Help – I spent too much on the holidays and I’m still paying for it months later!

tighten belt on dollar conceptIf the holidays have left your budget overstretched, there are ways to recover (even if 3 months have passed) … you just need to act as quickly as you can.

While it might be tough to admit it (case in point: you’ve ignored the debt you racked up over the last few months), the first step to reducing your post-holiday debt is realizing and prioritizing it. 

Beverly Harzog, author of Confessions of a Credit Junkie, says the best way to start a re-payment plan is to go after the debt on the highest interest rate card first and once that is paid off, go after the next one and so on and so on.

If you overspent this holiday season and know you won’t be able to pay off your credit card bills when they arrive next month, you need to adjust your spending habits ASAP.

Consumers should look at their spending categories and aim to shave small amounts off of each area (even if it’s $5 or $10 to start). Making many small cutbacks will be less painful than trying to find an extra $1,000 all at once to help pay off the credit card balance.

If you put a lot of your holiday gift spending on a high-interest rate credit card, Harzog recommends transferring the balance to a credit card with a lower interest rate. Even if you can reduce the interest rate just a little bit, it will help pay it down faster.

Did you know First Financial Federal Credit Union has a lower rate VISA Platinum Credit Card, great rewards, no annual fee, and no balance transfer fees? Apply today!*

If you are facing significant debt, it might be time to find new ways to generate extra income that is earmarked solely to paying off the debt. If you don’t want to get a traditional part-time job, review your talents and skill set to find alternative ways to make money, whether it’s giving piano lessons, fixing computers, catering, or doing web design.

Ed Gjertsen, Vice President at Mack Investment Securities, recommends the seven-day cash challenge to break an overspending habit. With this challenge, you estimate how much money you spend each week and then take out that amount of cash at the start of the week and see how long it lasts.

“When people do this, by Wednesday or Thursday they are usually out of money,” he says. “They don’t think of all the times they swipe that card. It gives them a reality check of how much they are spending.”

If you need an anonymous, online tool to help you get your debt in check – try Debt in Focus – First Financial’s free and anonymous online debt management tool. In just minutes, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live.

*APR varies from 10.90% to 17.90% when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. This APR is for purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances and will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Subject to credit approval. No Annual Fee. Other fees that apply: Cash advance fee of 1% of advance ($5 minimum and $25 maximum), Late Payment Fee of up to $25, Foreign Transaction Fee of 1% plus foreign exchange rate of transaction amount, $5 Card Replacement Fee, and Returned Payment Fee of up to $25. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a VISA Platinum Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.

Article Source: http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2013/12/24/help-spent-too-much-on-holidays/

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Debit vs Credit Cards: Which is safer to swipe?

holiday-credit-or-debitWhile the tens of millions of Target shoppers who had their credit and debit card information stolen likely won’t be on the hook for any fraudulent transactions that may occur, debit card users could face much bigger headaches than credit card users.

That’s because debit and credit cards are treated differently by consumer protection laws. Under federal law, your personal liability for fraudulent charges on a credit card can’t exceed $50. But if a fraudster uses your debit card, you could be liable for $500 or more, depending on how quickly you report it.

“I know people love their debit cards. But man oh man, they are loaded with holes when it comes to fraud,” said John Ulzheimer, credit expert at CreditSesame.com, a credit management website.

Plus, if someone uses your credit card, the charge is often credited back to your account immediately after it’s reported, Ulzheimer said. Yet, if a crook uses your debit card, not only can they drain your bank account, but it can take up to two weeks for the financial institution to investigate the fraud and reimburse your account.

“In the meantime, you might have to pay your rent, your utilities and other bills,” said Beth Givens, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. The organization recommends that consumers stick to credit cards as much as possible.

Whichever card you decide to swipe, here are ways to protect yourself from scammers.

Be vigilant with your accounts: The Target hack is just the latest in a long history of data breaches, and it likely won’t be the last.

As a result, you should check your debit and credit account activity at least every few days and keep an eye out for any unfamiliar transactions. If you notice anything fishy, notify your financial instituion or credit card company immediately.

“Waiting until the end of the month to check out your credit card statement for fraudulent use is a relic of the past,” Ulzheimer said. “Fraud is a real-time crime, and we as consumers have to be constantly engaged.”

