MICHAEL NOLEN WAS UNHAPPY WITH his credit report. It was back in 2010 when the Atlanta-based real estate agent saw his credit score drop by more than 100 points. A housing market drop and dwindling home sales made commission checks harder to come by for agents like Nolen, who as a result maxed out his credit cards and depleted his cash reserves.
"My credit score was good enough for the things that I needed, but not high enough for larger purchases, such as a new vehicle," says Nolen. To improve his financial status he started paying all credit card and loan bills on or before their due dates. He paid down all open lines of credit to the point where their individual balances didn't exceed 33% of their total available credit. "One card with a $3,000 limit, I never let my balance exceed $1,000," Nolen explains.
As the real estate market--and his business' sales--slowly began to improve, Nolen says improved cash flow allowed him to pay more than the minimum amounts owed on each card. His efforts paid off with his credit score increasing 50 points in January 2011. "I'll keep working at it," says Nolen, "and watching that number grow."
Your credit rating or FICO score, which ranges from 300 to 850 (the higher the better), is based on accumulated information that tells lenders whether or not you'll pay back your loans on time and in full. A score above 700 is considered good. "A poor credit score can affect different aspects of your life," says Bill Hampton, general partner with certified public accountant and business consulting firm Bishop, Hampton & Associates L.L.C. Certified Public Accountants and Business Consultants in Atlanta. Landlords look at scores when deciding whether to rent. Insurance companies use them to determine whether or not to provide auto, home, or other types of coverage. Employers even use scores when making hiring decisions.
The negative impact can go beyond the one-time denial. "From a long-term perspective," says Robbie Hampton, managing partner at Bishop, Hampton & Associates, "paying higher rates to finance companies and lenders decreases your wealth and ability to pass assets down to future generations."
There are ways that you can better manage your debt and improve your credit rating. Several personal finance tools and mobile apps provide monthly credit score updates plus track spending and saving. Here are four worth checking out.
Equifax offers a free app that...