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How to Build Good Credit in 10 Painless Steps | Pennyhoarder

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If you want to whip your finances into shape, here’s a good New Year’s resolution: improving your credit score.

A lot of New Year’s resolutions fail because they’re so extreme. Think of all the bonkers weight-loss and money-saving goals that surface at the start of every year.

This resolution is different. No extreme measures are required. But there aren’t any shortcuts. Building good credit is a goal you need to commit to 12 months a year.

How to Build Good Credit in 10 Steps

Ready to make 2021 the year you finally prove your creditworthiness? Or are you looking to recover from a 2020 setback? Here’s how to build good credit in 10 steps.

1. Stay on Top of Your Credit Reports

It’s essential to monitor your credit reports, especially if you received a hardship agreement from a lender due to COVID-19. Under the CARES Act rules, lenders are supposed to report your account as paid in full while the agreement is in effect, as long as you weren’t already delinquent. But mistakes happen. Even in normal times, about 1 in 5 credit reports contained inaccurate information.

Through April 2021, you can get one free credit report per week from each bureau. (Typically, you’re only entitled to one free credit report per year from each bureau.) Make sure you access your reports at AnnualCreditReport.com, rather than one of the many websites that offer “free” credit scores but will make you put down your credit card number to sign up for a trial. File a dispute with the bureaus if you find anything you think is inaccurate or any accounts you don’t recognize.

Your credit reports won’t show you your credit score, but you can use a free credit-monitoring service to check your score. (No, checking your own credit doesn’t hurt your score.) Many banks and credit card companies also give you your credit scores for free.

Pro Tip

If the bureaus agree to remove information from your credit reports, expect to wait about 30 days until your reports are updated.

2. Pay Your Bills. On Time. Every Single Month

Yeah, you knew we were going to say this: Paying your bills on time is the No. 1 thing you can do to build good credit. Your payment history determines 35% of your score, more than any other credit factor.

Set whatever bills you can to autopay for at least the minimums to avoid missing payments. You can always pay extra if you can afford it.

A strong payment history takes time to build. If you’ve made late payments, they’ll stay on your credit reports for seven years. The good news is, they do the most damage to your score in the first two years. After that, the impact starts to fade.

3. Establish Credit, Even if You’ve Made Mistakes

You typically need a credit card or loan to build a credit history. (Sorry, but all those on-time rent and utility payments are rarely reported to the credit bureaus, so they won’t help your score.)

But if you have bad credit or you’re a credit newbie, getting approved for a credit card or loan is tough. Look for cards that are specifically marketed to help people start or rebuild credit. Store credit cards, which only let you make purchases at a specific retailer, can also be a good option.

4. Open a Secured Card if You Don’t Qualify for a Regular Card

Opening a secured credit card is one of our favorite ways to build a positive history when you can’t get approved for a regular credit card or loan. You put down a refundable deposit, and that becomes your line of credit.

After about a year of making your payments on time, you’ll typically qualify for an unsecured line of credit. Just make sure the card issuer you choose reports your payments to the credit bureaus. Look for a card with an annual fee of no more than $35. Some secured card options we like (and no, we’re not getting paid to say this):

  • Discover it Secured
  • OpenSky Secured Visa Card
  • Secured Mastercard from Capital One

5. Ask for a Limit Increase. Pretend You Never Got It

Increasing your credit limits helps your score because it decreases your credit utilization ratio. That’s credit score speak for the percentage of credit you’re using. The standard recommendation is to keep this number below 30%, but really, the closer to zero the better.

If you have open credit, ask your current creditors for an increase, rather than applying for new credit. That way, you’ll avoid lowering your length of credit, which could ding your score.

The downside of a higher credit limit: You’ll have more money to spend that isn’t really yours. To get the biggest credit score boost from a limit increase and avoid paying more in interest, make sure you don’t add to your balance.

Pro Tip

Don’t believe the myth that carrying a small credit card balance helps your credit score. Paying off your balance in full each month is best for your score, plus it saves you money on interest.

6. Prioritize Credit Card Debt Over Loans

Tackling credit card debt helps your credit score a lot more than paying down other debts, like a student loan or mortgage. The reason? Your credit utilization ratio is determined exclusively by your lines of credit.

Bonus: Paying off credit card debt first will typically save you money, because credit cards tend to have higher interest rates than other types of debt.

7. Keep Your Old Accounts Active

Provided you aren’t paying ridiculous fees, keep your credit card accounts open once you’ve paid off the balance. Credit scoring methods reward you for having a long credit history.

