What would you do for $250,000? No need for anything wild, just have an excellent credit score. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a good credit rating saves the average borrower $250,000 over a lifetime. As a Financial Wellbeing Coach for the nonprofit Operation HOPE, I meet with people every day who have the determination to reach their financial goals. With some guidance, willpower, and time, everyone can attain a great credit score.
FICO scores, which are used by most lenders, range from 300 to 850. The average score is 675 but an excellent score is 720 or above. Excellent scores will get you the best rates on credit cards, auto loans, and home loans—eventually saving you $250,000.
1) Pay back as much as you can--ideally the whole balance. Creditors want to see that you will pay back what you owe. If you can afford to pay off your entire balance, do it. Otherwise, pay as much as you can. Always make your minimum monthly payments and call if you have to pay late because of an unexpected life event.
2) Never max out your cards. Only use 30% of your credit card’s limit. If your card has a $1,000 limit, only charge $300 to that card each month. Leaving the rest available shows the creditors that you have self-control.
3) Review your credit report often. According to the Federal Trade Commission, one in five consumers found errors on their reports. Negative items, like collections accounts, can severely decrease your score. Work with a nonprofit credit counselor to get a free report or order your own from annualcreditreport.com If you find an error or inaccurate information, you can dispute online, in writing, or by telephone. It is important to remember to dispute these items with each of the 3 credit reporting agencies, Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.
These are the first steps on the way to a stellar credit score. Our city is lucky to have many credit counselors, including myself, who will work with you to reach your financial goals. We can help you manage debt, stick to a budget, and build your credit.
For more information about Operation HOPE and a schedule of upcoming classes see our website.
Originally published in the St. Louis American. Slight edits have been made in this post.