Credit score

How a Goodwill Letter Can Save Your Credit Score

Financial mistakes can cause hefty damage to your credit score. If you pay your credit card bill more than 30 days late, for example, your score can tumble by 100 points. If you have a foreclosure on your home, your score can fall by 150 points or more, depending on how long ago your lender filed for foreclosure. (See also: 5 Simple Ways to Never Make a Late Credit Card Payment)

These mistakes stay on your three credit reports — one each maintained by Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — for seven to 10 years.

There may be some hope of removing those financial mistakes sooner, however. Consumers have had some success requesting that banks, lenders, and other creditors remove their late or missed payments from their credit reports early by writing what is known as a goodwill letter — letters sent to creditors outlining the reasons for their missed payments, explaining why they’ll never miss a payment again, and requesting that these creditors remove the financial mistake from their credit reports.

These letters offer no guarantee of success. Some creditors will simply respond that they are legally required to report the financial mistake for the set period of time. Others won’t respond at all.

But if there’s even a slim chance that a goodwill letter will work, why not try it?

When goodwill letters do the most good

The most common financial mistake that ends up on credit reports — and the one that goodwill letters have the best chance of erasing — are late payments. It’s important to realize, though, that late payments are only officially late for credit purposes when they are more than 30 days past due.

Missed payments stay on your credit reports for seven years. How much these payments lower your FICO score varies depending on how high your score was to begin with and several other factors. But…

Can Too Many Credit Cards Hurt Your Credit Score?

You’re checking out at your favorite department store when the cashier asks if you’d like to apply for the store’s credit card. Doing so will save you 10 percent on your purchase. Should you fill out the application? Or will having too many credit cards in your wallet ding your three-digit FICO credit score?

According to myFICO.com, there is no “golden number” of credit cards that will hurt or help your credit score. What matters most is how you use those cards — namely, paying your bills on time. Still, there are a few important things to remember when you have multiple credit cards.

Inquiries ding your credit score

Whenever you apply for a new credit card, your FICO score will fall slightly. The creditor behind the plastic will order a copy of your credit report from one of the three national credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion. This inquiry will then show up on your credit reports.

An inquiry will temporarily drop your credit score because whenever you apply for new credit, there is a risk that you will borrow more money than you can afford to pay back. How much your score will drop varies, but myFICO says that for most people, a single inquiry will result in a drop of five points or less.

The drop in your score might be steeper, however, if you apply for several credit cards in a short period of time. There’s a statistical reason for this: myFICO says that people who have six or more hard inquiries on their credit reports — inquiries made by a lender with whom you’ve applied for credit — are up to eight times more likely to declare bankruptcy than consumers who have no inquiries. Hard inquiries remain on your credit reports for 24 months before falling off.

The smart move is to apply for new credit if you need it and plan to use it. Don’t apply for new credit cards just to get a store discount you’ll use a few times.

Use your cards wisely

What’s more…

How Automation has Helped Me Reduce Debt and Save

Readers often e-mail me for tips on how to keep their finances manageable. There are so many options out there that it can be overwhelming. I was speaking with my mom about this some time ago, and she felt the same way.

My mom has been responsible with her money over the years, but she felt that she could be doing better. After chatting with her, we decided that she should switch banks and automate some of her bills. It would free up some of her time and take a few things off of the to-do list… wins all around. I was talking with her the other week, after she had implemented the new system, and she said she’s really happy with her decision. She has saved both time and money with her new bank and online bill pay.

Why do I love automating my finances? Well, why wouldn’t I? Automating your finances can be a wonderful process, if done correctly. For one thing, it puts me in control of my bills without having to deal with paper, stamps, envelopes, and checks. But there are plenty of other reasons to love automating my finances, too. Here are my favorites.

I don’t pay late fees

I used to occasionally lose bills or forgot to send checks whenever I had a very busy week. Late fees definitely add up, and can be as high as $29 to $39 for credit cards! Sometimes I can pay my credit card accounts online for a same-day payment, but if I’m a day late, I may still get a fee imposed.

With online bill pay, you don’t have to worry about late fees because your bills will get paid on time every month, without any added work on your end. We’ll talk more below about different options for setting up automatic bill pay. But for now, just know that in exchange for a little effort up front, you can reap the benefits of avoiding late payments… forever.

Late payments don’t hurt my credit score

Getting rid of late payments isn’t just good for saving money by avoiding late fees. It also helps keep my credit score high. Payment history makes up the lion’s share of most credit scoring algorithms, and even a single late payment can quickly tank an otherwise excellent credit score.

Again, there are several options available for automating payments. But any of these options can keep you from having late payments recorded on your credit file, which helps you build your credit score or keep it high.