Set your own fraud controls: Financial institutions have their own internal fraud controls, but some transactions can slip through the cracks, said Al Pascual, senior analyst of security risk and fraud at Javelin Strategy & Research.

Many financial institutions will let you set alerts for account transactions. Even better, some allow you to block transactions that are out of the ordinary for you, such as for online purchases at a certain kind of retailer or for any purchases over $500.

“We believe that consumers are going to know best as to how to protect their account,” he said. “They know their own behaviors.

Did you know that First Financial has ID Theft Protection services? When you enroll in one of these services, one of the benefits you’ll receive is an automatic alert sent to you via email and text message, allowing you to confirm whether or not any recent activity is fraudulent. With Fully Managed Identity Recovery services from First Financial, you don’t need to worry. A professional Recovery Advocate will do the work on your behalf, based on a plan that you approve. Should you experience an Identity Theft incident, your Recovery Advocate will stick with you all along the way – and will be there for you until your good name is restored. Click here to learn more and get started today!

Watch out for fraud hotspots: You should be especially wary of using a debit card online and at retailers more vulnerable to fraud.

Gas stations and ATMs are hotspots for so-called “skimmers,” or machines that scammers install to capture your card information. Watch out for ATM parts that look unusual and always cover your hand when typing your PIN in case a camera is watching, said Shirley Inscoe, a senior analyst with the Aite Group.

Don’t let your guard down: If you think your information has been compromised, don’t assume everything’s fine after a few months. Stolen card information is often sold to a variety of groups on the black market who may hold onto it for months or even years.

“Many times these fraud rings will wait until the news dies down and people have forgotten about it before they use that data,” Inscoe said. “It may not be used until next winter, so it really is a good idea for people to monitor their activity.”

If you fall victim to ID Theft, don’t panic – First Financial is here to help! Report the incident regarding any of your First Financial accounts immediately, by calling us at 866.750.0100 or emailing info@firstffcu.com

*Article by Melanie Hicken of Yahoo Finance – click here to view the article source.

What’s the Worst Kind of Debt?

DEBT inscription bright green lettersWhat is the worst kind of debt to carry? Is it student loan debt, credit cards, a mortgage — or something else? Even the experts don’t always agree on which debt is “good debt” and which is “bad,” so imagine how confusing it can be to consumers who are dealing with debt!

Student Loan Debt

Why student loan debt is the worst: The loans are often given to young people with no credit experience and no clue how they will pay them back. Balances are often high, and the jobs borrowers counted on to make payments may be non-existent or take a really long time to acquire. Finally, unlike every other type of consumer debt, it is very difficult to discharge balances in bankruptcy.

And why it may not be: College graduates, on average, still earn significantly more over their lifetime than those without a college degree. In that sense, student loan debt can be considered an investment that pays off in future earning power. In addition, students may be able to defer payments on their student loans during times of economic hardship (usually at a cost), which makes them more flexible than other types of loans. In addition, borrowers may be eligible for reduced payments and loan forgiveness under the Income-Based Repayment Program or other loan forgiveness programs.

How does student debt affect credit scores? Large balances typically don’t hurt credit scores as long as the payments are made on time.

Looking to consolidate your student loans?  First Financial can help with our Student Loan Consolidation Product, cuGrad.  Get started today by clicking here.*

Credit Card Debt

Why credit card debt is the worst: With interest rates hovering around 15 percent on average — and more than 20 percent for some borrowers — credit card debt is often the most expensive kind of debt consumers carry. And with the low minimum monthly payments that issuers offer, cardholders can find themselves in debt for decades if they aren’t careful.

And why it may not be: While making minimum payments on credit cards is not a great idea over the long run, having that option can come in handy in a financial pinch. It can give cardholders time to get back on their feet without ruining their credit.

As far as credit scores are concerned, as long as cardholders keep balances low (usually below 10 to 20 percent of their available credit), and make minimum payments on time, credit card debt should not hurt credit scores. Bills

Transfer your high rate credit card balances to First Financial’s low rate Visa Platinum Credit Card with rewards, no annual fee, and no balance transfer fees!  Get started today.**

Mortgage Debt

Why mortgage debt is the worst: If you wonder how bad mortgage debt can be, just ask the owners of some $8.8 million homes that CoreLogic said had negative or near-negative equity as of the second quarter of 2013. That means those owners owe close to, or more than, what the property is worth. That also means they can’t sell those houses without shelling out money to pay off their mortgage or doing a short sale that damages their credit scores. Even for those who aren’t under water, rising taxes and/or insurance premiums, the cost of maintenance and loans that typically take 30 years to pay off can make one’s home feel like a financial prison at times.

