Say Goodbye to High Credit Card Interest!

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Today is National Moment of Frustration Day. But, we’ve got good news!

First Financial can help you get rid of your high-rate frustration with our Visa® Platinum Credit Card with low rates and minimal fees! Instead of being frustrated with high interest rates and various fees on your current credit card, we have a simple solution.

For one day only, Wednesday, October 12th (that’s today!), transfer your high-rate credit card balances to our Visa® Platinum Credit Card.

You’ll enjoy an introductory rate of just 0.80% APR for the first 8 months on all purchases and balance transfers (even as an existing cardholder – simply transfer a new balance of at least $800 to your Platinum Credit Card to qualify)!* Plus, there are no balance transfer fees or annual fees either.*

As an added bonus, you’ll be entered into a drawing to win an $80 Visa® Gift Card just for applying for a Visa® Platinum Credit Card today only.**

Start your application online now, call us at 732.312.1500 Option 4, or just stop by a branch today!

*APR = Annual Percentage Rate. Other fees that apply: 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. Introductory APR varies from 0.80% to 18% when you open your account based on your creditworthiness. This Introductory APR is for purchases and balance transfers and will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Not all applicants qualify, subject to credit approval. After the 8 month introductory period your APR will revert back to your regular qualifying rate which will vary between 11.15% and 18% depending on creditworthiness. The qualifying period for the Introductory APR is between 7/1/16 and 2/28/17. New Accounts will receive qualifying Introductory APR on all purchases and balance transfers for 8 months starting from the date the account is opened. Current First Financial Visa® Credit Cardholders will be eligible to receive qualifying Introductory APR on balance transfers with a minimum of $800 and maximum amount of $8,000.00 for an 8 month period starting from the date the balance transfer is posted. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a Visa® Credit Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account or loan. **All in branch and online Visa® Platinum Credit Card applicants who submit an application on 10/12/16 will be entered into a drawing and a winner will be selected at random to win an $80 Visa® Gift Card. Do not need to be First Financial member or qualify for promotion to be entered to win. The winner will be contacted by the Marketing Department on or about 10/14/16.

The One Way to Never Fall Into Debt Again

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Debt is literally a four letter word; it just also happens to mean you owe money.

Many Americans have a dream they’ll never realize: living without debt. Yet, the dream is possible for nearly everyone – just be prepared for the sea change of behavior required to make it happen. If you are unprepared, your ship will never make it to the safe harbor of paradise, and you will crash upon the jagged rocks of financial ruin.

Follow these simple steps to make your dreams of a safe financial future come true, and steer clear of financial ruin.

Make Up Your Mind

Many people fall into debt because they grow complacent, spending above and beyond their means, living from paycheck to paycheck with barely enough to make the bills. They don’t have enough to pay for dinner out on Friday, the new clothes that go with it, or the movie after.

Yet they do it anyway, and on the credit card the spending goes. The honest, painful truth is that if you don’t have the money for those things, you shouldn’t be doing them. Learning to be satisfied with your limitations is difficult. You want to be accepted by your personal crowd, but if your crowd’s habits are decaying your account balance one bad habit at a time, you have to ask yourself if the consequences are really worth it.

Once you decide that the lush greens of financial security offer an abundance that the Jones’ can’t match, then the seas gets glassy and the waters are far easier to ease through.

Say Goodbye

Once you’ve made up your mind to live within your means, it’s time to say goodbye to your plastic.

Either cut them or bury them far, far away. You may even want to freeze your credit cards. You can’t open the dam for the credit flood waters if you don’t have access to it. Don’t panic. It’ll be tough at first to say goodbye because you’ll feel like you’re being left without a life preserver, but the truth is you’ll be gaining a lifeboat in exchange.

Pay Off Your Debt First

Cutting up your card was the first step. Now you must be proactive about slashing it to zero. Snowballing is an extremely effective way to quickly demolish your debt. Establish your payoff plan and stick to it. This debt is now a “need” on your financial map.

You have a plan for paying off your credit cards, now lay out your map to help you get from paycheck A to paycheck B.

Lay Out Your Map

What are your needs? What are your wants?