Resource: How to Check Your Credit for Free (and Avoid the Scams Out There)

I’m saving money, and I barely notice

In the past, I would save money for a few weeks and then have an emergency. After getting through the trouble, I’d neglect to re-start my savings. This cycle would repeat over and over. I felt like I couldn’t possibly save more money without cutting my budget to the bone.

How did I fix this issue? Automation, of course!

Now, I have a portion of my pay automatically transferred to a high-yield savings account each time my check hits my account. The trick to making this work is to make sure the transfer happens before you can even check your account balance on payday. It’s hard to miss money that you never had a chance to see!

But don’t be a hero. Start out with just a small…

Your Credit Score Is Linked To Your Chance of Divorce

Most people’s eyes glaze over at the words “credit score.” Sure, it’s boring. It’s confusing. But ignoring it can make your financial life difficult. And it can affect your social life, too.

We often overlook the social impact of credit, but it exists nonetheless. For example, a Bankrate poll found that 42 percent of people said knowing someone’s credit score would affect whether or not they’d go on a date with that person. One respondent said:

Bad credit could point to deeper issues of irresponsibility. They may be unstable in other areas of their life.

Obviously, there’s a lot of judgment here.

Another 2015 study from researchers at the Federal Reserve Board, the Brookings Institution and UCLA found a link between bad credit and divorce. Moneyish reported:

The higher your credit score, the less likely you’ll split from your partner, and vice versa. Indeed, for every 105-point uptick in a person’s credit score, there is a 32% drop in the likelihood of them divorcing. “Couples with the lowest initial average scores are two or three times more likely to separate than the couples with the highest average scores, and…

3 Ways Retirees Can Build Credit

You might think that once you reach retirement, your credit score is just one of those things you get to stop worrying about. While it’s true that most retirees won’t be applying for mortgages, it’s not true that you don’t need to maintain a decent credit score. What if you want to apply for a car loan? What about credit cards? You certainly won’t get the lowest interest rates and best rewards programs possible without a good credit score to back you up.

A low credit score can also hurt you if you want to downsize to an apartment, or even move into a senior living facility. You might need a solid credit score to qualify.

Why it’s hard for retirees to build credit

According to FICO, to have a credit score, you must have at least one credit account that is at least six months old. You must also have at least one account that has been updated by a creditor or lender during the last six months.

If you aren’t paying a mortgage, paying off an auto loan, or using credit cards, you might not meet any of these requirements. This might lead to you becoming what FICO calls an “unscorable,” a consumer who has no credit score at all.

Fortunately, there are ways for retirees to continue building credit. They require the same good financial habits you’ve been practicing before retirement.

Use the credit cards you have

You might prefer paying for items in cash. Instead, make small purchases throughout the month with your credit card. If you pay off your entire card balance each month, you’ll continue to boost your credit score. (See also: How…

8 Times You Need to Walk Away From Your Dream Home

You think you’ve found the perfect house. But before you plunge into homeownership, you need to watch out for any warning signs this sale isn’t meant to be. Ask yourself whether any of these things apply to you. If so, buying the home of your dreams may just have to wait.

1. You can’t afford 20 percent down

The house may have everything you are looking for, but you need to make sure that the sale price isn’t beyond your means. Ideally, you want to make a down payment of at least 20 percent. This may be a substantial amount of money, but without that down payment, your lender will likely ask you to pay for private mortgage insurance — which can add hundreds of dollars a year to your homeownership costs.

Moreover, the more you can put down up front, the smaller your monthly mortgage payments will be. If you are in the market for a home but can’t hit that 20 percent mark, consider holding off on buying until you have a larger sum saved. (See also: 4 Easy Ways to Start Saving for a Down Payment on a Home)

2. Your mortgage payments would restrict your ability to save

Even if you have the ability to put 20 percent down on the house, you may find that the monthly mortgage payments are higher than you can reasonably afford. The U.S. government recommends spending no more than 30 percent of your gross monthly income on housing. That means if you earn $3,000 per month before taxes, you shouldn’t spend more than $900 per month on your mortgage.

You may get approved for a loan much bigger than you expected, but don’t use this as an excuse to buy more house than you can afford. If your payments are too high, you will find it harder to live comfortably or save money for anything besides housing costs. If you have to go into additional debt in order to make house payments, then your “dream home” could become more of a financial nightmare. (See also: How to Make Ends Meet When You’re House Poor)

3. You didn’t get a favorable interest rate

There are two key things that impact how much you’ll end up paying for a house: the sale price, and the interest rate on the mortgage loan. Even if the sale price is within your predetermined budget, you may find your monthly payments to be onerous if…

5 Myths About Credit Cards That Won’t Go Away

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The idea of evaluating a person’s creditworthiness goes back as early as 1899, when Equifax (originally called Retail Credit Company) would keep a list of consumers and a series of factors to determine their likelihood to pay back debts. However, credit cards didn’t make an appearance until the 1950s, and the FICO score as we know it today wasn’t introduced until 1989.

