For the past few posts, I've been writing about legislative moves that affect debit and credit cards. It's time for a few credit management tips you can implement right now. Except for tip No. 4, all of the following moves won't cost a dime.
1. Review your rewards points. Yes, some credit cards with rewards have automatic redemption, but other cards require you to request your rebate or gift card. Go online or call each bank to check on your rewards total and see if you have enough rewards dollars or points to cash out.
If you have multiple cards, go even further by examining the reward formula for each card. Does the card you always use at the drug store give you the best cash-back rate? If you're not sure how to find this information, look up the card's details online or call your card issuer.
A quick review of your rewards cards could literally pay off. At the very least, you'll know which cards are close to redemption level.
2. Check your credit report. Because your credit score is based on your credit report, you want to make sure the latter is always free of errors. My story on disputing credit report errors explains what to do if you find inaccuracies.
You can order a free credit report from each major credit bureau every 12 months thanks to federal law, but you have to do so through AnnualCreditReport.com. Review your credit report and dispute any errors, such as duplicate accounts.
3. Order your credit score. A credit score is a numerical summary of your credit report that indicates your credit risk. Checking your credit score tells you where you stand, and provides insights into the factors keeping your score down. Unfortunately, federal law doesn't mandate access to free credit scores. If you don't want to pay to see your credit rating, though, you have options. My story on free credit scores explains how you can obtain your score, or score estimate in some cases, through commercial websites.
4. Dust off forgotten credit cards. New rules taking effect in August will abolish inactivity fees for not using credit cards, but that doesn't mean you should let cards sit in the sock drawer for too long. Unused cards are targets for closure or reduced limits, both of which could have a negative impact on your credit score. While every issuer has its own criteria for closures, it's a good idea to use cards that you'd like to keep at least once a quarter. Keeping accounts open gives you backup cards to use in case an issuer of one card adds an annual fee or raises your interest rate.
5. Opt out of "prescreened" credit card offers. There's really no reason to let piles of prescreened credit card offers clutter your mailbox. When you need a new credit card, you can compare offers at websites such as Bankrate.com or CreditCardGuide.com and apply online. The prescreened credit card offers you receive don't necessarily mean you'll qualify for the best rates and terms offered. The issuer can still pull your credit report and score when you apply and if your credit has worsened, offer you less than favorable terms or decline your application outright.
You can opt out of receiving credit card and insurance offers for five years or permanently with a mail-in form at OptOutPrescreen.com.
What's the worst credit advice you've ever heard? How did it backfire? I'll put up a post on the worst tips later this week.
Follow Leslie McFadden on Twitter.