Listen up, kids: Paying interest is painful. Really, really painful.
Parental wisdom is easy to ignore until you’re left scratching your head over simple adult responsibilities like paying taxes and budgeting. (We all have to make our own mistakes, right?). But even if you were listening to your parents, there are some important credit tips they likely didn’t mention. When it comes to improving your score, heed these six credit lessons that we wish our parents had taught us.
Paying interest is one tough chore
Let’s be real: Making monthly credit card payments isn’t fun. But the pain compounds (literally) when you’re paying interest on top if it. With many credit cards carrying an interest rate above 12% or missing even one payment can result in a large (and painful) interest payment.
Even a half-percentage interest-rate reduction matters
Negotiating isn’t always on the docket for financial literacy programs, but it’s worth mentioning — some numbers carry more wiggle room than you’d expect. When opening a new line of credit, negotiate your interest rates. Although you may not always get your asking interest rate, you and your lender could very well land on a number lower than the original offer. And, yes, even a 0.5% reduction matters when it comes to paying interest. A $1,000 loan with a 17% interest rate reduced to a 16.5% interest rate would save you $5 a month.
Credit cards offer greater protections against fraud
Quick, what’s the safest way to make a purchase: cash, credit, or debit? Answer: credit. Choosing to use a credit card instead of swiping your debit card can offer greater protections against fraudulent purchases. Most credit card companies will remove fraudulent purchases as soon as you alert them to unusual/suspicious activity. Credit cards also cap your liability at $50. Claiming fraud for a debit purchase, on the other hand, may require you to file a more complicated claim — and fraudulent purchases may not be reimbursed for up to two weeks.
Credit doesn’t build itself
This one may sound annoyingly similar to Mom’s “the bed won’t make itself” shtick. But really, credit doesn’t build itself. Be proactive. A good credit score can save you a lot of money in the long run. For instance, strong credit can help you lock down lower interest rates and empower you to make large financial decisions like applying for a mortgage (when it makes sense!). A smart way to begin building your credit is to start soon and start small. Make small purchases using a credit card and then immediately pay them off. Better yet, start with a secured credit card. This “small beans” approach to minor, easily paid purchases can help build good credit habits early on.
Credit limits aren’t “suggestions” (and a 30% credit utilization rate goes quickly)
Opening that first credit card can often be confused with a windfall. But being approved for a $2,500 credit line doesn’t mean you have $2,500 at your beck and call. In fact, credit bureaus recommend that you stick below a 30% credit utilization rate. That means spending only up to 30% of your credit line. To avoid maxing out your credit (or spending above your means), be deliberate in the way you use your credit card for purchasing. Additionally, approach every purchase with a game plan by asking, “What’s my timeline for paying this loan back? Is it realistic?”
A financial philosophy can help make, or break, your credit score
“Everything will work out in the end.” How many times have you heard this oft-repeated mantra? It’s short and sweet (and usually true in the grand scheme of things). Unfortunately, it doesn’t translate well when you’re trying to negotiate an overdue credit card bill with your lender. It’s crucial to have a clear and actionable financial plan as you begin your journey into adulthood.
About the author
Claire Murdough is a San Francisco–based writer whose work has appeared in Lifehacker, The Bold Italic, and Yahoo. When she’s not demystifying personal finance, she’s dreaming of her next travel destination and exploring the local scene. Follow her on Twitter at @claire_murdough.