And why it may not be: Over time, homeownership remains one of the key ways average Americans build wealth. If you are able to keep up with your home loan payments, eventually the home will be paid off and provide inexpensive housing or rental income. Equity that has built up can be accessed through a reverse mortgage or by selling the house, or it can be passed along to heirs — sometimes tax-free.

When it comes to credit scores, this type of loan will generally help, as long as payments are made on time. Even large mortgages shouldn’t depress credit scores, unless there are multiple mortgages with balances. That’s usually a problem that affects real estate investors however, not homeowners with one or two homes.

Refinance your mortgage with First Financial!  We’ve got a great 10 year fixed rate mortgage that might be perfect if you are looking to refinance. Click here to learn more.***

Tax Debt

Why tax debt is the worst: If you owe the Internal Revenue Service or your state taxing authority for taxes you can’t pay, you can suffer a variety of painful consequences. If a tax lien is filed, your credit scores will likely plummet. In addition, these government agencies usually have strong collection powers, including the ability to seize money in bank accounts or other property, or to intercept future tax refunds.

And why it may not be: The IRS offers repayment options that may allow a tax debt to be paid off over time at a fairly low rate. (Similar programs are available for state tax debt in many states). And unlike applying for a loan, you don’t have to have good credit to get approved for an installment agreement.

The good news when it comes to credit scores is that tax debt itself isn’t reported to credit reporting agencies; a tax lien is the only way that it may show up. By entering into an installment agreement, you may be able to get a tax lien removed from your credit reports, even before you’ve paid off what you owe.

Auto Loan Debt

Why auto debt is the worst: The average auto loan now lasts five and a half years, and some 12 percent last six to seven years, according to Edmunds.com. That means payments will last long after that new car smell has worn off and well into the years when maintenance and repair costs start creeping up. Even more troubling, these borrowers may be stuck if they need to sell their vehicles since they may be “upside down,” owing more than what they can sell their car or truck for.

And why it may not be: Many consumers budget for a car payment, and as long as they aren’t hit with unexpected expenses, they are able to make this payment a priority. In addition, borrowers may be able to refinance their auto loans and lower their monthly payments. Plus, cars often get people to work, where they can earn the money they need to pay off debt.

Vehicle loans that are paid on time can help credit scores, and are rarely a problem unless someone has several car loans outstanding at once or misses a payment.

If you’re thinking about refinancing your auto loan – look no further than First Financial!  We may be able to save you money each month on your current car payments by refinancing.  Ask us how much we might be able to save you today.****

The Worst Kind Of Debt

When it comes down to it, the worst type of debt is … (drumroll please), the one you can’t pay back on time. If that happens, your credit scores will suffer, your balances may grow larger due to fees and interest, and you may find yourself borrowing even more as you try to keep up with your payments.

Want an anonymous, online tool to help you get your debt in check?  Try Debt in Focus – our free and anonymous online debt management tool. In just minutes, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live.

Article Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/creditcom/whats-the-worst-kind-of-d_b_4220046.html

*The cuGrad Private Student Loan Consolidation is available to borrowers who are carrying private student loan debt. Federal student loans cannot be consolidated with the cuGrad Private Student Loan Consolidation. If you are seeking a federal student loan consolidation, you can learn more details about the process here: http://www.loanconsolidation.ed.gov/   

**APR varies from 7.90% to 17.99% when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. This APR is for purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances and will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Subject to credit approval. No Annual Fee. Other fees that apply: Cash advance fee of 1% of advance ($5 minimum and $25 maximum), Late Payment Fee of up to $25, Foreign Transaction Fee of 1% plus foreign exchange rate of transaction amount, $5 Card Replacement Fee, and Returned Payment Fee of up to $25. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a VISA Platinum Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.

***APR = Annual Percentage Rate. Subject to credit approval.  Credit worthiness determines your APR. Available on primary residence only. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a mortgage and is open to anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. Equal Housing Lender.

****APR = Annual Percentage Rate. Subject to credit approval. Credit worthiness determines your APR. A First Financial membership is required to obtain an auto loan and is open to anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.