By organizing your finances by needs and wants on a paycheck to paycheck scale, you can pay off the needs first, then have whatever is left for you. When you draw your financial map, classify bills, debts, and savings as needs, don’t forget to calculate things like clothes and the once in a while purchases too. Otherwise, your budget won’t resemble reality. The only rule is to determine needs from wants when you allot your funds.

Track Your Money

The beauty of online bill pay is that using it for everything keeps you from running blind through your budget, while showing you exactly what’s happening with your balance. Without credit or debit cards sucking the life from your account, it’s one way in and two ways out – cash and bill pay.

Use bill pay for everything and withdraw your cash for the extras bill pay can’t handle such as gas and petty expenses. Once your cash is gone. You’re done. No more spending until the next paycheck is securely in your account.

Remember to withdraw enough cash to get you through. Allot the amount of cash required for groceries, fuel, kid’s needs, and anything else you may need for the period. If you know your child needs new clothes, establish a plan for that spending and only use cash you have readily available.

Some people label envelopes so they can distribute the cash they need to the places they need it, without cutting into funds from another category. Do whatever works for your mind and your system. The only unbreakable rule is that you can’t spend beyond the cash you have, so you must manage it well.

Once you have learned to live within your means, and have your debt under control, life will be sweeter and you’ll never return to the choppy waters of too much debt again.

*Original article courtesy of Vincent King of MoneyNing.

Kids Off To College? Here’s How To Get Them Started With Credit

ahmxmt-woman-displaying-credit-cards-in-park-college-student-2How can you build good credit if no one will give you a credit card? This is the predicament many college students face. Generally, banks and credit card companies don’t want to take a risk on someone with no credit history. But, with no credit history, adults face extreme financial limitations that can affect all kinds of situations, including renting an apartment.

Getting one’s first credit card has become an even trickier process in recent years, but fortunately if parents are willing to help get their kids set up, it can be pretty simple.

“Due to the CARD act, it’s now prohibited for credit card companies to give credit cards to anyone under 21 unless they have their own income, or have a co-signer,” said Liran Amrany, the founder and CEO of Debitize. “For parents sending their kids off to college, it’s usually a good idea to offer yourself as a co-signer so your child can start building credit.”

In fact, it’s probably a good idea to take this step before your child is off to college. Vinay Bhaskara, co-founder of CollegeVine, strongly recommends adding kids to your credit card while they’re still at home. Essentially, the earlier one forms credit with a parent’s help, the sooner they can branch out on their own.

“In practice, establishing credit is a process that should actually start in high school, where the parent makes their child an authorized user on one or more of the parent’s cards,” said Bhaskara. “The student should spend a little bit each month to start building some credit history. After a few months, they can set up a student credit card with a small ($500-800) limit. From there, the student is off and running.”

If your child is already starting college in the fall and hasn’t yet forged a line of credit, you can still add them as an authorized user. Also, Bhaskara notes, your child will probably discover a bank on campus that can set them up with student credit accounts.This may also require your co-signature.

The earlier that young adults can form credit with a parent’s help, the sooner they can branch out on their own.

If your credit is decent, you shouldn’t have any issue adding your child to your credit card. The real challenge comes with making sure they understand the responsibility of having a credit card.

“Because the easiest way parents can help their children establish and build credit is to initially co-sign and/or open joint accounts, they must be willing to talk with their children honestly and openly about what they’re comfortable with in terms of spending by the student,” said Bhaskara. “Parents are also probably the most important source of personal finance knowledge for their children, so they must be comfortable with this concept.”

You’ll want to explain that if they’re attached to your credit card, any irresponsible actions can reflect poorly on you and the good credit history you’ve worked years to build. Also, you’ll want to set spending limits, if not through the credit card company, then through a verbal or written contract with your child.

Ideally, your child will be on your card for awhile, and then branch off to get his or her own credit card(s). It’s important to continue educating your kids at this point of independence. If they’ve built up good credit with your help, credit card offers are going to start pouring in, and young adults may be all too tempted by the deceptive promise of money at their fingertips.

“Money is already tight enough for college students, so while the thought of quick and easy money is appealing, the reality of 20 percent interest rates can be crippling, especially if you won’t be able to really start paying down balances until after graduation,” said Kristina Ellis, financial expert and author of How to Graduate Debt Free: The Best Strategies to Pay for College. “Teach them to be wise and very leery of the dangers of credit card debt.”

