Actively managing your credit profile

Smart Credit Management

Financial advice and credit advice are not always the same. For example, transferring and consolidating high-interest credit card debt to a 0% APR credit card might make financial sense, but does it make sense for your credit?

Rarely is anything ever taught about credit, and credit is somewhat counter-intuitive. Have you ever heard someone say that you do not have enough credit to qualify for a loan? Huh? You mean you have to have a debt to get more debt?

Establishing credit, and thus, a credit score enables you to qualify for a mortgage, loan, credit card and even security clearance for a job. The information below will help demystify your credit score and provide valuable tips for improving your credit and avoiding pitfalls.

What is a credit score? A credit score is a measurement for lenders to determine how much risk they take on to lend you money. Your credit score is generated from a statistical analysis that assesses “creditworthiness,” and FICO is the standard used. FICO looks at a mix of secured and unsecured credit, your payment history, and has a scale of 300 to 850. This credit score does not care about income or size of debt payments, but it does care about the percentage of debt in use and that you make your payments on time.

Credit scores also have no memory. Your credit score is pulled as of a point in time based on all the information available from the three credit bureaus. The score can be different every time it is pulled, so if you had a great score five years ago, it means nothing for a score pulled today. Credit scores are more heavily weighted on recent items.

You can get a gauge of your credit score for free once every year at, but this report will not contain FICO score. To get your FICO score, you’ll need to have to pay a credit monitoring service, though many do offer brief free trial periods. A number of services now offer free FICO score estimates, but remember these Fake-o-Scores are only estimates and may differ from the scores provided to lenders. Self-pulled scores are considered soft inquiries and will not hurt your credit score. Hard inquiries, those made by others who are trying to approve you for credit, can impact your score if too many happen within a 12-month period. The good news is that multiple mortgage and auto loan inquiries are rolled together and will not adversely impact your score if they are all done within 30 days of the initial inquiry for that loan. If the inquiries are spread out over more than 30 days, the hard inquiries can reduce your credit score up to 50 points, which can mean real money in today’s market.

The Most Common Mistakes?

1. Joint credit cards. The biggest mistake couples make is to have all credit cards (revolving credit) and unsecured credit jointly named. There is no reason to have both of your names on your credit cards. If something bad happens to one of you, both of your credit scores are negatively impacted.

2. Closing old credit cards. Debt ratios and account seasoning (the age of a given account) are important components of your credit score: approximately 45%. When you close old credit card accounts, your debt usage ratios go up, and you shorten the average age of your credit file, which will negatively impact your score.

What should you do?

Keep separate credit cards. You can pay them off from a joint account.

Rotate your credit cards. Keep your cards active by rotating your use of cards. The amount you charge does not matter; charge a coffee at Starbucks. In a bad economy, lending standards tighten, and credit lines are reduced or closed if not active. Even if they are not closed, credit card companies may eventually stop reporting inactive accounts to the credit bureaus. Again, this loss of payment history will reduce the average age of your available credit and hurt your credit score.

Pay off your credit card each month and on time. For assessing credit, your debt ratio is Dollars in Use/Credit Available. You want to keep your debt ratio as low as possible.

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