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Tips on managing your credit

Understanding your credit score can be complicated, but when managed, can work to your advantage. A credit score has a major impact on your financial life.

March is national Credit Education Month and the experts at BMO Harris Bank, offer some tips to help you understand and improve your credit.

"A good credit score is important in many aspects of your life," said Julie Curran, regional president, BMO Harris Bank. "It can make the difference in receiving approval for a mortgage, car loan eligibility and credit card interest rates. A good credit score can lead to better rates and less interest paid throughout your lifetime."

In honor of Credit Education Month, Curran offers a few suggestions to manage and improve your credit;

• Check your credit report. This should be done at least 60 days or 90 days before applying for a loan in order to make sure that the report is correct. If it's incorrect, make sure to notify a credit agency before you apply for a loan.

• Pay your bills on time. When a bill is paid late, or is even 30 days past due, it can show up on your credit report for up to seven years.

• Manage credit responsibly. Although it is generally considered a plus to have established credit accounts, too many credit card accounts may have a negative effect on your score.

• Avoid going over the credit limit. Some credit card companies allow you to do this as a courtesy, but it can negatively reflect on your ability to handle your account.

• Use credit when needed. If you never use credit of any kind, it doesn't mean that you'll have a great credit history. Lenders generally prefer to see some type of satisfactory payment history.

• Avoid "shopping for credit." Each time you apply for a loan or credit card, an inquiry from that lender will be reflected on your credit report. Inquiries may affect your credit score.

• Use your cards lightly. Racking up big balances can hurt your scores, regardless of whether you pay your bills in full each month. You often can increase your score by keeping balances low.

• Consider limiting your credit. Applying for a new account, transferring balances, or concentrating all of your credit-card balances onto a single card may result in a lower credit score.

For more information on improving your credit, visit www.ftc.gov or www.myFICO.com.

To access your annual free credit report, visitwww.annualcreditreport.com

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