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How to maintain a good credit rating

Being late in paying those unwelcome credit card bills will cost you, big time. Not only will you be socked with climbing interest rate charges, you may lose your most valuable financial asset: a good credit rating.

The following payment tips and strategies will show you how to whittle down debt and maintain a stellar credit rating at the same time.

Start with the monthly statements

Disregard the fine print at your risk! And we're not kidding about the fineness of the print. We compared several credit card statements for this article. The information on the back pages was not only printed in a tiny font, but the pale gray ink was barely legible. In sharp contrast, the front page summaries were all in bright, bold print.

Put on your specs -- back-page fine print

Here are examples of the critical information given in that tiny type:

  • You must promptly and carefully examine the statement and notify the issuing creditor "in writing" of any errors. If you fail to do this within 30 days of the statement date, the statement and every item on it will be considered correct.
  • Allow at least 7 business days for your payment to be processed.
  • Any amounts shown as "overdue payment" or "over limit" should be paid as soon as you receive your statement.
  • If your account goes into default, the creditor can demand the balance in full and no longer send monthly statements. However, interest will continue to accrue on your account.

Easy steps to speed up your payments

  • Be diligent about making payments on time. Any late or missed payments can affect your credit rating. To avoid late payments, make all payments before the due date.
  • If you are paying by snail mail, use the pre-printed envelope provided by the credit card company.
  • Include the billing slip and be sure to write the amount being paid in the designated box.
  • Don't scribble. Make sure cheques are legible and the payment amount is correct. Write the credit card number on the cheque. And don't forget to sign the cheque.
  • Pay the minimum amount immediately. Paying the credit card issuer the minimum payment as soon as possible is a great way to guard against late fees.
  • Use online or telephone payments. Paying bills online or by telephone can be a great buffer against late fees. Most major issuers now accept payment by these quick-and-easy methods. But beware: An increasing number of banks charge a substantial fee for the privilege of paying by phone.

Want to know your credit rating?

To get a free copy of your credit report, contact Equifax Canada or TransUnion Canada, the two major credit reporting agencies:

  • Equifax Canada, Box 190, Jean Talon Station, Montreal, PQ, H1S 2Z2, or 1-800-465-7166. (
  • TransUnion Consumer Relations Department, P.O. Box 338, LCD1, Hamilton, ON, L8L 7W2, or 1-866-525-0262. In Quebec, write to TransUnion (Echo Group), 1600 Henri Bourassa Boul Ouest, Montreal, Quebec, H3M 3E2, or call 1-877-713-3393. (

Lucy Lazarony is a staff writer for Diana Cawfield is a freelance writer in Toronto.

-- Updated: Dec. 18, 2003
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