MOVED 7 Ways to Beat Your Parents' Credit Score

Posted by Elizabeth Aldrich on Dec 31, 2019 8:00:00 AM

Get ahead of the game while you're young, and your credit will thank you.

With age comes more life experience and financial stability⁠ -- which may also mean a higher credit score. The Ascent's study on credit scores in America found that individuals over 60 have an average credit score of 747, which is 88 points higher than adults that fall into the 18-29 age range.

In other words, older Americans are more likely to have very good credit, whereas young adults are more likely to have credit that's considered "fair." After all, people in their 20s haven't had a lot of time to build good credit.

Small child defeating grown man at arm wrestling.

Luckily, with some determination and strategic decision-making, it's possible to obtain good, or even excellent, credit at a young age. Here's how you can increase your credit score and maybe even surpass your parents.

1. Get started as early as possible

Your first goal is to build a lengthy payment history. You can start from scratch by opening a credit card with a cosigner or choose a card that's designed to build credit -- like a student credit card.

If you want to try for a regular credit card, use your current relationships to your advantage. Your local credit union may be willing to approve you for a credit card if you already have a positive, long-standing relationship with them.

You can also explore opening a secured credit card which requires a refundable deposit in exchange for credit. The best secured credit cards require a deposit ranging from $49 to $200 and come with a low credit limit. They can be a great option for someone who has just started their credit-building journey.

Finally, if you're having a hard time getting approved, you may have better luck applying for a store credit card. These are usually easier to qualify for, but they tend to have high interest rates and lousy terms. So treat this route as a last resort and make sure you pay off your balance in full each month to avoid interest.

2. Use your credit card regularly and pay it off every month

You can't build credit by simply carrying a credit card in your name. You have to use it. 

Consider using it to pay for a few of your regular bills each month. This can help you get used to using a credit card without swiping it for things you don't need.

One of the worst things you can do to your credit is miss payments. Set up automatic payments to ensure this doesn't happen, and pay off the full balance whenever possible to avoid interest fees.

3. Carry multiple credit cards

Once you've adjusted to using one credit card responsibly and built up some credit, you can open your next line of credit. Balancing several credit cards at once shows you can manage multiple due dates, which creates a more robust payment history.

You need to be smart about when you apply for credit and how you manage your payments. Stick to one or two applications per year to avoid a negative impact on your score. You can keep track of your payment due dates by setting up notifications with your credit card company and signing up for autopay.

4. Keep a low debt-to-credit ratio

You should use your card regularly, but not enough to max out your credit limit. Always keep your balance low, even if you're paying off the full amount each month. This will help keep your credit utilization low, which is an important component of your credit score.

Essentially, your debt-to-credit ratio -- or your balance(s) in relation to your overall credit limit -- should remain below 30% at all times. If you find yourself hitting your credit limit regularly, request a credit limit increase or consider opening another card. This will decrease your credit utilization, as long as you don't increase your balance.

5. Keep old credit cards open

As your credit score improves, you might find yourself gaining access to more rewarding credit cards. But it's important that you don't close your old credit cards unless they charge an annual fee.

As long as your credit cards aren't costing you anything, keep them open to maintain the length of your credit history and the average age of accounts. Both of these factors play an important role in determining your credit score. It will also keep your overall credit limit high, which helps your credit utilization rate. 

6. Sign up to include your banking and bill payments in your credit score

You no longer have to rely solely on lending information to determine your credit score. Services like UltraFICOTM and Experian Boost can give you alternative ways to boost your credit with existing positive financial data.

UltraFICOTM allows you to choose to include information from your checking and savings account to better demonstrate your financial responsibility. You can also opt in to Experian Boost to allow Experian to access your online banking information and include utility and phone bill payments in your payment history.

7. Go slowly and avoid scams

Building credit takes time. Be wary of  services that claim they can help you immediately or quickly achieve excellent credit without requiring any work on your part. These can be a scam, or at the very least, potentially risky.

You never have to pay money to build your credit. Even though taking out a loan can sometimes help, you shouldn't take on debt that you don't need just to improve your credit score.

Instead, rely on free credit-building methods -- like using credit cards and consistently paying your bills on time. It may take some time, but your diligence will pay off and set you up for future financial success.

Topics: Credit Cards, Cash Back & Rewards

MOVED I Spent Over $1,500 on the Holidays This Year. Here's What I Learned

Posted by Maurie Backman on Dec 30, 2019 10:00:00 AM

The holidays cost me a bundle this year, but I didn't let them wreck my finances. 

The holidays are often called the most wonderful time of the year. To me, they're one part wonderful and one part expensive. 