This Incredibly Common Practice Could Tank Your Credit

ccsRevolve a balance on your credit cards? It’s something many of us do, especially as the holiday shopping season kicks into high gear. But consider yourself warned: It could also be viewed as a red flag by lenders, especially if you’re paying down a smaller share of your debt each month.

Credit bureau TransUnion came out with a new product it calls CreditVision, which gives lenders a two-and-a-half year look back window at how much of your available credit you use and whether you revolve a balance from month to month.

The conventional wisdom is that as long as you keep your credit utilization — the ratio of your balance to your credit limit — under 30% and make your payments on time, it’s OK to roll over a balance from month to month. But TransUnion says people who don’t pay their balance in full every month, which it calls “revolvers,” are up to three times more likely to fall behind on a new loan within two years than people with otherwise similar risk profiles who pay off their credit cards entirely every month, which it calls “transactors.” Therefore, it might be a good idea to pay your balances in full more often than not if you’re looking to get some kind of loan in the future.

“Without the data available in CreditVision —historical balances and actual payment amount — it is very difficult, and inaccurate, to determine whether consumers are transactors or revolvers,” says Charlie Wise, vice president in the financial services business unit of TransUnion.  ”Our research has shown that consumers who are transactors are significantly lower risk on new loans than consumers who are revolvers and have lower subsequent delinquency rates on new loans.”

Although Wise says this doesn’t mean lenders avoid people who revolve balances, but serial balance-carriers should take note. “A consumer’s payment behavior on their credit cards and loan accounts may in fact impact their credit score,” Wise says, once TransUnion starts offering scoring models that incorporate this historical data later in the quarter.

With the introduction of CreditVision, all of the big three credit bureaus now give lenders the ability to take a deep dive into your past charging and payment history.

Equifax came out with a product called Dimensions in August that gives lenders a two-year look back. Among other uses, the company says lenders can pinpoint customers most receptive to balance-transfer pitches and determine how much more debt they can take on before they can’t keep up with their payments anymore.

Experian has offered something similar for a couple of years now as part of its TrendView product. It lets lenders see if people are paying off their cards in full every month, carrying balances or “rate surfing,” transferring balances from one teaser rate to another.

“It can be good or bad, depending on what they’ve been doing,” says Trevor Carone, Experian’s senior vice president of sciences and analytics. If they’ve been paying down their debt, lenders now have proof of that, which is particularly good for people who are wiping out a substantial debt quickly.

On the other hand, if your balances are growing from month to month or if your payments have dropped to just the minimum, “That’s a sign of risk, and lenders will take that into consideration,” Carone says.

It’s a double-edged sword if you’re trying to get a handle on your debt. While it’s great if you’re making strides towards knocking out a big balance, it also means you’re more likely to be targeted for new offers which could lead to temptation and we don’t need an invitation to rack up more debt.

Just over 38% of Americans revolve holiday credit card debt, according to Odysseas Papadimitriou, CEO of industry site CardHub.com, and we’re on track to end this year a collective $41.2 billion deeper in credit card debt this year. For the 13% of Americans surveyed by Consumer Reports last November who were still paying off their holiday shopping bills from 2011, this new visibility into their debt could be bad news.

“Short-term changes, if they’re seasonal — lenders expect that,” Carone says. ”If your behavior is persistent for six months or more, it becomes more predictive.”

If you run up a balance around the holidays and then pay it off over the course of a few months, a lender can predict that you’ll continue to behave that way in the future. But if the amount you’re paying on those bills drops as the months go by, or if you pile this year’s Black Friday splurges onto last year’s still-existing debt, it  might not be appealing to see that — even if you never miss a payment.

Don’t forget about our free, online debt management tool, Debt in Focus. In just minutes, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live. We also have our First Score Credit Counseling program; a low cost, interactive session ($30) with a First Financial expert, which simulates your credit score with various “what if” scenarios. You can email us at firstscore@firstffcu.com or call 866.750.0100, Option 2 to get started.

Click here to view the article source by Martha C. White of Time.com.

What to Do If Your Credit Score Is Too Low For a Mortgage

first-time-home-buyer-1If you’re preparing to buy a home, you probably know that your credit score is important. Maybe you’ve already been turned down for a mortgage because of a low credit score. Or maybe you’ve recently pulled your credit report, only to realize that your credit is worse than you expected.

