In America, your credit score is a valuable piece of financial information. Banks, credit card companies, and sometimes even employers will use your credit score to determine whether you're reliable enough for a loan, a new credit card or even a job.
Staying on top of your credit health is pretty important. But we're all human. Sometimes, we lose track or need guidance when we're just starting out. Here are a few things to keep in mind whether you're trying to repair your credit score or you're building it from zero.
1. Don't apply for too many cards or loans
Routinely applying for credit cards or loans over a longer period of time will cause a dip in your credit score. If you're shopping for a mortgage, auto or student loan, make sure all of your applications are sent within a 30 month period.
Your FICO score ignores inquiries made 30 days before scoring. If it finds inquiries before those 30 days, it'll count those as one application. That's because it is generally understood that applying for several house, car and student loans doesn't mean you will take out all of those loans. You'll probably just settle on one. However, if you apply for several credit cards, these will each count as a separate inquiry. Send your applications wisely.
2. Keep your card balances low
With your credit cards, it is better to keep your balance low. The closer you get to your credit limit, the worse your credit score will be. Maxing out your card is terrible for your score. You generally want to stay at or under 30 percent of your limit. Even approaching your maximum can reflect poorly on your credit habits. In addition, limiting your credit usage will help you pay your balance at the end of the month.
3. Always pay your bills on time
Your credit score will take a dip if you ever make a late payment or miss it entirely. That's why auto pay is useful. You'll never forget to make a payment. But you should also keep track of your bills in your calendar. Computer systems are generally reliable, but can sometimes fail. It's better to safely confirm that the withdraw is processing or has been made by the due date, rather than finding out your payment didn't clear on time. If you are ever struggling to pay your full balance, pay at least the minimum required to maintain your credit score.
4. Avoid carrying a balance on your cards
Contrary to popular belief, you don't actually have to carry a balance on your credit cards to build your score. And especially if you're credit score isn't ideal, you could end up paying pretty high interest rates on carried balances. To save yourself money, don't charge more to your cards than you can pay back within the billing cycle. This will help you keep your balance low as well.
When you take out a loan for a car, charge something to your credit card, or get a personal line of credit, there is going to be an interest rate that applies to your loan.
A lot of different factors go into what you will be charged, including your own personal credit score. But even those with flawless credit still see a minimum charge that they can't get around. That all goes back to the Federal Funds Rate.
One thing consumers rarely realize is that all of our banks are lending money to each other every night. Banks are legally required to maintain a certain percentage of their deposits in non-interest-bearing accounts at the Federal Reserve to ensure they have enough money to cover any withdrawals that may unexpectedly come up. However, deposits can fluctuate and it's very common for some banks to exceed the requirement on certain days while some fall short. In cases like this, banks actually lend each other money to ensure they meet the minimum balance. It's a bit hard to imagine these multibillion-dollar financial institutions needing to borrow money to tide them over for a bit, but it happens every single night at the Federal Reserve. It's also a nice deal for those with balances above the reserve balance requirement to earn a bit of money with cash that would normally just be sitting there.
The Federal Reserve
The exact interest rate the banks will charge each other is a matter of negotiation between them, but the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) (the arm of the Federal Reserve that sets monetary policy) meets eight times a year to set a target rate. They evaluate a multitude of economic indicators including unemployment, inflation, and consumer confidence to decide the best rate to keep the country in business. The weighted average of all interest rates across these interbank loans is the effective federal funds rate.
This rate has a huge impact on the economy overall as well as your personal finances. The federal funds rate is essentially the cheapest money available to a bank and that feeds into all of the other loans they make. Banks will add a slight upcharge to the rate set by the Fed to determine what is the lowest interest that they will announce for their most creditworthy customers, also known as the prime rate. If you have a variable interest rate loan (very common with credit cards and some student loans), it's likely that the interest rate you pay is a set percentage on top of that prime rate that your lender is paying. That's why in times of low interest rates (it was set at 0% during the Great Recession), a lot of borrowers should go for fixed interest rate loans that won't increase. However, if the federal funds rate was relatively high (it went up to 20% in the early 1980's), a variable interest rate loan may be a better decision as you would be charged less interest should the rate drop without the need to refinance.
The federal funds rate also has a major impact on your investment portfolio. The stock market reacts very strongly to any changes in interest rates from the Federal Reserve, as a lower rate makes it cheaper for companies to borrow and reinvest while a higher rate may restrict capital and slow short-term growth. If you have a significant portion of your investments in equities, a small change in the federal funds rate can have a large impact on your net worth.
Whether you're leaving a job involuntarily, departing for something new, or just want to prepare for the unknown, it is smart to understand all your options regarding your 401k.
Frugal gifting often gets a bad reputation. However, this shopping method does not make you cheap — it makes you practical. Frugal gifts often avoid waste and overspending and can be just as meaningful (if not more so) as any other present.
With the National Retail Federation predicting each consumer this holiday season to spend upwards of $1,000 on holiday gifts amidst an economic recession —this year might be the perfect time to reconsider your spending budget. We've formulated the ultimate list of frugal gift-giving ideas to get you started.