Don't get me wrong -- I love showering friends and family members with gifts during the holidays. It genuinely brings me joy to be able to do nice things for good people. But it also takes a lot of saving and advanced planning to get through the holidays without racking up debt.

Man in Christmas sweater sitting in front of a pile of gifts while holding a credit card and looking at a document.

This holiday season, in fact, I spent a little over $1,500 in the course of four weeks or less. But thankfully, I did it without wrecking my finances in the process. Here's how I pulled that off -- and how I managed to get past a few hiccups that drove my costs up. 

I started saving in January

Though I have an emergency fund with money set aside for unplanned bills, I don't allow myself to use that account for the holidays. The reason? The holidays aren't an emergency, and also, they're not exactly a surprise. Rather, they come up at the same time every year, so there's ample opportunity to save for them. 

What I usually do is to set money aside each month for that year's holiday spending, beginning in January. This year, I went with $100 a month, which didn't turn out to be enough, but I'll get to that in a minute. By putting that expense in my budget, I was reminded to send $100 a month into a dedicated holiday savings account

I set spending priorities

Going into the holidays, I knew I had a specific amount of money earmarked for seasonal spending. I also realized early on that I'd need to spend that money judiciously if I wanted it to last, so to that end, I set priorities and skimped on or avoided certain expenses that other people tend to pay for at this time of year. 

I was also relatively savvy when it came to shopping. Knowing full well that the best deals can't always be found on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, I started digging around for discounts in mid-November and continued doing so until mid-December, even if it meant cutting it close on the gift-arrival front. 

I made quick adjustments when my costs came in higher than expected

As well as I thought I'd planned for the holidays, I did encounter a few surprise expenses that I neglected to save for. First, friends of mine asked me to participate in a gift exchange that wasn't part of my budget. I felt bad saying no, so I opted in. Next, I wound up hosting a Thanksgiving leftovers swap after a friend put the idea in my head and got me so pumped about it I couldn't not do it. While I didn't have to spend any money on food, buying wine and beer for a dozen people set me back another $50 or so. 

Finally, just when I was convinced I'd finished buying all of my holiday gifts, I suddenly remembered that I'd neglected to purchase anything for the people who run my kids' extracurricular activities. I'd remembered their teachers at school, but not these instructors who no doubt deserved a little something around the holidays, too. 

All told, I wound up spending over $1,500 on the holidays when I thought $1,200 would cut it. Rather than take that $300 from my emergency savings, I cashed in some credit card reward points to cover some of those additional expenses. I also canceled a couple of nights out with friends that probably would've cost $50 or more a pop to make up the difference. 

Avoiding holiday debt

There's a lot of pressure to spend money during the holidays, but if you're starting 2020 with a pile of debt because of them, consider this your wakeup call to not have a repeat. By earmarking money in a savings account every month leading up to the holidays, I didn't have to worry about coming up with that $1,500 all within the same few weeks. And by setting priorities during the holidays, I made the most of the money I had available to me. 

Of course, I did wind up spending a little more than anticipated, but ultimately, had that extra $300 or so been a real hardship, I would've said no to the gift exchange or not done the post-Thanksgiving gathering. 

And that leads to one final point: One of the best ways to avoid hurting your finances during the holidays is to learn to just say no. Remind yourself of that when the 2020 season rolls around, because it could help you avoid a world of debt -- and a world of regret -- at a time when we're all supposed to be celebrating. 

Topics: Credit Cards, Cash Back & Rewards

MOVED How 1 Phone Call Can Get You More Value From Your Credit Card

Posted by Lyle Daly on Dec 26, 2019 4:00:00 PM

It's the credit card trick most consumers aren't using.

If the annual fee on your credit card is coming up for payment, you may be weighing whether the card is worth keeping. The benefits of the best rewards cards can certainly justify their fees, but that's only true if you make the most of them. And if you have multiple credit cards with annual fees, it's more likely that you won't want to pay for all of them.

The typical consumer goes with one of three options: downgrading to a no-annual-fee alternative, canceling the card, or deciding to pay the fee for another year. None of those are necessarily bad ideas, but there is a way you can get a better deal.

Older woman writing something down in notebook while on the phone.

How credit card retention offers work

Credit card companies don't want good cardholders who pay their bills on time to cancel. That's why they have what are known as retention offers. These are offers that representatives in the retention department can make to get you to reconsider.

Common examples of retention offers include:

  • An annual fee waiver
  • Bonus rewards
  • A statement credit after you make a set amount of purchases

To provide a firsthand example, I recently called to cancel a card with a $95 annual fee. Although the representative said she couldn't waive it, she could offer me a $95 statement credit that would apply after I made $95 in purchases, which would effectively cancel out the fee. She also offered me 500 bonus points during each of the next 16 billing cycles when I made at least $500 in purchases, for a potential maximum of 8,000 bonus points.

