As 2019 comes to a close, many people are outlining their goals for the new year. For some people, this means making plans to get healthier, reconnect with old friends or find a new job. For many, improving financial health comes in at the top of the list. In fact, we know saving more is a top resolution for 50% of people and one in three want to improve their credit scores in 2020.
Saint Exupery once said, “a goal without a plan is just a wish” and he was right. When setting any goal, it’s important to put a plan in place. An essential first step toward creating an effective plan of action is getting a grasp of your current situation. The same is true for creating and achieving goals related to improving your financial health.
Each year, we take a look at how Americans across the country are managing their credit to help people understand the purpose and impact of their credit scores. Our annual State of Credit report highlights average credit scores, debt levels and delinquency rates of people across America. In releasing this report, we hope to give people insight to help them make more informed decisions about credit use as we prepare to head into a new decade.
Our latest report showed the average credit score hit an eight-year-high at 682. While people are taking on slightly more credit card, mortgage and nonmortgage debt year-over-year, delinquency rates are decreasing on average and utilization remains consistent at 30%, which means people are responsibly managing the debt they’re carrying.
If your credit score is lower than you’d like, or if you’re looking for ways to maintain a positive credit history and improve your financial health, here are five ways you can better your financial standing in 2020:
- Check your credit report and credit score. Your credit report serves as your financial references. Take care of your credit report and you will take a big step toward better financial health. Credit scores play an important role in your financial journey. They translate the information in your credit report into a number reflecting the risk of doing business with you. Check your credit score at the same time you check your credit report. When you get credit score you should receive an explanation of what the score means and what from your credit report is most affecting it. This is an important step to gauge your current standing and to develop a plan to improve your credit report and scores. You can get a free credit report once every 12 months from Experian by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com or through the Experian app.
- Keep your utilization rate low. Your utilization rate, or balance-to-limit ratio, should never exceed 30 percent of your credit limit. At a maximum, your total credit card balances should not be more than 30 percent of your total credit card limits, and you don’t want any one card to have a balance of more than 30 percent of the limit of that one card. Both can hurt you. This doesn’t mean that you want to get your balances up to 30 percent and keep them there. The lower your utilization rate, the better. People with the best credit scores have utilization rates of less than 10 percent. As you head into 2020, focus on reducing your credit card balances and keeping your balances low.
- Use the tools available to you like Experian Boost. If you’re paying your cell phone, cable, satellite and utility payments on time, you can use our free tool, Experian Boost, to potentially increase your credit scores in the new year. We see scores improve for two out of three people who use Experian Boost with an average increase of more than 10 points.
- Plan ahead for major credit purchases. For many, the start of a new year can mean a new car, a new home and more. When preparing to make a major purchase, it is critical to demonstrate financial stability in the three to six months leading up to it. While it is important to optimize your scores before purchasing a house or a car, be careful not to make too many big moves right before your purchase. Closing accounts or applying for new credit could temporarily reduce your scores, so don’t open any new accounts during the months leading up to your purchase. Wait to close accounts or apply for new ones until after you have the keys to that car or house in hand.
- Pay on time, every time. Nothing will hurt your credit score more than missed or late payments. To maintain a positive credit history, make a plan to catch up on any missed payments. Enrolling in autopay can be a helpful way to stay on a payment schedule that works for you.
Remember, credit can be a financial tool, but debt is a financial problem. Create your financial game plan for 2020 and use these tips to prepare for a financially healthy new year. If you need help along the way, visit the Ask Experian blog or tune into our weekly Credit Chat.