While the new year is an ideal time to get serious about getting your financial house in order, aggressive resolutions involving money, credit and debt can be especially daunting. The trick to staying motivated is to be realistic about how much you can tackle at once. Start by setting two or three “mini resolutions” with actionable steps that will keep you moving forward.
Here’s a list of mini-resolution ideas to help you maximize your credit scores:
Resolve to monitor your credit scores and reports monthly. First and foremost – checking your own credit every month to see where you stand does NOT hurt your scores. In fact, it can help you spot errors, suspicious activity or changes on your credit reports that may pose a threat to your credit scores and your identity. Today more than ever, the cost of leaving your information unattended is simply too high. If you’re not already monitoring your credit scores and reports, the new year is a smart time to start.
Resolve to pay your bills on time, every time. Late fees are often more than what you pay in interest and can add up fast. However, your wallet is not the only thing that takes a hit. Late payments remain on your credit reports for seven years. They can lower your credit scores, cost you loan approval or trigger higher interest rates that take even more out of your pocket every month.
Resolve to pay more than the monthly minimums on your credit accounts. Whether it’s an extra $10 or $100, paying a bit more than the amount due every month will go a long way toward reducing your debts, helping your credit scores and saving on interest. To make an even bigger dent in your outstanding balances (and interest paid), plan to double up and make an extra payment some months. Tip: Earmarking a tax refund, holiday bonus or other “found money” to pay down your debts could be a benefit to your scores!
Resolve to set a target goal for your credit scores. If you plan to buy a car, home or other big purchase in the new year, keep in mind that lenders measure your credit health by your credit scores, and the higher the scores, the better. See where your scores currently stand with TransUnion, Equifax and Experian and set a goal (or range) you’d like to hit this year. Typically, those with scores of 700 or above qualify for the best interest rates. To make the most of your scores, find out which factors most affect them – and how your actions can help or hurt. Be sure to check all three of your scores, regularly, to track your progress.
Resolve to prioritize your spending. Creating a budget that you’ll be able to stick to, year-round, starts with defining your “needs” versus your “wants” – and planning for big-ticket trade-offs in advance so you’re not living beyond what your finances and credit limits can handle. For instance, let’s say you need a new car. But you’re also committed to a family vacation. If you are willing to scale back the type of new car you want to a less expensive model, the money you save can help fund the trip without tanking your monthly budget or your credit scores.
Resolve to think cash instead of credit. Paying with cash is more painful than slapping down plastic – and that’s a good thing. Paying credit card bills in full every month tends to make people stop and think more about what they’re spending. If you employ a “pay-as-you-go” mindset, it can help you avoid impulse buying, and may cause you to spend less on your credit cards.
When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, many of us aim for the stars, only to end up shooting ourselves in the foot. Once you’ve successfully incorporated a few of your mini resolutions into your financial routine – and feel confident you won’t backslide – add another to the mix … and so on … to reduce your debt, add points to your credit scores and maintain a healthier financial lifestyle.
Remember, getting your credit health in top shape – and maintaining it – is a marathon, not a sprint. Exercise patience and stay the course!