Good evening, Dear Reader. And it is…a good evening, right? You slept in a bed under a roof. You could have had breakfast, or maybe you actually did. You put on clean clothes – maybe. You picked up your phone or logged into some device to read this. In other words, you had choices, and that’s my point. If you have a job that pays (in the U.S.A.) $17+ an hour, you are making a living wage. If you have a running vehicle, a place to live, and food in your belly, you have more than 80% of the 7+Billion people on the planet. Stop being such a sourpuss.
We are continuing our Things To Let Go Of series, kicking off the new year with Bad Money Habits. If you want to go back to the beginning, click here. We started off with hitting on debt reduction and honestly, to recap, reducing debt (in theory) is simple. Reduce expenses, increase revenue. Don’t accumulate any more debt until you comfortably can pay for it. I say it is simple in theory because it really is nothing more than basic math. But, most of us got into debt or can’t save effectively because of our thoughts, feelings, and experiences surrounding money in the first place. I don’t have time to address that today – the entire first part of my blogging back in 2011-2015 was about getting out of the consumer mindset. You can go back to those, or really…watch this documentary and start reading my favorite blogger, Joshua Becker from start to present. I, literally, can not thank this man enough for getting me on my road to rational minimalism.
Managing money is easy. Managing our emotions about money is…well…a bit more complicated.
But. As promised…I’m moving into my ‘how to’ guide for raising your credit score. Grab a drink and settle in. I’m going to tell you how I raised mine from 480 to 720 in a little over 2 years.
- Get your reports. You are entitled to one free credit report from all three agencies one time a year. To monitor for identity theft or weird things on my credit, I don’t get all three of mine at once. I order TransUnion in January, Experian in April, and Equifax in November. That way, if something odd happens to appear, I’m not waiting an entire year to find out. I also subscribe to Credit Karma (and I look at that thing once a day, sometimes two because I’m a bit retentive.) Go on…put it on your calendar with a yearly reminder. Then mosey on over to this site and get your free report. Once you have your report, you’ll be able to list all your debt and decide what debt storm to use as I mentioned here to pay it off. You will also look for things that do not belong to you. I found a collection from Go Daddy on mine and I was able to dispute it (you can easily do this yourself, do not pay someone to do it for you) and start working with your creditors to move payment dates or to lower your interest. I recommend checking out this site for more detailed information.
- On-time, every time. I mentioned this in my last post, but I can not stress this enough. Late payments are a detriment to your score. A late payment on your mortgage can put a ding there that leaves quite a scar for a bit. If your payments fall in odd places (like three payments due on the 13th, but you don’t get paid until the 15th), then call your creditors and ask them if they will move your payment to another day (like the 16th, in this example). Some of them will. If they won’t, then sell a bunch of crap you no longer need or get a second job and put a month’s worth of living expenses into your account so, essentially, you are ‘ahead’ in the math game.
- Join a credit union with a ‘credit builder’ program. If you are local to SW Missouri (417-Land) I recommend this one or this one. Why a credit union (CU)? CUs are nonprofit organizations and many of them have financial literacy (financial wellness) programs to help people restore their credit. If yours does, then get on a first-name basis with the person in charge of that program. Use every resource and every piece of advice they give you. I mean, I like Dave Ramsey – I’ve seen him live and I agree with a lot of his methods – but I don’t idolize him. And I don’t follow 80% of his advice. So, if you drink his kool-aid…then you’re not gonna like the rest of what I’m going to tell you.