Don’t give up on buying a home yet! There are plenty of places to turn if your credit is too low to get a conventional mortgage. But first, you should figure out what lenders expect of your credit score, since you might be surprised to find that you may be able to buy a home with your current credit score.

What do lenders expect?

Lending requirements vary from one lender to the next, but they’ve generally become more strict since the subprime mortgage lending crisis in 2008. As a rule of thumb, though, you’ll need a FICO score of about 650 to get a conventional mortgage – and that’s on the low end.

Remember, the lower your credit score, the higher your mortgage rate is likely to be. This can have a dramatic effect on how much you pay for your home over time. So if you’re sitting on the mid-to-low end of the credit spectrum, you may want to look into some of these options, even if you qualify for a conventional mortgage.

Put More Money Down

Mortgage lenders look at a host of factors when deciding whether or not to lend you money. One of those factors is your credit score. But another factor is your down payment.

With some lenders, you may be able to offset a weak credit score with a higher down payment. With a bigger down payment, you’ll have more equity in your home, which means the lender takes less of a risk when lending to you.

If you’ve got a substantial amount of money in savings, but still have a fairly low credit score, consider applying for a mortgage with a community credit union, like First Financial. Often, these smaller entities operate under more flexible lending guidelines, so you can talk to a loan officer about your situation and maybe get a favorable result.

To speak with First Financial’s lending department, call us at 866.750.0100 option 2, and to learn more about our mortgages – click here.

Work With a Homeownership Counselor

There are some local and national nonprofits that offer homeownership counseling.

Nonprofits like these offer counseling to future homebuyers who need help raising their credit scores or navigating the homebuying process. It may take some time, but with the help of a credit and housing counselor, you can learn which steps to take to raise your credit score and apply for a home loan.

First Financial offers a free Home Buying and Mortgage seminar every year; stay tuned for the 2014 seminar calendar to mark the date! To register for our upcoming free seminars, click on the purple “Attend” icon on the bottom our website. All of our staff is here to help you, if you ever have any questions please don’t hesitate to stop into any one of our branches and see us!

Get Your Credit Score Up

You could also simply take the time to bootstrap yourself into a better credit score. Raising your score isn’t complicated, but it does take time, discipline and hard work. These steps can help get your credit score up so that you can qualify for a mortgage.

  1. Correct any errors on your report, especially late payments or collections accounts that aren’t recorded properly.
  2. Make all your payments on time. Late payments are the # 1 way to ding your credit score.
  3. Pay down revolving debt like credit cards. A high debt-to-credit ratio is another surefire way to lower your score.
  4. Wait it out. As long as you’re paying down debt and making payments on time, your credit score will eventually rise on its own.

Don’t forget to utilize all of our free online financial calculators located here and to improve your credit score, and try our low-cost, credit counseling service, First Score! For just $30 you receive a one-on-one interactive session with a First Financial expert, which simulates your credit score with various “what if” scenarios.

Once you get your credit score, First Score will tell you what you need to do to reach all of your financial goals. First Score will also tell you what actions will help you increase and decrease your credit score.

Ready to try First Score? You can email us at firstscore@firstffcu.com or call 866.750.0100, Option 2.

*Click here to view the article source by Abby Hayes of US News. 

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9 Things Consumers Don’t Understand About Credit Scores

creditscoreThree numbers can affect everything from securing a mortgage or loan, to how much interest you’ll pay when you’re approved for a house. And while they’re just three numbers – that typically range from 300 (very bad) to 850 (excellent) – there’s a lot of information and regulations behind them. But don’t worry, if a thing or two about your credit score has left you scratching your head, you’re not alone.

“Consumers look at their credit report and think, ‘I don’t understand it. I don’t know what it means,’” says Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education for credit.com and host of Talk Credit Radio.

To clear up the confusion, several credit experts spoke at FinCon, a financial conference in St. Louis recently, and debunked misconceptions about credit scores. Here are 10 common things consumers tend to get wrong about their scores.

1. The credit bureaus Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax evaluate my credit score. The three bureaus generate credit reports, but they have nothing to do with judging your credit score or advising lenders whether to approve or deny an application. “The credit report does not rate your credit,” says Maxine Sweet, Experian’s vice president of public education. “It simply lays out the facts of your history.” So who determines what your credit score means? Companies such as FICO and VantageScore Solutions evaluate your credit risk level – what lenders use to decide how risky it is to give you a loan – based on your credit report. Separate scoring models have been developed to help businesses predict if a consumer will make payments as agreed, and the credit score is just one factor used in the model.

