Four Credit Tips for Older Americans — and for Any Age
Staying fit throughout our lives is crucial for a better quality of life. We know the importance of physical fitness and keeping our minds sharp, and financial fitness is just as important. During Older Americans Month, we offer the following four credit tips to older adults, but money-conscious folks at any age can use them, too.
1) Don’t Co-sign Any Loans
If you have good credit, family members and friends might seek you out to co-sign on loans they can’t qualify for on their own. When someone doesn’t qualify for a loan, it is because they are too high a risk for paying it back. If you co-sign a loan, you are as liable for the debt as the primary borrower. If they don’t pay, the lender will come after you for payment.
Co-signing loans can also affect your credit score negatively. Even if the primary borrower is making timely monthly payments, the loan balance will be lumped into your total liabilities. And too much debt could affect your eligibility for credit if you need it in the future.
2) Minimize Your Use of Credit Cards
Use a credit card occasionally to keep your credit active. Consumers who use credit moderately are considered a better risk than those who don’t use credit at all. But keep balances low — less than 30% of your credit limit — and make monthly payments on time. Whenever possible, pay the monthly balance in full. That way, you never pay interest or carry balances forward.
3) Reduce Your Debt, Increase Your Freedom
By the time I retire, I don’t want to have any more debts. That includes mortgage payments, car loans and credit cards. The more monthly debt obligation you have, the less freedom you have with your money.
Most of us will live on a fixed income in retirement, but expenses won’t be fixed and will trend upward over time, squeezing your budget. Carrying debt into retirement will make that squeeze even tighter.
As I mentioned above, pay your credit card balances in full each month if possible. However, if you have credit card debt and feel like your payments aren’t getting you any closer to a zero balance, a debt management plan might be a good option for you. Learn more about LSS Financial Counseling’s Debt Management Plan. We can help you reduce your interest rates and eliminate that debt in five years or less!
4) Check Your Credit Reports Regularly
Check your credit reports for accuracy. Get them for free at annualcreditreport.com from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, you could get free reports from these bureaus just once a year. However, they are now offering free weekly online reports through the end of 2023.
Review your reports to make sure your name, address and other personal information are correct. Then look over the account information carefully. Are account balances and payment amounts stated correctly?
If everything looks good and you don’t plan on taking out any new lines of credit or loans, freeze your credit! When you do this with all three bureaus, no one can take out any debt in your name. Your credit is 100% protected. If you decide later to take out a loan, just unfreeze your credit with a simple pin number. Visit the Federal Trade Commission website to find out about how to freeze your credit for free!
If you find errors on your reports, call LSS Financial Counseling at 888.577.2227. You can schedule a free, confidential appointment with one of our certified financial counselors to help you correct any mistakes. They can also review the rest of the reports and work with you on a plan to improve your credit. You can also get all your support online.
Keeping your finances in shape is important at any age. LSS Financial Counseling is here to support you in improving your financial wellness. We are as close to you as your phone or your laptop. Contact us today!
Author Ashley Hagelin is a Financial Counseling Supervisor with LSS Financial Counseling.