Every fall, fat wallets tend to slim down: ski trips are booked, holiday shopping is underway, and back-to-school outfits for the kids seem to get more and more expensive. And in return for this high tide of spending, consumer credit scores tend to decline, as fall is the time of year most people are likely to land themselves in debt, according to MyFICO.com. “Fall is the time of year when many consumers get their credit scores into trouble,” says Kenneth Lin, CEO of CreditKarma.com, a credit report monitoring website for consumers. To ward off against the your credit score coming down with a case of the fall “shopping” flu, put these few simple steps into action to monitor and raise your credit score in a few short months… 1. Give Your Credit Line a Boost: If you make on-time payments of the entire balance and use your credit card frequently, consider making a call to your credit card company and ask for a credit line increase. The extra funds that become available to you will give you more money to work with for holiday shopping, but it will also decrease your credit card utilization amount, a factor that goes into determining your credit score every month. The more credit that is available to you and the lower your debt balance is, the higher your credit score can be. So, keep paying off any debt you have on your cards, and recognize that requesting a bump in credit just might bump up your score in the next 30 days. 2. Be Smart with Credit while Holiday Shopping: Halloween is coming up, but all of that candy you plan to purchase for the trick-or-treaters in your neighborhood probably shouldn’t be purchased using credit. When the holidays come around, don’t purchase small items unless you plan to pay off the entire balance of your card when the bill is due; otherwise, you’ll end up paying off that Halloween candy for months at a high interest rate. “You shouldn’t be spending on your card if you can’t pay down the balance. Only use it this season for major purchases, like furniture or winter vacations,” says Lin. 3. Consider Adding a Credit Card to Your Wallet: Yes, it’s a scary thought to get another credit card, but if you have decent credit already, a seasonal card might be good for making temporary purchases that you can pay off by next fall, so you’re not adding large debts to your already high credit card balances. “Look for a credit card that really gives you flexibility to spend on holiday gifts. If your credit score is 650+, you could get a 0% interest rate on a 12-month credit card without too much hassle, which can save you hundreds of dollars on those holiday purchases,” Lin recommends. 4. Boost Credit Fast If You Don’t Have Good Credit: If you want to get an extra card to ramp up for holiday spending but don’t have great credit, consider a secure credit card; it will require a security deposit in order to get credit, but an inquiry into your credit won’t be made, as that could damage your score (credit inquiries stay on your account for about two years and ding your score a few points every time.) The only instance you won’t be approved for a card like this is if the company can’t confirm your identity. Creditkarma.com consumers have reported that over the past two or three months, they’ve found an average of a 50-point increase in their credit scores when using a secure credit card. 5. Take Precaution and Check Your Credit Report: You should check your credit report twice each year, in fall and spring, to correct any inaccuracies on your credit report that ultimately affect your FICO score. If you made major purchases over the summer, took an expensive vacation or applied for a loan, there are any number of issues that could arise on your report that could affect your score that you might not be aware of (too many credit inquiries on your account after applying for a loan, for example.) Check out AnnualCreditReport.com to get your report for free (or call your credit card company and ask if they’ve pulled it recently; they’ll show it to you for free as well.) If you just want to know what your score is, CreditKarma.com offers a simulation of where your score is likely to be and what factors affect it. For more tips on financial freedom visit ESSENCE’s Women’s Conference, click here.
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