Make a purchase at least once every three months on the account, as credit card companies often close inactive accounts. Then pay it off in full.

8. Apply for New Credit Selectively

When you apply for credit, it results in a hard inquiry, which usually drops your score by a few points. So avoid applying frequently for new credit cards, as this can signal financial distress.

But if you’re in the market for a mortgage or loan, don’t worry about multiple inquiries. As long as you limit your shopping to a 45-day window, credit bureaus will treat it as a single inquiry, so the impact on your score will be minimal.

9. Still Overwhelmed? A Debt Consolidation Loan Could Help

If you’re struggling with credit card debt, consolidating your credit card debt with a loan could be a good option. In a nutshell, you take out a loan to wipe out your credit card balances.

You’ll get the simplicity of a single payment, plus you’ll typically pay less interest since loan interest rates tend to be lower. (If you can’t get a loan that lowers your interest rate, this probably isn’t a good option.)

By using a loan to pay off your credit cards, you’ll also free up credit and lower your credit utilization ratio.

Many debt consolidation loans require a credit score of about 620. If your score falls below this threshold, work on improving your score for a few months before you apply for one.

10. Keep Your Credit Score in Perspective

All the credit-monitoring tools out there make it easy to obsess about your credit score. While it’s important to build good credit, look at the bigger picture. A few final thoughts:

  • Your credit score isn’t a report card on the state of your finances. It simply measures how risky of a borrower you are. Having an emergency fund, saving for retirement and earning a decent living are all important to your finances — but these are all things that don’t affect your credit score.
  • Lenders look at more than your credit score. Having a low debt-to-income ratio, decent down payment and steady paycheck all increase your odds of approval when you’re making a big purchase, even if your credit score is lackluster.
  • Don’t focus on your score if you can’t pay for necessities. If you’re struggling and you have to choose between paying your credit card vs. paying your rent, keeping food on the table or getting medical care, paying your credit card is always the lower priority. Of course, talk to your creditors if you can’t afford to pay them, as they may have options.

Focus on your overall financial picture, and you’ll probably see your credit score improve, too. Remember, though, that while credit scores matter, you matter more.

Now go crush those goals in 2021 and beyond.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder. She writes the Dear Penny personal finance advice column. Send your tricky money questions to DearPenny@thepennyhoarder.com.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, a personal finance website that empowers millions of readers nationwide to make smart decisions with their money through actionable and inspirational advice, and resources about how to make, save and manage money.

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Bad Credit

How to Avoid a Prepayment Penalty When Paying Off a Loan | Pennyhoarder

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Look at you, so responsible. You received a financial windfall — stimulus check, tax refund, work bonus, inheritance, whatever — and you’re using it to pay off one of your debts years ahead of schedule.

Good for you! Except… make sure you don’t get charged a prepayment penalty.

Now wait just a minute, you say. I’m paying the money back early — early! — and my lender thanks me by charging me a fee?

Well, in some cases, yes.

A prepayment penalty is a fee lenders use to recoup the money they’ll lose when you’re no longer paying interest on the loan. That interest is how they make their money.

But you can avoid the trap — or at least a big payout if you’ve already signed the loan contract. We’ll explain.

What Is a Loan Prepayment Penalty?

A prepayment penalty is a fee lenders charge if you pay off all or part of your loan early.

Typically, a prepayment penalty only applies if you pay off the entire balance – for example, because you sold your car or are refinancing your mortgage – within a specific timeframe (usually within three years of when you accepted the loan).

In some cases, a prepayment penalty could apply if you pay off a large amount of your loan all at once.

Prepayment penalties do not normally apply if you pay extra principal in small chunks at a time, but it’s always a good idea to double check with the lender and your loan agreement.

What Loans Have Prepayment Penalties?

Most loans do not include a prepayment penalty. They are typically applied to larger loans, like mortgages and sometimes auto loans — although personal loans can also include this sneaky fee.

Credit unions and banks are your best options for avoiding loans that include prepayment penalties, according to Charles Gallagher, a consumer law attorney in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Unfortunately, if you have bad credit and can’t get a loan from traditional lenders, private loan alternatives are the most likely to include the prepayment penalty.

Pro Tip

If your loan includes a prepayment penalty, the contract should state the time period when it may be imposed, the maximum penalty and the lender’s contact information.