Ellis also stresses that under no conditions should students turn to credit cards to pay for college, as “in most cases, the benefits of spending on student credit cards don’t come close to the eventual costs.”

First Financial can help your college students build and establish credit!* There are no balance transfer fees, no annual fees, and our cards are also equipped with an EMV chip for maximum security. To apply or for more information, please call 732.312.1500 Option 4, visit our website, or email info@firstffcu.com.

*APR varies from 11.15% to 18% 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. Rates quoted assume excellent borrower credit history. Your actual APR may vary based on your state of residence, approved loan amount, applicable discounts and your credit history. 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. Federally insured by NCUA.

Original article source courtesy of Nicole Audrey of NBC News.

5 Things You Should Never Put on a Credit Card

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Credit cards can seem convenient and actually benefit your finances when used correctly. However, there are times when it’s best to avoid using a credit card as it can contribute to debt. And, there are some things you should never put on a credit card.

It’s not uncommon for the average American household to have several thousands of dollars worth of revolving credit card debt to deal with, which can be crippling to overcome. Credit card interest rates are pretty high and are why you should only use your credit card to pay for affordable purchases that you can pay off in full each month.

To avoid the pitfalls of debt, here are 5 things you should never put on a credit card.

1. A Down Payment

If you are financing something and putting money down, it’s best to use your own cash instead of a credit card. Financing a big purchase like a vehicle is already creating debt that you have to pay back plus interest anyway. Financing the actual down payment too with your credit card could just create additional debt after the loan. Plus, it may be a key indicator that you can’t afford the item you are trying to finance.

While a lot of places won’t accept credit card payments due to the high fee the card company charges to process the transaction, some may allow it and there may be the option to utilize a cash advance through your credit card company. Even if the option is available, it’s almost always not worth it in the end. Instead, plan to save up over time to pay for large purchases in cash, or save up at least 20 percent of the total purchase price to put down as a down payment if you choose to finance.

2. Medical Bills

Paying off medical debt with a credit card is not usually a good choice. Credit cards are attached to daily or monthly interest rates while most medical debt is not. If you feel overwhelmed by your medical debt, you can try to consolidate it or work out a payment plan with your health care provider’s accounting department to avoid having your account go to collections.

As long as you are willing to pay back your medical debt, your provider should be flexible with establishing a monthly payment plan that you can afford. This way, you can pay off all your debt interest free without having to use a credit card.

3. College Tuition

Paying for college with credit cards it not a good alternative to taking out student loans. While your credit card may have a 0% intro APR offer for the first 12-14 months, if you don’t pay off the balance in full before that period is up, you will start paying interest on the balance. The interest rates for student loans is often lower than credit card interest rates, so charging the tuition for your college education on a credit card could actually cost you more money than taking out student loans would. Not to mention, maxing out your credit card or spending more than 30 percent of your total utilization could make your credit score decrease.

If you don’t qualify for government grants or federal or private student loans, you can always apply for scholarships, go to a local community college for your first two years of college and pay for tuition in cash with the help of a part-time job, or obtain a job with a company that will offer financial assistance for higher education. Companies like Starbucks and Best Buy offer to pay a portion of employees’ college tuition as long as they meet certain requirements.

4. A Vacation

With so many travel rewards credit cards out there, it’s important to remember that the golden rule of thumb is to only use a credit card to fund your vacation when you can pay the bill off in full at the end of your billing cycle.

Earning cash back and travel discounts and rewards for spending a certain amount of money on your credit card sounds great, but if you can’t afford to spend the money in the first place, the offer can do more harm than good. For example, how great would you feel if your week-long summer vacation left you with $5,000 in credit card debt but allowed you to earn a bonus of $500 for travel? You’d still be in quite a bit of debt which could spoil your entire travel experience.

Try opening up a high-yield savings account to save money for travel each month so you won’t have to go into debt just for a vacation.

First Financial offers a Summer Savings Account where you can put aside money to save for a vacation or general summer expenses. There are no minimum balance requirements and dividends are posted annually on balances of $100 or more. You can also elect to have either 50% transferred in July AND 50% transferred in August OR 100% transferred in July.* Click here to learn more about our Summer Savings Account today!

5. Your Dream Wedding

Again, a wedding is another life changing experience that you shouldn’t charge to your credit card if you know you won’t be able to handle paying the bill. Starting your new marriage off with debt will not feel good and will delay your family’s financial progress.