2. There’s only one type of credit score. There are actually many different scores. For example, FICO has several models with varying score ranges. “If you get your FICO score from one lender, that very likely won’t be the same score that you would get from another lender, even though they’re using the FICO model,” Sweet says. Consumers shouldn’t focus on the number, she adds. Instead, look at where your score falls on the risk model and what influences that risk. If a lender declines your application or charges you a higher fee because of your risk, it will disclose factors that are negatively impacting your risk, Sweet explains. “Those factors will tell you what behavior you will need to change to change your credit history,” she says.

3. When I close a credit card, the age of the card is no longer factored into my credit score. The only way you lose the benefit of a card’s age is if a bureau removes the account from a credit report, says John Ulzheimer, credit expert at CreditSesame.com. “As long as it’s still on a credit report, the credit scoring system still sees it, still sees how old it is and still considers the age in the scoring metric,” he says. Take Ulzheimer’s father as an example: He uses a Sears credit card he opened in 1976, which is the oldest account on his credit report. “The assumption is if he were to close that card, he would lose that decades-long history of that card and potentially lower his score. That’s not true,” Ulzheimer says. However, there is one caveat: The score would be lost after 10 years (see # 4 below).

4. A credit card stops aging the day I close it. Even when you close an account, the credit card still ages. For instance, if you close an American Express card today, the card will be one year older a year from now. And as explained above, you won’t lose the value of the card’s age. “Not only does it still count in your score, but it continues to age,” Ulzheimer says. However, a closed account will not remain on your credit report forever. The credit bureaus delete them from credit reports after 10 years, according to Sweet. There’s just one exception: “If the account is in a negative status, it will be deleted at seven years because we can only report negative account history for seven years,” she says.

5. I need to carry debt to build credit. To debunk this, Detweiler points to her friend who went through a divorce and lost his home in the process. He wanted to rebuild his credit so he got a secured credit card with a $500 limit. According to Detweiler, he only made the minimum payments because he thought it was good for his credit score to have debt. In reality, he hurt his credit by maxing out the card and carrying debt. As Detweiler says, her friend made a big mistake. “You can pay your balances in full and still build good credit,” she says.

6. Medical debt is treated differently on credit reports. Credit bureaus do not discriminate when it comes to medical payments. Typically, medical bills are not reported to a bureau unless the bills are sent to a collections agency. When that happens, “medical collections are the same as any other collections,” Detweiler says. “They are a serious negative. The more recent they are, the more it affects your score.”

7. A credit repair company can only remove inaccuracies to improve my score. While it’s true credit repair companies help you get inaccurate information corrected on your credit report, they can sometimes go one step further. “The real core competency of a credit repair company is to get stuff that’s negative removed from your credit report,” Ulzheimer says.

8. My utilization rate doesn’t matter. Utilization is an important measurement in the credit scoring system. “It can wildly change your score in a short period of time in either direction,” Ulzheimer says. He explains it as the percentage of the credit cards you’re using at any given time. To calculate your utilization percentage, divide your credit card balances by your total credit card limits and multiply by 100. “The higher that percentage, the fewer points you’re going to earn in that particular category, depending on the scoring system,” Ulzheimer says. “The lower the percentage, the better it will be for your score.” The credit score tracking website CreditKarma.com recommends that consumers shouldn’t exceed 30 percent.

9. I should avoid new store credit cards because they’ll hurt my score. You’ve likely been asked at checkout: “Would you like to open a store credit card and receive 20 percent off your purchase today?” For some consumers, it’s a good idea to say yes. “That’s a great way for many people who might not qualify for other kinds of cards to get a credit card,” Sweet says. A store credit card can help raise your credit limit, improve your utilization rate and boost your overall score. Of course, you shouldn’t sign up if you’ll be tempted to use the card every day, Sweet says, “but don’t just automatically assume it’s a bad thing before you open that account.”

Don’t forget about First Financial’s free, online debt management tool, Debt in Focus. In just minutes, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live!

We also have our First Score Credit Counseling program; a low cost, interactive session ($30) with a First Financial expert, which simulates your credit score with various “what if” scenarios. You can email us at firstscore@firstffcu.com or call 866.750.0100, Option 2 to get started.

*Written by Stephanie Steinburg of US News, click here to view the article source.