”The more opportunistic and less fair lenders would be the ones who would probably be assessing [prepayment penalties] as part of their loan terms,” he said, “I wouldn’t say loan sharking… but you have to search down the list for a less preferable lender.”

Prepayment Penalties for Mortgages

Although you’ll find prepayment penalties in auto and personal loans, a more common place to find them is in home loans. Why? Because a lender who agrees to a 30-year mortgage term is banking on earning years worth of interest to make money off the amount it’s loaning you.

That prepayment penalty can apply if you want to pay off your loan early, sell your house or even refinance, depending on the terms of your mortgage.

However, if there is a prepayment penalty in the contract for a more recent mortgage, there are rules about how long it can be in effect and how much you can owe.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ruled that for mortgages made after Jan. 10, 2014, the maximum prepayment penalty a lender can charge is 2% of the loan balance. And prepayment penalties are only allowed in mortgages if all of the following are true:

  1. The loan has a fixed interest rate.
  2. The loan is considered a “qualified mortgage” (meaning it can’t have features like negative amortization or interest-only payments).
  3. The loan’s annual percentage rate can’t be higher than the Average Prime Offer Rate (also known as a higher-priced mortgage).

So suppose you bought a house last year and then wanted to sell your home. If your mortgage meets all of the above criteria and has a prepayment penalty clause in the mortgage contract, you could end up paying a penalty of 2% on the remaining balance — for a loan you still owe $200,000 on, that comes out to an extra $4,000.

Prepayment penalties apply for only the first few years of a mortgage — the CFPB’s rule allows for a maximum of three years. But again, check your mortgage agreement for your exact terms.

The prepayment penalty won’t apply to FHA, VA or USDA loans but can apply to conventional mortgages — although the penalty is much less common than it was before the CFPB’s ruling.

“It’s more of private loans — loans for people who’ve maybe had some struggles and can’t qualify for a Fannie or Freddie loan,” Gallagher said. “That block of lending is the one going to be most hit by this.”

How to Find Out If a Loan Will Have a Prepayment Penalty

The best way to avoid a prepayment penalty is to read your contract — or better yet, have a professional (like an attorney or CPA) who understands the terminology, review it.

“You should read the entirety of the loan, as painful as that sounds, because lenders may try to hide it,” Gallagher said. “Generally, it would be under repayment terms or the language that deals with the payoff of the loan or selling your house.”

Gallagher rattled off a list of alternative terms a lender could use in the contract, including:

  • Sale before a certain timeframe.
  • Refinance before a term.
  • Prepayment prior to maturity.

“They avoid using the word ‘penalty,’ obviously, because that would give a reader of the note, mortgage or the loan some alarm,” he said.

If you’re negotiating the terms — as say, with an auto loan — don’t let a salesperson try to pressure you into signing a contract without agreeing to a simple interest contract with no prepayment penalty. Better yet, start by applying for a pre-approved auto loan so you can get a pro to review any contracts before you sign.

Pro Tip

Do you have less-than-sterling credit? Watch out for pre-computed loans, in which interest is front-loaded, ensuring the lender collects more in interest no matter how quickly you pay off the loan.

If your lender presents you with a contract that includes a prepayment penalty, request a loan that does not include a prepayment penalty. The new contract may have other terms that make that loan less advantageous (like a higher interest rate), but you’ll at least be able to compare your options.

How Can You Find Out if Your Current Loan Has a Prepayment Penalty?

If a loan has a prepayment penalty, the servicer must include information about the penalty on either your monthly statement or in your loan coupon book (the slips of paper you send with your payment every month).

You can also ask your lender about the terms regarding your penalty by calling the number on your monthly billing statement or read the documents you signed when you closed the loan — look for the same terms mentioned above.

What to Do if You’re Stuck in a Loan With Prepayment Penalty

If you do discover that your loan includes a prepayment penalty, you still have some options.

First, check your contract.

If you’ll incur a fee for paying off your loan early within the first few years, consider holding onto the money until the penalty period expires.

Pro Tip

If you don’t have a loan with a prepayment penalty, contact your lender before sending additional money to ensure your payment is going toward principal — not interest or fees.

Additionally, although you may get socked with a penalty for paying off the loan balance early, it’s likely you can still make extra payments toward the balance. Review your contract or ask your lender what amount will trigger the penalty, Gallagher said.

If you’re paying off multiple types of debt, consider paying off the accounts that do not trigger prepayment penalties — credit cards and federal student loans don’t charge prepayment penalties.

Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer/editor at The Penny Hoarder. Read her bio and other work here, then catch her on Twitter @TiffanyWendeln.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, a personal finance website that empowers millions of readers nationwide to make smart decisions with their money through actionable and inspirational advice, and resources about how to make, save and manage money.

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10 things you didn’t know will help you get a mortgage

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Anyone who wants to apply for a mortgage right now will know that it’s not easy. Coronavirus has made the process of applying longer, while lenders are now more careful than ever about who they will lend to. You probably already know that having a healthy credit score is essential to a successful mortgage application, but how can it be achieved? Personal finance experts from Ocean Finance  weigh in with the top tips for making sure your application is a success – that you may not have heard about. 

1. Make sure your name is on all household bills

If you share a rental, it can be tempting to let someone else put their name down on the utility bills and just pay them back. If you want a mortgage, avoid doing this: bills with your name and address on them are proof that you pay them on time. This especially applies to the rent itself – never move into a house share without your name being on the contract. Before applying for a mortgage, ask your landlord for a letter confirming that you pay on time. 

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How Can I Prequalify for a Personal Loan? A Guide

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When you are in need of money quickly, you very likely don’t want to sit around pondering a bunch of different options. You want to find the option that works best for you and utilise it. Unfortunately for so many people around the country, it can be difficult to get their hands on the money they need due to them having a bad credit score, or even no credit score at all.

How Can I Prequalify for a Personal Loan?

Photo, Varun Gaba.

Your credit score is thought of as being pretty important, as it shows your financial trustworthiness to financial institutions like banks, credit card companies, lenders, and more. Your credit score is one thing that will usually be considered by just about any company you apply for a loan through, so keeping a close eye on your credit score is imperative for your financial life.

No matter what your credit score looks like, knowing how you can prequalify for a personal loan can be a comforting feeling when you are in need of quick cash. After all, when you are eligible for personal loan prequalification, you feel a little better going into the loan process knowing you won’t have to wait around for a loan decision.

How is Pre-qualification Decided? Prequalifying for a personal loan can depend on several different factors that you will have to keep in mind, and it will vary greatly depending on the lender you are applying through. Here are two of the things you will need to keep in mind when it comes to your loan that could affect whether or not you prequalify for the loan.

— Your credit score; Yes, this is always going to be something you are going to need to think about. Depending on the financial institution or lender you are going through, you can bet that your credit history and score will play a huge part in whether or not you prequalify.

— The amount of your loan; How much money you plan on borrowing from the lender or bank is also going to play a part in deciding whether or not you prequalify.

To get the most out of your search for a lender that you could prequalify with, think about applying with more than just one lender. This way, you might get several pre-qualification offers, and this will allow you to sort through the lenders and decide which one works best for you.

How Can I Prequalify for a Personal Loan?

Photo, Christina @ wocintechchat.com.

The Pre-qualification Process: No matter where you are trying to prequalify for your loan through, you will find the process to be pretty simple and largely similar across most lending platforms. You will need to provide some information to the lender that will help them decide whether or not to prequalify you.

How Can I Prequalify for a Personal Loan?

Photo, Windows.

Some of the information you will need to provide includes:

— Your full name; You will want to make sure you provide your full legal name so you can make the process simple for yourself and the lender. Depending on the lender, you might also be asked to provide images of your government issued ID or driver’s license to validate your identity.

— Your income and information on your job; Your income and employment status are often considered over your credit score when it comes to pre-qualification for loans, especially if you are applying for a personal loan through a lender who deals with customers with bad credit or no credit.

— The loan amount you want; Of course, you will have to include the amount of money you would like to borrow. Make sure it is something reasonable, and something that you can realistically pay back on time.

What Will the Lender Do? If you are trying to prequalify through a lender who specialises in bad credit clients, then you won’t have to worry about your credit score being negatively affected by taking out your loan. However, if the lender reports to the credit bureaus, your payments could still make an impact on your credit score.

If not working with a specialised lender, you might find that the lender will do a soft inquiry on your credit when going through the pre-qualification process. No worries here, as this doesn’t put any dents in your score. If you prequalify for the loan you are looking for, you should get an alert via email from the lender of your choice.

The Money You Need: Hopefully, you will have prequalified for the loan you are looking for so you can ensure you have access to the money you need, when you need it. Whether you’re going through some unexpected circumstance in life or just need money to pay something off quickly, knowing you are prequalified for the loan you need is a comforting feeling, allowing you access to the cash you need for whatever you need it for.



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