Hours after we fill up on turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes, many Americans will give the plastic a workout at shopping retailers across the country.
Last year, the National Retail Federation estimated that 212 million bargain-seekers visited stores and online retailers over the weekend spending a whopping $45 billion.
Overspending on gifts around the holidays isn’t something uncommon. In fact, with high lines of credit available to consumers, credit card companies are doing everything they can to ensure that we overspend.
In a society that oftentimes requires individuals to borrow, one’s credit score is increasingly an important number. Companies use algorithms to calculate how much credit an individual can obtain. With recent dips in the economy and foreclosures on the rise, many people are wondering if there are a few easy ways to improve their credit scores? Here are my seven top tips:
1. Pay bills on time
Paying your bills on time is probably the single most important contributor to a good credit score. Credit bureaus want to see people make payments on their debt in a consistent and timely manner. If you have missed payments get current and stay current. It is harder to build than to destroy your credit.
2. Don’t go crazy over the holidays
Keeping balances low on credit cards is also important. After all, you do not receive a prize or award for pushing your credit cards to the limit. It is important to use credit cards wisely and pay off your balance at each payment period as often as you can. This will save you money by helping you to avoid interest as well.
3. Keep yourself under 50% of available credit
If you do need to go into debt, try your best to keep your outstanding balance under 50% of your available credit. Moving debts around from one card to another doesn’t really help as the credit bureaus are looking at all debts and not just debts on specific credit cards.
4. Credit card deals aren’t really "deals"
There are no such things as “credit card deals.” Consumers should not fall for spend incentives by credit cards. In the end, they are gouging you somehow.
5. Get help if you are having trouble
If you’re having trouble making ends meet, contact your creditors or see a legitimate credit counselor. However, it should be noted that some counseling services say they will help but don’t actually end up helping. You want to find a service that is rooted in helping to educate you about your options. Not a service that is trying to sell you on a particular product.
6. Get on a budget
Creating and sticking to a budget is also beneficial, and will help you manage your finances in a way that will translate into a higher credit score. The less money you have, the more you need a budget, because you need to account for every penny.
7. Get a copy of your credit report
As a general rule, it’s also important to get a copy of your report every six months, or at least every year. However, this can take a lot of time and effort, so it’s best to sign up with a company that you know will help you protect your credit.
Passard Dean is associate professor of accounting at Saint Leo University in Saint Leo, Florida. Dean also formerly worked at Equifax, one of the three main credit reporting agencies.