If you are planning a wedding and your budget is tight, consider lowering your wedding expenses by cutting corners, starting with non-necessities or traditions that aren’t important to you. Some couples have their wedding during the off season and on an unpopular day to save money while others go so far as to cut their guest list down or doing away with extra elements like flowers or a D.J.

Ultimately, when you focus on planning a wedding that reflects your vision, your budget, and what you value, you probably won’t have to pick up your credit card to charge pricey expenses at all.

Use Your Credit Cards Wisely

If you’re going to use a credit card regularly, it’s important to know your limits and use the card wisely. Make sure your spending is not exceeding 30 percent of your utilization each month and you’re making purchases for items you actually need and can pay for, not things that you will regret later.

First Financial’s Visa® Platinum Credit Card comes fully loaded with higher credit lines, lower APR, no annual fee, no balance transfer fees, 10 day grace period, CURewards redeemable for merchandise and travel and so much more!** Click here to apply online today.

*A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account. Account-holder will elect to have either 50% of the funds transferred in July and 50% transferred in August OR 100% transferred in July. All Summer Savings funds are deposited into a First Financial Checking or Base Savings Account. All personal memberships are part of the Rewards First program and a $5 per month non-participation fee is charged to the base savings account for memberships not meeting the minimum requirements of the program. Visit rstffcu.com to view full Rewards First program details, and to view the Tier Level Comparison Chart. Accounts for children age 13 and under are excluded from this program.

**APR varies from 11.15% to 18% 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. Rates quoted assume excellent borrower credit history. Your actual APR may vary based on your state of residence, approved loan amount, applicable discounts and your credit history. 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.

Original article source courtesy of Chonce Maddox of Lending Tree.

9 Ways to Get Your Finances Ready Before Having a Baby

Newborns don’t just come with that adorable new-baby smell and impossibly tiny toes — they also carry a hefty price tag. One of the most overwhelming challenges of parenthood is managing the many new costs, which seem to grow exponentially as your child does. If you’re planning to start a family, don’t panic. Here are the eight financial moves to make before becoming a parent.

1. Decide Where to Rein in Spending.

Knowing what your numbers look like is necessary to the planning-for-baby process. Leave out nothing: List all your assets, including your bank accounts, investments, and property. Get a clear picture of your debt, from car payments and credit cards to student loans and your mortgage. That way you have a starting point for your new financial plan.

Next, take a look at your budget (or set one up if you don’t have one) to cut back on unnecessary expenses. Now is the time to trim the fat in your spending, so reassess the costs you take for granted — like your cable or cell phone bills — to make sure you’re getting the best deals.

If you need to curb your spending, make realistic cuts that you can sustain. Otherwise, you’ll likely give up on your cost-saving measures.

2. Devise a Debt Action Plan.

With a baby on the way, it’s more important than ever to get serious about paying down your debt. It will only get harder to do as the expenses of raising a family pile up. Try:

  • The avalanche method: Kill your high-interest debt first — this is often credit card debt. Then continue down your list, tackling the highest interest rates first. This approach gives you the most bang for your buck financially.
  • The snowball method: Pay off your smallest debts first. Having a “win” under your belt early on can help give you the motivation you need to keep going.

You can also do a mix of the two strategies: Start with the snowball method and once you’re motivated by a zero balance, switch over to the avalanche. If you’re unsure of the best approach, you can also use an online calculator to help you strategize.

3. Build an Emergency Fund.

An emergency fund is crucial no matter where you are in life, but it’s even more vital when you become a parent. Conventional wisdom says your cash cushion should be around two to three months’ worth of expenses. Calculate what that means for you (rent/mortgage, food, bills, transportation, etc.), and then figure out what, and how long, it will take to get there. A savings calculator can help.

Padding your emergency fund generally should be secondary to paying off debt, because your debt’s interest can cost you over the long haul. But if you don’t have anything in the coffers, then you should work on both at the same time.

