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We’re halfway through 2024. It’s a good time to check your credit

By Lauren Schwahn | NerdWallet

We’ve reached the midpoint of 2024. As you reflect on the first six months of the year, you may be wondering how you’re doing financially. Checking up on your credit health is a good starting point.

“People’s insurance rates, the fact that they can get approved for an apartment or even be employed by certain entities is being determined in part by credit scores and their credit reports,” says Michelle Smoley, an accredited financial counselor in Elma, Iowa. “It’s really, really important for people to keep on top of their credit report and their credit scores because they’re used for more than just consumer lending purposes.”

Here’s how to figure out where your credit stands and what you can do to protect it over the next six months.

Inspect your credit reports

Pull your credit reports from the three main credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You can use AnnualCreditReport.com to get free copies as often as once per week. Checking your reports yourself doesn’t directly affect your credit score, but it can help shed light on details that may be damaging your credit.

What should you look for? Make sure personal information, such as your name and address, is correct.

“Any errors or unusual information there might be a clue that somebody is trying to steal your identity,” says Bruce McClary, senior vice president of memberships and communications at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. “It’s a tactic of identity thieves to apply for credit under P.O. boxes or addresses that are not really yours.”

Review the accounts and credit inquiries listed on your reports too. If negative items like bankruptcies or collections appear, make sure they aren’t outdated (most derogatory marks are supposed to fall off credit reports after seven years). Immediately file a dispute with the credit bureaus if you see anything inaccurate or unfamiliar. In many cases if the issue is corrected, “you’ll see a lift in your credit score,” McClary says.

Check your reports throughout the rest of the year — and beyond — for anything fishy. You can also protect yourself by freezing your credit, which blocks access to your reports.

Check your credit score

If you’re planning a big purchase, such as a car or home, knowing your credit score and whether you could positively impact it beforehand can help you get approved for credit or for a more favorable interest rate, Smoley says.

You won’t see credit scores on your credit reports, but you can get them elsewhere for free.

“So many people have access to either their FICO score or their VantageScore through their financial institution or their credit card,” Smoley says.

Generally, a score of 690 or higher puts you in a good position. But even if your credit score is strong, it isn’t guaranteed to stay that way. Always be thinking about how to keep your score at that level or grow it so you can qualify for the best possible deal when it comes time to apply for a loan or a line of credit, McClary says.

Knowing the factors that influence credit scores may guide you. Actions like paying your bills on time or becoming an authorized user on a relative’s credit card to expand your credit history can bump up your score.

Make a plan for your debt

Carrying debt can wreak havoc on your credit score because more than half of your score is based on two factors: whether you make payments on time and how much of your credit limit you use.

If you’ve lost track of your debt — maybe it’s been a while since you’ve made a payment on an account or it’s been passed around several debt collection agencies — your credit report can tell you who is managing that account and how much you owe, McClary says.

Once you know what you’re dealing with, set due date reminders and try to make at least the minimum monthly payment on each account. Note that while medical debt may disappear from credit reports early next year, your obligation to pay it won’t.

Making extra payments on credit cards with high balances can help your score too. Keeping your credit utilization ratio below 30% is ideal.

Do your best to save up for purchases you’ll make in the often expensive second half of the year, and pay them off as soon as possible. Summer vacations, back-to-school spending and holiday shopping can put a strain on credit utilization.

If you shop for a mortgage or auto loan, limit applications to a 14-day period to avoid multiple hard pulls from lenders on your credit report, which hurt scores, Smoley says. Credit scoring models generally count all inquiries made within this time frame as a single hard pull.

Keep monitoring your credit health to avoid surprises at the end of the year. “If you don’t know where to start, you can talk to a nonprofit credit counseling agency,” McClary says. “A nonprofit credit counseling agency can work with you, first of all, to understand what you’re seeing on your credit report, and then understand your options for dealing with some of these things. So you don’t have to go through it alone.”

Lauren Schwahn writes for NerdWallet. Email: lschwahn@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @lauren_schwahn.


Source: Berkshire mont

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