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How to Protect Your Hard-Earned Credit Score

March 29, 2017
protect your hard-earned credit score using these seven tips.
This post may contain affiliate links. See disclosure policy here.

 

Hey y’all! Today you’re going to learn how to protect your hard-earned credit score, courtesy of a friend of LAAB. Do your thang, LaToya (not me…her name is my name…)

 

Building a great credit score isn’t easy. And rebuilding a bad credit score is even less so. So after you’ve spent months, or even years, sending dispute letters, paying off balances, and waiting patiently for the baddies to drop off your credit score, the last thing you want to do is lose points due to completely avoidable mistakes. You owe it to yourself to protect your hard-earned credit score and you can do it with these seven tips.

 

Protect your hard-earned credit score by paying everything on time – and I mean everything.

 

The biggest factor that goes into your credit score is your payment history. It almost goes without saying that the most important thing you can do to protect your credit score is to pay your bills on time. This is especially important for bills that are regularly reported to the credit bureaus, like credit cards and loans. Missing payments by 30 days late or more can damage your credit score tremendously.

You don’t get a pass on bills that aren’t regularly included on your credit report. If you get too behind on these bills, they can wind up in collections and on your credit report, tanking your credit score.

 

Don’t take on more than you can afford.

 

This goes for credit cards, loans, and other monthly obligations. The more expenses you have, the harder it is to pay them all. When you have too many expenses, you end up juggling bills and may resort to drastic measures (missing payments and using credit cards) to make ends meet.

It’s easy to spread yourself too thin if you’re not paying close enough attention to what you’re taking on. Keep your spending in check and avoid taking on monthly payments that would tax your budget.

 

Monitor your credit score.

 

Anything you want to control requires consistent attention. That includes your credit score. Checking your credit score often (once a month at a minimum) will keep it in the forefront of your mind, reminding you to make the daily financial decisions that will protect your credit score.

There are a number of ways you can monitor your credit score for free: CreditKarma.com, CreditSesame.com, and Quizzle.com are a few. Your credit card issuer may provide a free credit score through your online account or on your monthly billing statement.

Make sure you’re getting a truly free credit score by avoiding any site that asks you to enter your credit card number for a free trial. The fine print on these sites requires that you cancel the trial subscription within a certain amount of time. If you don’t cancel the trial, your credit card is charged each month for a subscription service. A truly free credit score will not require any credit card information from you.

 

Keep your credit card balances low.

 

After payment history, the second biggest factor that affects your credit score is your credit utilization. Credit utilization is the ratio of your credit card balances to their credit limits. The higher your credit card balances are, the higher your credit utilization ratio is, and the more your credit score will be affected.

Paying your credit card balance in full each month is ideal for avoiding interest and staying out of debt. However, to protect your good credit score, you only have to keep your credit card balances low.

Generally, it’s best to keep your credit card balances below 30% of the credit limit. The lower the better. People with the best credit scores keep their balances below 10% of the credit limit. That means if you have a credit card with a $3,000 credit limit your balance should be lower than $900.

Note that your credit score is calculated based on the credit card balance listed on your credit report, which may not necessarily be your current credit card balance. The balance that shows on your credit report is the balance as of the end of your last billing cycle – that’s when credit card issuers usually update your account. For your credit report to reflect a specific balance, you’ll have to pay your credit card earlier in the billing cycle, even before your credit card statement arrives.

 

Do not cosign.

 

The generous side of you may see no problem in cosigning a credit card, loan, or apartment for a friend or family member. However, the logical side of you has to prevail in this situation. Cosigning is a bad idea in a majority of cases. You see, the person you’re cosigning for has less to lose if they default on payments because they already have bad credit. You, on the other hand, have worked hard and sacrificed for a great credit score. There’s no guarantee the other person will keep up with their payments and any late payments will hurt your credit score just as much as if they were your own debts.

You know the saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” The better way to help to point them in the direction of resources that will help them improve their credit score so they can qualify for things without needing a cosigner.

 

Watch for signs of identity theft.

 

With businesses being hacked and suffering data breaches every day, your personal and financial information is more at risk than ever. Hackers use stolen information to open accounts in your name or sell the information to someone who will do the same.

Identity theft can wreak havoc on your credit score. While you’re not legally responsible for any unauthorized accounts or purchases, working to clean up your credit after identity theft is difficult and time-consuming.

Many identity theft victims don’t don’t realize they’re a victim until they apply for a credit card or loan and are denied. Monitoring your credit report and score throughout the year will allow you to catch identity theft before it gets out of control.

If you spot anything suspicious on your credit report, like suspicious inquiries or accounts, dispute these and place a fraud alert on your credit report. The fraud alert does not hurt your credit. Instead it tells a business who checks your credit report to take a few extra steps to confirm your identity before granting credit. This will prevent thieves from opening additional accounts in your name.

