Clean Up Your Credit This Spring!
By Taylor Spangler, project assistant at MEACA (Marketplace Exchanges of the Afffordable Care Act)
Reviewed by Michael Gutter, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida
This post is in honor of Financial Literacy Month.
Ah, spring! The birds are singing, the flowers are blooming, and it’s time to freshen up the place. As you clean out the closets, take inventory of the pantry, and organize the garage, why not consider adding your credit to your spring cleaning to-do list? Follow these three steps to “spruce up” your credit profile today.
1. Let the light in!
Start by obtaining a free copy of your credit report from www.annualcreditreport.com. You may request your report from each of the three credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) once each year. If it has been a while since you pulled your reports, or you are about to apply for a loan, consider pulling all three at once. Monitor your reports by staggering your requests to each bureau every four months. Your report will detail all of your credit activity, including account balances, payment history, requests for new credit, and other public records. If you are unable to access your report online, print out the Annual Credit Report Request Form (available from www.annualcreditreport.com) and mail it to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. Or order your report by phone at 1-877-322-8228.
2. Knock out credit cobwebs.
Next, review the information in your credit report. If you find any incorrect information (like fraudulent activity or mistakes, such as a medical bill that was disputed with the hospital but sent to a debt collection agency), correct it! Fixing errors on your report currently requires you to contact the credit bureaus directly to correct the charges:
- Equifax, (800) 685-1111, www.equifax.com
- Experian, (888) 397-3742, www.experian.com
- Trans Union, (800) 916-8800, www.transunion.com
3. Clean up your credit habits.
Commit to improving your credit this year with a few good behaviors.
- Wipe out late payments. Pay on time every month, even if you are making the minimum payment.
- Shrink your balances. Aim to keep revolving credit balances below 30% of your limit (for example, if you have a $1,000 credit limit, try to keep your balance under $300). Always try to pay more than the minimum payment, and prioritize accounts with higher interest rates first.
- Check-in with your progress. Remember that changes to your credit file can take several months, so set a reminder to monitor your credit all year. Pencil in a credit check-up every four months (keeping in mind that you have access to one copy of each of your three credit reports each year).
March is Credit Education Month. Check with your local Extension office and financial institutions for classes and resources to help you learn about your credit history and ways to improve your credit score. Enjoy a “clean” credit score this spring!
You and Your Credit–from UF-IFAS EDIS
Photo by BernardaSv/iStock