Good credit habits can give you access to some of the best available card options. That said, if your credit score takes a hit, it can severely limit your access, and create a long road toward rebuilding a good standing.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much to hurt your credit score – and it’s important to recognize which bad habits could send it on a downward spiral. Most are pretty obvious. Here are five that you may not have thought about.
1. Paying less than the minimum
Sometimes the minimum payment for a billing cycle can be out of reach. If this happens, you may consider paying a lower amount. After all, paying something is better than paying nothing, right? Unfortunately, that is not the case with your credit card bill. In fact, paying less than the minimum actually ends up having the same effect as missing a payment.
According to Rod Griffin, director of public education at the credit bureau Experian, “If you do not pay at least the minimum amount due, it’s considered late. A late payment stays on your credit report seven years from the original delinquency, so you’re going to hurt your credit history for at least that amount of time if you don’t pay the minimum amount due.”
If you know you can’t make your minimum payment, call your issuer immediately and explain your situation. Some issuers will give you options for how you can handle your payments until you get back on track. You can also seek help from a credit counseling agency, such as the National Foundation for Credit Counseling or the Financial Counseling Association of America. These non-profit agencies will work on your behalf to contact your creditors and set up a payment plan.
2. Holding payment during a dispute
While it’s not pleasant to think about, it’s possible that your credit card could get hit with false charges. If you receive a statement with purchases on it that are clearly not yours, you’ll likely want to call your issuer get those charges removed. While that’s your right, it doesn’t put the other charges on hold.
The Fair Credit Billing Act states that you are not obligated to pay for any disputed charges on your account. However you’re still obligated to cover the other charges on your bill by at least sending the minimum payment required on your billing statement. Missing payments will have an effect on your payment history and lower your credit score significantly.
Your issuer has 90 days or two billing cycles (whichever comes first) to resolve any disputed charges. Until that happens, hang in there and send your monthly minimum payments like you normally would.
3. Closing a card with a high credit limit
If you have a card that you feel is no longer worth the high annual fee, you may be considering shutting it down. Before you do, consider the impact it will have on your credit score, especially if the card has a high credit limit. Removing a card with a high credit limit will lower your debt-to-available-credit ratio, also known as your credit utilization ratio.
If you find yourself in this situation, ask your issuer about switching to a card with no annual fee. Most issuers see this as working with the same account, which means there probably won’t be a need for a hard inquiry. This also means that your credit score shouldn’t be impacted and you should be able to stay at the same credit limit.
4. Adding an authorized user that overspends
If you have good credit, you may be able to help someone out by adding them as an authorized user on one of your accounts. However, this could potentially go south if your authorized user overspends on the account, resulting in your credit card being maxed out and a dinging in your credit score.
If you’re thinking about adding someone as an authorized user, make sure you have a plan in place to assure that credit is used responsibly. Also, see if your issuer will allow you to set a limit on the authorized user’s account. If that’s not possible, you could add the user, but not give them access to a card. If the user is only looking to improve their credit history, a card is not necessary to do so.
Conversely, if someone has offered to add you to their account but then they overspend or miss payments, your credit score could be affected. This is an easier fix, however. Simply ask to be removed from the account, and the history of the account will be erased from your report within two billing cycles.
5. Overusing a balance transfer card
A balance transfer card with a zero percent interest period is a great option for taking care of a large amount of debt accrued on a higher interest card. It can also improve your credit score by increasing your available credit. However, resist the temptation to use your balance transfer card for other purchases, as it may cause you to lose points on your credit score.
Balance transfer card promotions usually work with two different interest rates. One is applied to transfers and one is applied to new purchases. Your balance transfer may not be accumulating interest, but your new purchases might be. And even if transfers and new purchases fall under the same zero percent APR, best practice is not to accrue new debt while trying to pay off old debt.
If you feel like you have to make a purchase, use a different card with a low interest rate. And make sure to pay off the purchase as soon as possible. Accruing debt on several cards is a quick road to possibly missing or making late payments.
Tips for keeping credit in good standing
Having good credit starts with knowing where you stand. Find out your credit score by getting a free credit report. And if you’re using a credit report tool like the one found on Bankrate, you can get weekly updates on your score. You’ll also receive alerts about any changes that require your attention.
Even if you have a good credit score, it’s important to continue to build it up. Managing your credit can be straightforward if you foster the right habits while keeping an eye out for the pitfalls.