- Get a ‘Secured Credit Card’ (SCC). Remember my ’emergency fund’ I mentioned last time? I took my emergency fund and applied for an SCC with it. An SCC is just that…secured. This means you have to give them YOUR money to ‘secure’ that card. I don’t have space to explain it, but you can read about it here. So. I got my SCC with my $1500 and it DOES function as my emergency fund 99.9% of the time. The other part of the time? I use it wisely to play a game. I use it to buy gas and pay for anything I buy online. NOW…I don’t buy things I don’t already have the money for – I just use the SCC because it is more secure for online purchases than using a debit card. Anything I would normally buy anyway (Netflix, gas, Spotify, toilet paper, dishsoap) is set up to be ‘charged’ on my card. Then I…
- Play the game. I pay for some of the expenses that hit every week. So, if my Netflix ($12) and Spotify ($10) hit my SCC on Tuesday, and I buy TP and Dawn at Walmart.com, I pay those charges on Friday so a payment is hitting my card every single week (Newsflash: You can pay your credit card bills more than once a month). Now…here’s where the game comes into play. Find out when your actual payment is due (Let’s say it’s due on the 20th), figure out what 30% of your credit limit is (Let’s say it is $300), and find out when the Credit Union is going to report to the credit agencies (Let’s say they report on the 24th). Armed with this information…make the MINIMUM payment due on or right before the due date (In our scenario – the 20th). Make sure you have JUST UNDER the 30% left on the day they report to the credit agency (I’ll usually pay my Verizon bill on the 21st and get gas so that I’m right under BUT NOT OVER that 30% of credit limit threshold). Then, on the first of the month, I pay the balance in full and start the clock for the next month. That seems complicated now that I type it out, so I recommend the video on this page.
- Diversify your debt. You’re about to see why I go off the rails when it comes to Dave Ramsey’s advice. I use debt and credit to my advantage and I use it wisely. I do not subscribe to the ‘have no debt’ and we may not agree here. You do you. But, back to my point on diversified debt. You’ll need an installment loan (i.e. Car loan, student loans, etc.), a revolving credit line (I have my SCC, a store card, and a credit card for a home improvement store – which comes in handy when remodeling), and finally, a mortgage loan THAT YOU CAN AFFORD. I know my credit score will most likely not increase much more than where it is now until I add a mortgage to my list of creditors. I am okay with this. A note if you are renting: See if you can talk your rental agency/landlord into using a service that reports to the credit bureaus. (Word of caution: Now you’ll be on the hook to pay rent on time so DO THAT!). Lastly, Experian will do a ‘boost’ a few times a year and bring in things like your cell phone company and some utility agencies. I share a home with a relative. The mortgage loan is in her name, but my name is on all the other expenses (Cable, utilities, etc.). I use the Experian boost (It’s free!) once a year. This is only effective if you pay those bills on time. You don’t want bad stuff hitting your credit reports.
So yeah. That’s it really. I think I mentioned that I am working on getting my student loan debt down to 50% of what is owed over the next ten years. Why just 50%? Because I’ve worked with my loan company to get on a specific repayment plan that allows for student loan forgiveness after on-time payments over so many years. To be transparent, I wouldn’t be mad if Biden and his administration got their shit together to forgive student loan debt BUT I do understand that I made the decision to go to school and I made the decision to take on debt related to that endeavor. I own all of that responsibility. But, since most of what would be left would be interest anyway so I can sleep at night knowing I paid what I borrowed. In other words…I don’t feel guilty about using the tools at my disposal when it comes to paying down that debt.
Notice we still haven’t talked about budgets. We’ll do that next time. Want a head start? Okay, then. Stop buying shit you don’t need and start paying for the shit you already bought. That doesn’t seem too hard to understand, but then again, I’m an INTJ so I can be a bit abbrasive. You want someone nicer to hold your hand through all of that? Then go on down to that Credit Union. They’ll even give you a lolipop. Ain’t that sweet?
That’s all I’ve got today. I don’t even have a really good song that ties into this post at all, so how about I just leave you with this one: Wind & Sky. Brandon Moore is a local singer/songwriter in my hometown and just a f*cking good human. You can’t help but smile in his presence. Wind & Sky is one of my absolute favorite songs on the planet. I want it played on loop at my funeral, I like it that much. You’re welcome.