 

Close accounts if you’re losing control.

 

You might have to go a step further and close your credit card accounts if you can’t keep your spending under control. While it’s generally better to leave your credit card open so that you have positive payment history on your credit report, closing your credit cards you can’t manage is better for your credit score. Pay close attention to your spending and debt habits so you can spot and deal with anything that will put your credit at risk.

 

Author: LaToya Irby is a credit educator and the founder of CreditRodeo.com, where she helps people understand how credit really works. Download her free guide to raising your credit score and get your credit in the best shape ever.

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Latoya Scott
Writer/Creator
Latoya Scott is a personal finance writer and blogger for hire who loves talking about budgets and money. Her mission is to help women create better finances so they can live a carefree lifestyle.

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  • Kemkem March 29, 2017 at 11:01 am

    All great points. I had a friend who cosigned and lived to regret it when her ex-best friend stopped paying and took off with the car :-(.

    • LaToya Irby March 29, 2017 at 4:37 pm

      Cosigning puts you in SUCH a tough position, because you want to help that person, but you know if it goes wrong you’ll be screwed. I’m so sad that happened to your friend. 🙁

  • Keisha March 29, 2017 at 11:29 am

    The tip on paying credit card bills early in the billing cycle whoa I didn’t think about that! Thanks for sharing this really helped.
    Keisha recently posted…Green Beauty Brands | WOC Friendly GuideMy Profile

  • Taylor March 29, 2017 at 1:36 pm

    All great points! I applied for my first credit card a while ago and I’ve already suffered with my credit dropping! AS well with my Student Loan payments! Thankfully I’m on track and my credit is slowly building again! Great Article! Sharing!

  • TC Mason March 29, 2017 at 2:22 pm

    This is a good read and very helpful! As much as you can, always use a straight payment scheme when using a credit card. For some companies, they offer zero percent installment rate with a credit card as a tie-up on their promotion.

    • LaToya Irby March 29, 2017 at 4:41 pm

      Yep. And if you don’t pay in full before the promotional period ends, they’ll hit you with the entire deferred interest. This mainly happens with store credit card promotions (like electronics and furniture stores). Reading the fine print is so important.

  • Felecia Monique March 29, 2017 at 3:50 pm

    I’m going to try to pay mine early from now on. I thought I knew it all since I work in the financial services field. Definitely learn something each time I visit your blog.
    Felecia Monique recently posted…The One That Got AwayMy Profile

    • LaToya Irby March 29, 2017 at 4:42 pm

      Glad you found it useful. P.S. I read your latest blog post. Whew! Good one. 🙂

  • Victoria March 29, 2017 at 5:26 pm

    These are all great tips. I am credit score obsessed. I like to pay bills as soon as they come out and sometimes I pay them even before a payment balance is showing up. It seems this day in age that a credit score is more important than your annual income.

    • LaToya Irby March 30, 2017 at 12:13 pm

      That’s a great habit! Paying on time is one of the most important things for keeping a good credit score. Totally agree on how important credit scores are becoming – I wouldn’t be at all surprised if even more companies start checking credit scores as part of doing business.

  • Ra'Nesha March 30, 2017 at 11:53 am

    Thanks for sharing all very important tips we all should follow if we plan on having good credit. I check my credit twice a month and I am excited to see my score going up and accounts showing paid.

  • Courtney CJ March 30, 2017 at 6:16 pm

    This post has some useful information. I think everyone can always use tips towards boosting their credit scores. I have been trying to pay extra amounts on my bills when I have the funds available so that I don’t feel as stressed and can pay things off sooner. Thanks as always!
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  • Tiffany H. April 1, 2017 at 11:27 pm

    Great tips. I agree if you cant keep up close the account until. Most people think credits are to be used if you dont have money but its for those who have money to pay off the card for a better credit score. I love my family but i would have to say no to being a cosigner because I can’t be responsible for other peoples actions.
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  • Victoria April 4, 2017 at 9:16 pm

    Great tips. My bestfriend’s credit is fucked up as a result of co signing someone’s car loan. The person defaulted and was owing a ton of unpaid tickets. It is definitely not wise to cosign for anyone

  • Ashleigh April 5, 2017 at 5:47 pm

    All very useful tips! I wish I’d known all I know now about credit when I first graduated. I’m working on paying down balances, luckily my report is pretty much spotless. Great article.

  • Jonna April 5, 2017 at 8:12 pm

    Very useful tips. I’ve been following these tips for years, and my credit score was way better than I thought!
    Jonna recently posted…How to Become a Brand Ambassador in 5 Simple StepsMy Profile

  • Michelle Thames April 7, 2017 at 2:44 am

    These are great tips! I’ve had identity theft scare and that is no fun.

  • Sara Hunt April 10, 2017 at 12:39 pm

    Thank you so much for providing these tips. This type of information is so very important.

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