It doesn't take anything special to get these kinds of offers. You just need to make a cancellation call to your card issuer.

And although conventional wisdom is that you have a better chance at a retention offer if you use the card frequently, this isn't a requirement. I also called to cancel a card with a $149 annual fee. With this card, I immediately stopped using it after I got the sign-up bonus, so there was almost 11 months of inactivity. Despite that, the representative still offered to waive the $149 annual fee for me.

Using retention offers to your advantage

A retention offer can get you some extra value from a credit card you weren't sure about keeping, but that's not the only way to take advantage. You can also see what offers are available for credit cards that you don't want to cancel.

Here's what you do -- call the number on the back of your credit card and say that you're thinking about canceling. Make sure you have a cancellation reason ready. One simple reason is that you're not sure the card's benefits are worth its annual fee.

You'll be transferred to the retention department, where you can tell the representative why you want to cancel the card. Then, it's just a matter of seeing what they offer you. This may be negotiable, so don't be afraid to try asking for more. For example, if they offer you 5,000 bonus points for spending $1,000 in three months, ask if they'll bump it up for 10,000 points for $2,000 in spending.

If you receive a retention offer, you can accept it immediately on the call. The worst-case scenario is that they don't offer you anything. In that case, you can tell them that you've changed your mind and decided to keep the card. You don't need to worry about accidentally canceling a card you wanted to keep, because the representative would need to officially confirm the cancellation with you before processing it.

Maximizing your credit card's value

Considering you can check whether you're eligible for a retention offer in one cancellation call, it's smart to do this with all the credit cards you carry. There's a good chance the card issuer will offer you something of value, and there's no work or risk required on your part.

Topics: Credit Cards, Cash Back & Rewards

MOVED 7 Strategies to Earn More Credit Card Rewards in 2020

Posted by Lyle Daly on Dec 25, 2019 8:00:00 AM


Let's make 2020 your most rewarding year yet.

When you've been using a rewards credit card for a while, you eventually reach the point where you want to take your earnings to the next level. Maybe you earned $700 in cash back last year, but you want to raise that to $1,200 or even $1,500. Or you want to go from 50,000 travel points per year to 100,000.

With the right strategies, it's possible to increase the total rewards you earn by 50%, 100%, or even more. Whether you prefer cash back or travel rewards, here are the changes you can make to get these kinds of results in 2020.

Young woman holding a calculator and a credit card and grinning with satisfaction at the credit card.

1. Apply for at least one new card to earn a sign-up bonus

The consumers who earn the most rewards are always on the lookout for the biggest credit card sign-up bonuses. With bonuses, you can earn a big chunk of cash back or travel points, and it usually takes just a few months.

Considering how quickly you can earn rewards this way, it's smart to apply for at least one card with a sign-up bonus each year. If you think you can manage more cards, then you may want to start looking for a new one each time you complete the requirements for a bonus.

2. Combine a flat-rate rewards card and a card with bonus categories

There are two types of rewards credit cards:

  • Flat-rate cards -- These earn one rate, such as 1.5% back on all your spending.
  • Bonus category cards -- These earn higher bonus rates in certain spending categories, such as 3% back at grocery stores. On regular spending, they typically earn 1% back.

To get the best of both worlds, you should carry each type of card. You'd use your bonus category card in any of the categories where it will earn you extra points and your flat-rate card for everything else. 

3. Review your spending to choose the right bonus category card

It's important to choose a bonus category card that you'll be able to use often. For that reason, you should review your spending to find the categories where you spend the most money.

There are a few ways you can do this. You could review all your expenses for the past month. If you want to go back further, you could use an entire year. Another option is to look at your monthly budget.

This will give you a good idea of whether you'll benefit most from a card that earns more back at grocery stores, restaurants, or another spending category.

4. Check the special offers your credit card company sends you

Credit card companies occasionally send out special offers that give you the opportunity to earn extra points. For example, I've seen offers of 500 to 1,000 points for either making at least three contactless card payments or for using a card at least three times through a payment app.

Offers like these aren't difficult to complete, so make sure you check any emails from your card issuer.

5. Use the shopping portals for your rewards cards

Most credit card companies have shopping portals. A shopping portal is a site you visit through your online credit card account, and it contains an assortment of merchant sites where you can shop to earn extra points. Under each merchant, the portal will list the number of additional points you earn per $1 spent.

Click the link from your card issuer's shopping portal to visit the store you'd like to shop in. You'll then earn extra points on any purchase you make.