4. Budget for Baby.

Your budget isn’t written in stone; it should change as your life — and family — grows. Start crunching the numbers and adjusting as soon as you find out you’re expecting, or ideally, even earlier. You’ll need to add, at minimum, these basic expenses (based on national averages, which vary by location) into your new monthly budget:

  • Child care (at a daycare): About $972 a month
  • Disposable diapers: $30-$85 a month
  • Formula: $60-$100 a month
  • Clothing: $20-$50 a month

Note: If you want to save for college, you might consider a 529 college savings plan. For example, here is a hypothetical situation to help illustrate this point: To cover 25 percent of a public, four-year, in-state school, you’d need to save $109 a month starting when your child is born. (This assumes a 6 percent annual return and tuition rate of $201,386, which is what SavingforCollege.com predicts will be the average tuition in 18 years.)

If you would like to set up a no-cost consultation with First Financial’s Investment & Retirement Center to discuss setting up a 529 college savings plan or other savings products, contact us at 732.312.1564, email, or stop in to see us!*

5. Save for the Big-Ticket Baby Items.

There’s often a big up-front investment for new parents — babies require endless gear. You’re going to need a solid savings plan for those costs alone.

Depending on what’s right for your family, your up-front costs should include the following (these are based on the national average costs, and may vary according to your location or brand):

  • Crib: $120-$850
  • Changing table: $80-$250
  • Car seat: $80-$300
  • Stroller: $70-$900
  • Diaper bag: $25-$200
  • Playpen: $59-$150
  • Swing: $85-$120
  • High chair: $60-$250
  • Bottles: $50-$100
  • Monitor: $40-$60

Remember that people love to give baby gifts, so you may be able to register for many of these items and take them out of your budget.

6. Pump HR for Information.

If you’re expecting, or even just considering having kids soon, talk to HR as soon as possible. In order to fully understand what your leave will look like, find out:

  • The pay policy for parental leave.
  • Whether you can combine your leave with paid time off.
  • Your company’s long-term disability policy, and whether it can be applied to your leave.
  • The benefits entitled to adoptive parents.
  • How long your job is secure.
  • What forms you need to fill out to take leave.
  • Who is going to cover your duties while you are away.
  • The options for transitioning back to work — can you work part-time or telecommute to on-ramp?
  • Finally, get a sense of the insurance changes that will come with parenthood. Find out when and how to add your baby to your health care plan, and see whether your insurance allows you to contribute to a Flexible Spending Account/Health Savings Account or a Dependent Care FSA.

7. Get Your Legal Ducks in a Row.

No one likes to think about these sorts of things, but if you and your partner (if you have one) were to pass away, your estate would go to court for a lengthy process that can cost somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 percent of your assets.

To get your house in order, some of the documents you should consider having include a will, a power of attorney, and a health care proxy. This may save your heirs from having to make difficult decisions for you and help ensure that they’re taken care of: Wills clarify how you want to distribute your property after death, and they declare a legal guardian for your children. Power of attorney gives authority to another person to make decisions on your behalf about your property or finances. A health care proxy lays out who will make medical decisions for you if you can’t make them for yourself. Make sure you have both primary and contingent beneficiaries listed on all of these so that your wishes are as clear as possible.

You also should consider creating a living trust — a legal document that provides lifetime and after-death property management and lets you transfer assets easily. A living trust is a revocable trust, meaning it can be dissolved or changed at any time. Living trusts are especially helpful for parents of young children: You can include specific instructions within the trust, like how and when your assets will be transferred if you die before you children become legal adults (18 or 21, depending on the state).

8. Know Your Tax Breaks.

Having a kid comes with tons of benefits — unending love and (hopefully) someone to take care of you in your golden years, to name a few. But don’t overlook the concrete tax benefits that you can get as well. These include:

  • $4,000 for an additional dependent exemption.
  • $1,000 for the Child Tax Credit until the child turns 17.
  • $3,000 per child or up to 20 percent of qualifying costs for the Child and Dependent.
  • Care Credit (see a list of requirements for qualification).
  • $13,400 for the Adoption Credit.

Each deduction and credit has specific requirements, so be sure to double-check your eligibility. Fun fact: You can claim a full year’s worth of tax benefits even if your child is born on December 31.

It’s always a good idea to start saving for your child’s future as early as possible – open a First Step Kids Savings Account right here at First Financial!** There’s just a $5 minimum to open the account and no fees, PLUS they’ll earn dividends on balances over $100. Stop by any branch location and we’ll help you get started!

