With the economy slowing and holidays just around the corner, many consumers may be looking to credit cards to help them get through the heavy shopping season. While that may be a good short-term solution, you want to make sure you don't overlook the long-term impact on your credit rating. After all, the actions you take today could hang over your head for years to come--and may make it tough for you to get the home loan or car loan you want in the future.
To help you make sure you manage your credit cards--and your credit score--during the upcoming holiday spending season, follow these steps:
Double-check your card limits. Many credit card companies today have started lowering credit limits. That means you have less credit available, but it also may mean that your credit score is about to take a hit. That's because approximately 30% of your credit score is based on the amount you owe in relation to your available credit. So, if a credit card company cuts back your limit, you may find that you're suddenly almost maxed out. That's not a good sign for your long-term credit score rating.
Ask, pay down, or move around. If some of your credit limits have changed or are nearly maxed out, you can take a few steps to help alleviate the problem. First, consider simply asking for a higher limit to your card...not necessarily to use up with spending, but to allow more unused credit line to be available and therefore boost your credit score. You can also pay more money to the cards that are near the credit limit, if you can. Or, if you have cards with little to no remaining credit line, transfer some of the larger balances onto the cards with lower balances. That'll give you a more... well... balanced financial picture.
Leave home without it. One of the best tips for the holiday season is to: make a budget, identify specific items, and then leave home without your credit card. Instead, bring just enough cash to purchase the items on your list. That will help you resist the urge to impulse buy, and keep your credit card balances lower.
Pick a card... not just any card. If you can't bring cash, make a credit card plan. Identify specific items that you'll pay for on specific cards. By making a plan and spreading your purchases to different cards, you won't overspend and you won't risk running up one or two cards that are near the credit limit, which will hurt your credit rating.
Resist card offers at the counter. Retailers are famous for offering "savings" when you open a credit card. But those savings often don't outweigh the long- and short-term negatives. For one thing, opening a new account--or multiple accounts in a short period of time--can negatively impact your credit score. In addition, consumers often spend more than planned when a new card is suddenly available. So this holiday season, resist the temptation.
Stay active. If you have older cards that you don't use, make sure you keep them active. For one thing, some of those older cards help establish a longer history of positive credit. For another, the available credit on those older cards can help keep your credit score higher because it improves your overall debt-to-credit ratio. To keep those cards active, make sure you charge one or two items on them throughout the year... like, say, when you go shopping for the holidays. Then, pay them off when the bill comes in.
Always pay on time. Your payment record is a very large part of your credit score, so it's crucial that you have an idea how your holiday shopping will impact your credit card bills and that you make a plan to pay those bills on time. If you have trouble for any reason, contact your card companies right away to work out a plan that helps you pay down your debt... and save your credit rating from a huge hit.
Information compliments of Wendy Tannenbaum