Most of us aren’t thinking about credit scores during the holiday season. But not paying attention to credit now may result in problems down the road. The following are 5 tips to help you maintain your credit score during the holiday season.
1. Protect Your Credit from Scammers
Credit card fraud is rampant during the holiday season. If a scammer gets any of your personal information they could potentially open new credit card accounts using your name. Once phony accounts have been opened, the late charges will be reported the following month and eventually collections will start in your name. You may not even realize you are a victim of identity theft unless the collection notices come to your address or your credit score drops significantly.
2. Don’t Apply for New Credit Just for the Holidays
Stores will offer plenty of promotions this time of year to get you to spend more money. Opening a new card, however, may cause your credit score to temporarily drop. Whenever you open a new account inquiries are made into your credit, and when that happens your credit score goes down. If you must, make sure to only open one new account. If possible, wait until a few months after the holidays to open any new accounts.
3. Do Ask for a Limit Increase
This may seem counterproductive, but most experts will tell you to never go over 30 percent of your limit. That means if your limit is $1,000, you should never carry more than $300 on the balance. If you do go over that amount your credit score will decrease. If you plan to use your card for several purchases it may be a good idea to ask for an increase. This will give you wiggle room to spend a little more without messing with your credit score.
4. Don’t Over Spend
The previous section was advice on how to be able to spend a little more without ruining your credit score. However, this should be done with caution. Overspending will lead to a larger minimum payment you may have trouble making the next month. Not missing any payments is the cardinal rule for maintaining a good credit score.
5. Don’t Miss a Payment
Missing even one payment can dramatically affect your overall credit score. FICO reports that payment history makes up 35 percent of your overall FICO score.
It’s important to make sure you have enough money set aside after the Christmas holiday to make at least your minimum payment. Finally, if you have more than one card make sure to pay off the one with the highest rates.
In this blog post, I started to address a few of the ways that an individual can avoid having to file for bankruptcy. Bankruptcy should truly be viewed as a last resort; the long term consequences of filing for bankruptcy can be paralyzing. In this blog post, I will cover a few more basic tips to keep your finances healthy, and avoid traveling down the (usually avoidable) path to bankruptcy.
Start an Emergency Fund
While this may not be possible if you are already deeply in debt, it is a great preventative measure. This emergency fund should be several months worth of salary that you save over time. In the event that a person disaster takes place (loss of a job or medical emergency), you will be able to continue to function financially for a few months and avoid immediate thoughts of bankruptcy.
Work To Rid Yourself of High Interest/Unsecured Debt
If a majority of your debt is on credit cards, it is likely that a large portion of the money you owe carries a very high interest rate, and is what we call unsecured debt. (Unsecured debt is debt that does not pertain to an asset or specific property – ie: a car, house, etc.) If possible, refinance your secured debt to rid yourself of the unsecured debt. Work with your lenders to refinance your mortgage and get a cash out to pay off the unsecured, volatile debt. The refinancing will allow you to take on debt at a lower, more manageable interest rate.
Maximize Your Income
If you have already worked to minimize your spending across the board, and it is not feeling like it is manageable, it may be time to take on a second job. If you have a capable spouse who is currently not working, they should also begin to seek employment. Any increased income that can be had will help make your situation a little better.
The reality is that the process of preventing bankruptcy is never an easy one, unfortunately you may be looking at making a lot of decisions that do not align with your current lifestyle. But, if you are actively thinking about bankruptcy, that does mean that your finances are in trouble, and a personal sacrifices now will ultimately make your life easier down the road.