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Student loan aftermath: educating graduates on the importance of credit scores

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Posted: Monday, June 23, 2014 10:00 pm | Updated: 1:33 am, Thu Jul 3, 2014.

(BPT) - This is a special time of year. Across the nation, graduates are on the horizon of new careers and building their own lives.

While this is an exciting stage in life, it is a concerning time as well. Many students are graduating with student loan debt, and research shows that Millennials (ages 18-34) know comparatively little about how that debt affects their credit scores and what it takes to have great credit, according to recent research conducted by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and VantageScore Solutions, LLC.

How concerning is it? The research found that only 40 percent of Millennials claim to have good or better knowledge about credit scores. Furthermore, only 65 percent of Millennials could name the three main credit bureaus. And fewer than half (47 percent) of Millennials knew that age is not a factor when calculating credit scores.

“Most troubling is that only 42 percent of Millennials know that a credit score measures the risk of not repaying a loan rather than factors such as knowledge of, or attitude to, consumer credit,” says CFA Executive Director Stephen Brobeck. “Consumers should be aware that they can take steps to reduce this risk and improve their scores, most importantly by making all loan payments on time.”

Since credit can be the key to home, auto and other ownership, how can graduates improve their credit scores and make their future dreams a reality? Here are a couple of ideas and resources:

* Access your credit reports. The research shows that individuals who have obtained their credit reports previously knew significantly more about their credit than those who have not. If you’re looking to improve your credit, it is important to become more credit literate, review your credit report and find out your existing scores. Websites like www.CreditScoreQuiz.org help people understand their credit scores and the many life situations that are affected by credit scores. You can also obtain a free copy of your credit report from all three national reporting companies at www.annualcreditreport.com.

* Pay your bills on time each month. Making late payments on your monthly bills does more than just damage your credit scores. It causes you to waste money on needless late fees and additional interest charges. Paying bills on time is the most effective way to pay your bills off quickly and, ultimately, maintain good credit health.

* Avoid maxing out a credit card. Credit cards carry some of the highest interest rates around, and the more you charge on your card, the longer it will take to pay it off. Maxing out your credit card may also damage your credit score because it will appear as if you are overspending your limits.

* Pay down the highest-interest-rate bills first. If you’re making the minimum payment on your bills each month, it’s likely that you’re going to be paying interest. Some bills, such as credit cards, will carry higher interest rates than other bills, like student loans. After you’ve set aside the money necessary to pay the minimum balances each month, use your remaining funds to pay down the highest-interest-rate bills first. This will save you money in the long run.

* Don’t take out too much credit at the same time. Some lenders also look at your debt-to-income ratio. A high percentage ratio can signal to lenders that your monthly debt payments are more than what your gross monthly income can accommodate. Therefore, carrying a heavy credit balance may hurt your credit score because it suggests you may not be managing your finances wisely. Work towards maintaining at least less than 30 percent of your maximum credit on each credit card.

The pathway towards having good credit is sustainable if you can consistently demonstrate the ability to manage your credit accounts without becoming overextended and missing payments. Much like earning your degree, improving your credit takes hard work, dedication and time. But, if you develop a sound plan and stick to it, you’ll achieve the scores you deserve in the end.

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