Due to these timing differences, many U.S. consumers hold on to damaging myths about credit cards. Let’s dispel five of these widely held but false beliefs and find out what to do to continue improving your credit score.

Myth #1: Closing unused cards is good for credit

Remember when United Colors of Benetton used to be all the rage and you shopped there all the time? Fast forward a decade; you don’t shop there anymore, and you’re thinking about shutting down that store credit card. Not so fast! Closing that old credit card may do more harm than good to your credit score.

Your length of credit history contributes 15 percent of your FICO score. If that credit card is your oldest card, then closing it would bring down the average age of your accounts and hurt your score. This is particularly true when there is a gap of several years between your oldest and second-to-oldest card. Another point to consider is that when you close a credit card, you’re reducing your amount of available credit. This drops your credit utilization ratio, which makes up 30 percent of your FICO score.

What to do: Keep those old credit cards open, especially when they are the oldest ones that you have. Just make sure that you’re keeping on top of any applicable annual fees and they’re not tempting you to spend beyond your means.

Myth #2: Holding a credit card balance is good for credit

Your payment history is a more influential factor to your FICO score than your total amount owed to lenders (35 percent versus 30 percent, respectively). This means that if you have a choice between paying off and holding on to debt, it’s generally better to pay it off. However, responsible…

6 Infuriating Ways You’re Ruining Someone Else’s Credit

Your credit score is one of the biggest deciding factors in your financial health. It influences whether you qualify for the best interest rates on mortgages or auto loans, it can impact your insurance rates, and it can even determine whether you land that dream job or not.

Establishing good credit requires managing your credit accounts responsibly. But your own credit score isn’t the only one that can suffer the consequences of poor credit management. In the same way money can ruin a friendship, your financial carelessness could ruin someone else’s credit. Here’s how.

1. Charging up someone else’s credit card

Becoming an authorized user on someone else’s credit card helps build your own credit history. You’ll receive a credit card in your name, and you’re allowed to make charges on the account. But even though your name is on the card and the account shows up on your credit report, only the primary account holder receives the statements. This person is ultimately responsible for any purchases you make with the card.

If you’re an authorized user, the mature thing to do is pay whatever you charge each month. If you don’t or can’t pay, this sets in motion a chain of events that could ruin the other person’s credit.

Any purchases you charge to the account can raise the primary account holder’s balance and increase their credit utilization ratio beyond a healthy range (utilization ratio is the credit card balance compared to the credit limit). Ideally, credit utilization should never exceed 30 percent of a credit limit — the lower, the better. A high utilization ratio can lower credit scores.

In addition, ringing up charges on someone’s credit card and not paying what you owe could trigger payment problems. This can happen if the primary user doesn’t have enough money for higher minimum payments. If they can’t pay the credit card bill within 30 days, the credit card company could report the late payment to the credit bureaus. While a 30-day delinquency won’t tank a credit…

4 Questions to Ask Before Getting a Credit Increase

Feeling penned in by the low credit limits on your credit card? You might be able to boost your credit limit to a higher amount. Often, all it takes is a single call to your card provider. The bigger question, though, is whether you’re financially prepared for a higher limit.

Your credit card providers will always set a credit limit on your cards, the maximum amount you can borrow. If you have a short credit history or a low FICO credit score, your credit limits might be low ones, sometimes under $1,000. If you have a long credit history and high scores, your limit might be $10,000, $20,000, or more.

How do know if you’re ready for the financial responsibility of a higher credit limit? Here are some questions to ask yourself.

Do You Pay Your Credit Card Bill Late?

Do you pay your credit card bills by their due dates every single month? Or have you missed payments in the past? If it’s the latter, you might want to hold off on requesting a higher credit limit.

Paying your credit cards 30 days or more late will cause your FICO score to drop by 100 points or more. Your credit card provider will also charge you a penalty, and your card’s interest rate might soar. If you have a higher credit limit and a high balance, an interest rate spike could cost you quite a bit in extra interest payments.

Having a history of late payments will also give your credit card provider pause; the financial institution might not want to boost your limit if you don’t always pay your bill on time.

Do You Carry a Balance on Your Card?

The smart way to use a credit card is to pay off your balance in full each month. This way, you boost your credit score by making on-time payments, and you won’t get hit by the high interest that is often…