6. See if you can get retention offers for the cards you already have

The last thing a credit card company wants is to lose a cardholder. To avoid that, it may offer you something extra if you want to cancel your card. This is known as a retention offer, and it could be an annual fee waiver, bonus rewards, or anything else the card issuer can provide to retain clients.

You can take advantage of this by calling your card issuer and telling them that you're thinking about canceling your card. The worst-case scenario is that they don't offer you anything, in which case you can always say that you've changed your mind and you want to keep the card. But there's also a good chance that you'll get a retention offer.

7. Consider carrying more than one bonus category card

Although a flat-rate card and a bonus category card are a great combination, you can earn even more by carrying multiple cards with different bonus categories.

It's obviously better from a rewards perspective to have more bonus categories where you can earn extra. The downside is that you'll have more credit cards to manage. That means more bills you need to pay on time, and you'll also need to remember which card to use for each purchase. If you can handle that, then it's worth expanding the number of bonus category cards you use.

Maxing out your rewards

It's never a good idea to spend more money in the pursuit of credit card rewards. That's why you need to find ways to earn as much back as possible on your normal expenses. By adopting some or all of the strategies above, you'll be able to wring a lot more rewards out of your typical spending.

Topics: Credit Cards, Cash Back & Rewards

MOVED 4 Common Credit Card Fees You Don't Need to Pay

Posted by Kailey Hagen on Dec 24, 2019 4:00:00 PM

Credit card companies set their own terms, but you get some influence over which ones apply to you.

Credit cards have their perks, but they also have their price. And that price can get very expensive if you run up a balance you can't pay back. Choosing the wrong credit card can also cost you in lost rewards and additional fees. The good news is, you can avoid many of these costs by choosing the right card and managing your money responsibly. Here are four credit card fees you don't have to pay.

Young woman holding credit card and looking at laptop screen suspiciously.

1. Annual fee

There are so many rewards credit cards available today that don't charge an annual fee, you shouldn't pay for one unless you want to. In rare cases, it might be worth it -- for example, if you're paying for a premium travel credit card that offers free travel vouchers and free luggage. But you should always do the math first to calculate whether the rewards you'll earn outweigh the cost of the annual fee. If not, move on to a different card.

Read the fine print carefully when signing up for a new card. It may be that the annual fee is only free or discounted in the first year, but then a standard fee kicks in in the second year. Check the cardholder agreement to learn about the card's annual fees, including any promotional rates. 

You may be able to negotiate a reduced annual fee with your card issuer, or even eliminate it completely. But card issuers don't have to agree. If you've had the card for a long time, you can use your loyalty as leverage and threaten to switch to a different credit card if they don't comply. Be prepared to make good on that threat if your card issuer denies your request.

2. Foreign transaction fees

You can incur foreign transaction fees when you use your credit card in a foreign country. This fee is often 3% of the transaction and you'll pay it every single time you use your credit card on your trip. It's possible to rack up quite a bit if you're not aware of these fees. 

Most top travel rewards credit cards don't charge foreign transaction fees, so choose one of these cards if you're planning to travel abroad. Check the cardholder agreement on your existing credit cards if you're unsure about whether they have foreign transaction fees. Another option for getting around these fees is to rely primarily on cash while you're abroad. It's still a good idea to have a credit card for backup, though, in case there's an emergency or you run out of cash.

3. Interest

Everyone knows that if you don't run up a balance you can't pay back, you'll never pay a dime in credit card interest. However, that knowledge isn't especially useful if you already have credit card debt. In this case, you can still avoid interest payments temporarily -- and possibly forever -- if you use a balance transfer card

These cards have 0% introductory APRs for six to 21 months. Pay off your balance within this timeframe and you won't need to pay any more interest. Balance transfers usually have a fee attached -- often a percentage of the balance you're transferring -- but this option will probably still be more affordable than continuing to deal with the interest you are paying right now.

If you cannot pay the full balance back within the introductory APR period, your remaining balance will begin accruing interest at the standard APR unless you transfer that remaining balance to another balance transfer card. 

4. Late fees

Late payments can hurt your credit, and they also come with late fees, which can make your balance more difficult to pay back. Your card issuer may charge you up to $28 for your first late payment and up to $39 for any additional late payments. But you can easily avoid these fees by always paying your credit card bill on time. Set up automatic payments, if possible, or set reminders for yourself so you remember to pay the bill by the due date.

The only things you should have to worry about paying for are the purchases you charge to your credit card. Read through the cardholder agreement before you sign up with a new credit card and make sure you understand all the associated costs. Then, choose and use your cards responsibly so you can avoid the four fees mentioned here.

Topics: Credit Cards, Cash Back & Rewards