*Representatives are registered, securities are sold, and investment advisory services offered through CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc. (CBSI), member FINRA/SIPC, a registered broker/dealer and investment advisor, 2000 Heritage Way, Waverly, Iowa 50677, toll-free 800-369-2862. Non-deposit investment and insurance products are not federally insured, involve investment risk, may lose value and are not obligations of or guaranteed by the financial institution. CBSI is under contract with the financial institution, through the financial services program, to make securities available to members. CUNA Brokerage Services, Inc., is a registered broker/dealer in all fifty states of the United States of America.

**As of 12/12/2012, the First Step Kids Account has an annual percentage yield of 0.05% on balances of $100.00 and more. The dividend rate may change after the account is opened. Parent or guardian must bring both the child’s birth certificate and social security card when opening a First Step Kids Account at any branch location.  Parent or guardian will be a joint owner and must also bring their identification. A First Financial Membership is open to anyone who lives, works, worships or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.

Original article source by Steve Taylor of TIME Money.

Millennials: How You Can Avoid Credit Pain

bigstock-Young-Business-Man-Under-Stres-89718578-e1446206462272Millennials think they know a lot about credit. But the numbers tell a different story.

More than 7 in 10 millennials said they feel confident about their credit knowledge, according to a recent survey by Experian. If fact, millennials on average estimated they had a score of 654. But it turns out that for many 18-to-34-year-olds, even that was an overestimation. And millennials are less likely to check their credit reports, Experian said.

Here’s how it works: Thirty-five percent of your credit score is determined by your payment history, or whether you have made payments on time, 30% is your credit utilization, or the amount borrowed compared to the total credit available, 15% is determined by the length of your credit history, 10% comes from the number of applications for new credit and 10% is from the types of credit you have (i.e. revolving, installment, mortgage etc.).

Generally, credit companies prefer a mix of credit because the variety suggests you know how to use credit responsibly. A combination of car and student loans along with some credit card use, for example, helps build up your credit score as long as you pay on time over an extended period.

Scores range from 300 to 850. If your score is above 750, you’re considered to have excellent credit, which paves the way to the lowest interest rates and a better chance of getting approved for loans. If your score is on the lower side, it can cost you — that means higher interest rates on everything from credit cards to auto loans.

Here’s the breakdown:

800+ = exceptional
740-799 = very good
670-739 = good
580-699 = fair
Below 580 = poor

Financial advisors warn that a bad score may even hurt your chances of getting a job. Employers have access to your score and can factor it in to their decisions. Your credit score is a reflection of you and if your credit is bad, it could inject some doubt about your ability to handle personal matters and business matters.

With a lower score – you may still get a loan, but you will likely have to put more money down as a down payment and pay a higher rate, which can be costly.

For example, having a score of 650 versus 760 can cost you $125 more a month on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage for a $200,000 loan, according to credit tracking firm CreditSesame.com. That’s $1,500 more a year, or $45,000 over the life of the loan.

You are entitled to a free report from the three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) once every 12 months from annualcreditreport.com

Experts suggest checking your report regularly. Once a year is sufficient to get a gauge on your number, and check for any errors, like an incorrect payment status or delinquencies that have since been remedied.

Remember to keep an eye on the debt-to-limit ratio. What you borrow compared to the total credit available, also known as your debt utilization ratio, counts for a whopping 30% of your credit score. A debt utilization ratio greater than 30% will have a negative effect.

If you are borrowing too much, start a debt repayment plan to lower the ratio as much as possible.

Ideally, credit cards should be paid in full at the end of each payment period to avoid sky high interest. Paying in full each month also demonstrates that you are a responsible borrower. This will help build up good credit and save you money since the faster you pay down debt, the less interest you’ll pay.

Even if you don’t pay off all of your debt right away, make sure you are always paying on time. Set up automatic payments to avoid late payments. A missed payment will also hurt your score.

Ultimately, a credit score is one of the most important numbers you have. In the long run, a bad score could raise the cost of a car or home loan, increase you credit card interest from a single digit to double digits or even deny you credit entirely.

Not only does a good credit score save you money by lowering interest rates, it’s a reflection of you and your personal matters. So it is worth putting in the time to build up a good report. A credit score is one of the building blocks of your financial future and that has a big bearing on your entire life.

*Original article source written by Landon Dowdy of USA Today.