HOLLAND, Mich. — Your credit score is just a number, but it can make a difference in your ability to get a loan, house, or even a job ,and after a tough year for finances, now is an important time to pay attention to your score.
“You need to have options, and you need to be able to have access, and all of that boils right back down to your credit score,” says Bree Austin-Roberts, a credit expert and founder of Lakeshore Credit Management and Repair Services in Holland. “I think it was a reality check for a lot of people to saying, 'Hey, it’s time for me to start thinking about my financial situation.'”
Bree’s story is similar to so many of her clients. A few years ago, before she founded her credit repair business, she and her family were evicted from their apartment. Searching for a house and facing homelessness, Bree noticed a similar roadblock everywhere she looked.
“The credit became a problem,” she said. “It always boiled back down to the credit.”
Bree buckled down on payments and in no time had raised her credit score enough to move her family into a home and start up her business. Now helping others achieve the same success, Bree says a few simple adjustments can make a big difference. Her first call was to the three major credit bureaus to check the accuracy of her score.
“Like 80 percent of people in the United States have something that’s inaccurate on their credit report, but a lot of people don’t know because they don’t monitor their credit.”
So start by checking with TransUnion, Equifax and Experian on the accuracy of your score.
If you’re having a tough time making payments this year on bills or installment loans (which Bree says you should always have at least one of), try contacting your creditors to see if they can delay payments or work out some sort of payment plan that works for you.
“Directly related to the pandemic, a lot of lenders are being very lenient,” said Bree.
In addition to making all your monthly credit card payments on time when you can, Bree says it also matters how often you use your credit card, and on what. She says most repair experts will recommend you keep your card usage below 30 percent, but Bree recommends a lower limit for her clients.
“When you’re in the building process, you want to keep it 10 percent or below,” she said. “If you’re planning on making a major purchase in like 30 to 60 days, you probably want to keep your credit card balances between 1 and 3 percent.”
Other tips include becoming an authorized user on a loved one’s credit card. If they have good credit, spending responsibly on their account could help boost your score faster. Just have them ask their bank or credit union about adding you as an authorized user.
You can also open a secured card on your own. A secured credit card is essentially a prepaid card that ensures you don’t miss payments.
And remember: no credit doesn’t mean good credit. Lenders want to see you can responsibly handle debt.
“Having something to report is positive, but it’s the amount that reports that shows your credit worthiness,” said Bree.
What it boils down to, Bree says, is having good habits and sticking to them. Building or rebuilding credit is a marathon, not a sprint, and Bree says patience is key.
“I was never always a credit expert. It was trial and error,” she said. “I have been there before, and it doesn’t take much to end up right back there again if you’re not budgeting well--if you’re not being credit conscious.”
You can reach Bree at firstname.lastname@example.org or on her website or her Facebook and use the hashtags #lakeshoreCredit and #CreditQueen to join the conversation with her.