for healthy credit. But you might be trying to recover quickly from a major financial loss, like a foreclosure, short sale or bankruptcy, which could drop your score by up to 150 points. Unfortunately, these long-term methods are still the best ways to heal even the worst credit. One slightly more immediate action is to apply for a secured credit card. With a cash deposit—often $200—some banks will offer an equal or greater line of credit with which you can begin, carefully, to grow that magic number.
The keys in every case are discipline, diligence and patience. Improvement will happen gradually but it will happen. The more care you put into your financial decisions, the more quickly you'll boost and secure your credit health.
Tom Twardzik is a writer covering personal finance, productivity and investing for Paypath. He also contributes pop culture reviews for Popdust and travel writing for The Journiest. Read more on his website and follow him on Twitter.
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Between buying a new home and transporting yourself and your belongings to it, moving can be an expensive process. One often underrecognized cost of moving occurs before one's original house has even been sold, and that's staging the house. Homeowners often spend hundreds of dollars making a home appealing to potential buyers. To ease the financial burden of moving, here are several tips for staging your home on a budget.
Downsize Instead of Storing
The goal of staging a home is to create a blank canvas that potential buyers can imagine their own lives painted upon. To accomplish this, homeowners should depersonalize the home as much as possible, removing items that are specific to their family and eliminating clutter. This is where homeowners often incur their first costs as they rush to put as many older things in storage as possible.
To cut costs, focus on downsizing rather than storing items. Look for items that you can sell, donate, or give away. For remaining items, look for alternative places to store them, such as a friend or relative's house. This will also reduce the cost of moving your belongings when it is time to go to the new house.
DIY What You Can
There are times when homeowners should bring in a professional to manage home renovations and decorating, such as when a task requires specialized skills. These types of jobs, when done incorrectly, will incur even greater costs if attempted on your own. However, many of the home improvement tasks that go into staging a home are simple enough that the homeowner can DIY them, such as painting, installing a backsplash, or refinishing the deck. Doing these tasks yourself will save you a significant amount of money.
Don't Redo, Update
Homeowners are often eager to make their houses look as appealing to buyers as possible. However, recall that the point of staging is depersonalization, making a home presentable so buyers can mentally impose their own style onto it. When staging a home on a budget, focus less on completely transforming the space and more on making what is there look presentable. For instance, if you wanted to give your bedroom a facelift, trying to replace the furniture and flooring would be pointless unless it was damaged or unkempt. Simply organizing the space and replacing the bed's comforter would be sufficient.
Another way to update the space without entirely redoing it is to rearrange it to maximize the space that is already there. For instance, pulling the furniture away from the walls will make a room appear bigger and allows more space for those touring the house. Using window trimmings that maximize natural light and incorporating wall mirrors can also make a room seem more spacious.
Raising a larger family than most means that your lifestyle is going to change. Costs will continue to multiply as your family grows larger. However, just because your family is large doesn't mean your quality of life needs to suffer. It just means you need to make a few adjustments to help things work smoother and more efficiently. We've compiled a couple of money-saving tips for larger families to help you get the most out of your dollars.
Always Buy in Bulk
The benefit of having a larger family is that things you buy in bulk rarely ever go to waste. Smaller families can benefit from buying in bulk, of course, but your large family will see the most use out of shopping in large quantities. You'll want to avoid going to smaller stores for necessities such as groceries and clothes, as these places generally have higher markups on their items.
Buy Wholesale Items Online
If you want to take buying in bulk to the next level, one of the best money-saving tips for large families is to buy online from wholesalers. Buying online comes with a number of benefits that you won't get when you go to a physical store:
- You don't have to drag your kids to the store with you
- You have a lower probability of making impulse purchases
- You can search for exactly what you need
- Wholesalers sell in very large quantities for a lower price per item
Never Throw Away Something Useful
When you have to buy things for multiple children, your costs to replace items will be much higher. That's why it's so important to keep everything you can. Clothing is a big part of this. Hand-me-downs can prevent you from needing to replace entire closets every year. Try to repair or upcycle any clothes that may have damage, as this is usually much cheaper than buying brand-new items.
Stick to a Budget
When you support a large family, expenses can sometimes get away from you. Proper budgeting helps to keep the extra purchases that add up to a minimum. Budgeting correctly can save you a lot of heartache in the long run. It's up to you how much control you want to take; you can make your budget weekly or monthly, depending on how tight a ship you need to run. What's important to remember is that making the budget is only the first step—sticking to it is where you'll really need to enact some willpower.
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Sometimes there is no choice—a home needs to be sold in the winter.
Spring may be the most popular time to put your house on the market, but homes do sell in the colder months. With fewer houses available, your home may be someone's only choice when house hunting in your neighborhood. As your neighbors hold out until spring, you'll already be done and ready to shop for your next house!
Here are a few tips for selling a home in the winter to get you on the right track.
Keep Paths Safe and Landscaping Fresh
Landscaping is the last thing on a homeowner's mind in the winter. Everything was cut back in the fall and may now be covered in snow. Still, take a walk around the house and yard to check everything out. Branches may have fallen from heavy snow, leaving a mess in the yard. Keep everything neat and tidy.
The last thing you need is a potential buyer slipping on the ice-covered walk in front of your house. Buyers often consider those moments bad omens, and this can affect their decisions. Shovel, snow blow, spread salt—do whatever you have to do to keep the driveway and walking paths clear, and don't forget the porch and deck.
Make the Inside Warm and Cozy
In cold weather, buyers won't spend a lot of time examining a home's exterior. Instead, impress them with the inside by creating an atmosphere which causes them to want to move in.
When there's time, leave wintery types of snacks and drinks, such as hot cocoa and cookies, available on a table during showings. This gives your home a welcoming feel to buyers.
Light the fireplace (if you have one) for a lovely ambience and set your thermostat to a comfortable setting. A warm home in the winter is much more appealing than a chilly one.
Make Your Home Less Personal
Understandably, this can be a tough thought for homeowners. After all, you've spent years creating memories in your home. To buyers, though, they need to picture it as their own. Too much personality makes that difficult.
It's always important to stage your home in a way that makes it look clean, comfortable, and move-in ready. Don't feel offended by the idea of taking family pictures down and replacing them with generic décor. This will help your home sell faster by helping buyers envision their own things there.
Cleanliness and Maintenance
Clean, clean, and clean some more. Make appliances, counters, and floors shine. No matter how old your home is, it needs to feel like new to potential buyers. If you aren't into dusting, now is the time to try. Don't forget window coverings that might need washing.
Be prepared ahead of time for home inspections by taking care of maintenance now. HVAC systems, plumbing, and electrical should all be up to code and running smoothly.
Use these tips for selling a home in the winter, exercise patience during the slower months, and your home will sell before you know it.