When your plan for the future includes getting better acquainted with your credit, you've already recognized that your current approach likely needs some work. There's a way to do it better - but how? Sometimes the first thing you need its a little more information, so you can more clearly see how your actions play a role in your credit. Your credit report is a detailed listing of how you handle your financial responsibilities over time. Creating good credit habits from the beginning can help lenders view you as a low-risk borrower, and can be reflected in your FICO® Score powered by Experian data. Remember, like so many of the skills you've come to master - riding a bike, paying your taxes, staying healthy - you didn't start out knowing everything you've picked up along the way.
If you're ready to start taking the next step with your credit, wherever it is today, a quick review of the credit basics is a good place to start. Remember these cornerstones of credit to consider:
- Pay Your Bills On Time. Your payment history is a reflection of how well you are likely to use future credit. Consistently paying your bills on time places you in a more positive light.
- Establish a Budget. Learning to live within your means is an important step in using your credit. Only charging what you can afford and can pay back on time is key. Making a budget — and sticking to it — isn't easy, but can help you audit and control your spending if it's gotten out of hand.
- Regularly Review Your Credit Report. Understanding what's included in your credit report helps ensure there won't be surprises when you apply for new lines of credit. Your credit report will contain details about current and past accounts, personal identifying information, and a list of those who have requested your report (called inquiries). Your report may also include any debt-related public records.
- Dispute Any Inaccurate Information. If you find an error on your credit report, contact the company directly and file a dispute with the credit bureau by following the instructions provided on your report or on their website. Errors on your credit report can hurt your credit scores, depending on the information.
- Keep Debt Under Control. If you find yourself facing credit challenges, put a hold on spending until your finances are under control. You can also contact your lenders, who may be willing to work with you to set up a different payment schedule or lower the loan's interest rate.
- Understand Your Rights Regarding Credit Repair. The Credit Repair Organizations Act is a federal law that prohibits unfair or misleading representations and requires specific disclosures from organizations offering credit repair services. Entities like credit repair agencies can legally do nothing to repair your credit that you cannot do for yourself. A credit repair agency's fees can be substantial—money spent that could be used to pay off debt.
- Protect Yourself Against Fraud. Fraud can happen in a variety of ways—from high-tech hacking to low-tech dumpster diving. Keep your information in a secure place. Never leave your credit cards, receipts or statements with personal information out in the open. Shred outdated information.
Building good credit habits requires work, but is always worth it. Good credit scores can play an important role in your financial well-being, allowing you to spend smart for life's big expenses.
FICO is the registered trademark of Fair Isaac Corporation.
Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer or other company, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. All information, including rates and fees, are accurate as of the date of publication.
This article was originally published on June 4, 2016, and has been updated.