How To Build Credit History And Why It’s Important

I remember a story from when I was kid about a great aunt of mine.  She and my late uncle had paid cash for everything in their lives.  When they needed a new car, they wrote a check for the full amount.  When it was time for a house, it was paid for.  This was very responsible, but there came a time when my aunt wanted to build credit and she couldn’t.  She was over 70 years old at the time and had no credit history!  Yikes.  Ever since then, I have understood that it’s important to build credit.  So how do you build credit history?  And why?  Here are a few simple answers.

The Importance of Credit

There are a few good reasons to make sure you have a credit history.

  1. Future Need.  My aunt had no real need for credit.  I’m not even sure what the circumstances where that led her to find out she had no credit history.  In truth, she probably didn’t need it.  But, you never know when you might.  It’s good to have a credit history for the times you might need one.  Even if you don’t foresee such circumstances, they very well could be out there.  So, be prepared.
  2. Opportunity.  At the time that this happened with my aunt, rewards cards really weren’t a thing. But now they are.  Nowadays having credit history might set you up for opportunities to save money.  Having these opportunities available is key for you never know when they’ll pop up.
  3. Owning Your History.  Identify theft is a huge thing nowadays.  What if my aunt had her credit stolen?  Without a credit history, she might never have known!  Take control of your own credit history and then it’s yours to build and track.

How To Build Credit History

Building credit history doesn’t have to be complicated.  It can be done in a few easy steps.

  1. Open a credit card.  This is pretty basic.  Open a card in your name.
  2. Set a small credit limit.  When you are starting off, make sure to get a small limit.  If you haven’t used credit cards before, don’t get overwhelmed.
  3. Use the card occasionally.  Having a card will start credit history, but using the card is even more important. That’s where you’ll start getting judged on how well you use your available credit.
  4. Pay immediately.  Use the card in place of cash.  Don’t make extra purchases with your card.  Instead, just make purchases you would have anyways.  All you need to change is how you pay for your purchase.  When you choose this method, pay the card immediately.  Using the card and paying it off will quickly build you to a great score.
  5. Track your credit.  Once you start building credit history, you’ll be able to track your credit.  Use one of the free annual checks.  Make sure that you are seeing only what you expect to see.

In the end, a solid credit history can only come after you take that first step toward building it.  A small step or two can go a long way toward building lifelong stability.

Readers, how did you start building credit?  What was your reason at the time to get started?  Any other tips?

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Is AmEx Customer Service Better Than Citi?

Last year, the Costco branded credit card switched from American Express to Citi.  Since we use ours to gather the maximum cash back rewards, we decided to carry both.  We opened an American Express card after the switch.  This is a great strategy for us.  When the switched was announced, we heard a lot of complaints about customer service.  Specifically, many said that American Express had good customer service, and that Citi did not.  I decided to give a spot test.  While this isn’t conclusive, I thought it’d be fun to share whether AmEx customer service came out ahead, behind or equal to Citi.

Traveling Notification

We were heading on vacation.  I always like to notify the credit card companies.  That way, the company won’t see us making a bunch of charges from an unusual location and disallow charges for potential fraud.  I couldn’t imagine it’d be fun to be on vacation and have your card come up declined.

Since we’ll probably be using both of these cards during our trip, I decided to call and notify both companies.

Honestly, the process and the experience was about equal.

Number

Both cards had the phone number for customer service on the back of the card.

Routing

Both cards pick up and ask what you’re calling about.  The voice recigniton systems used are very similar, if not actually the same software package.  They will try to get your request handled. I knew I’d want to speak to an agent so I told it ‘Customer Service’.  Both of them tried to convince me to provide more detail, but after repeating ‘Customer Service’ took me to the next step.

Verification

Both systems knew that I was calling from my primary number.  Citi only asked me to punch in the last four digits of my card.  American Express made me punch in my full card number as well as the last four digits of my social security number.

Helpfulness

Both of the calls were picked up right away.  Both of the agents were friendly.  They both knew exactly what I was calling to do when I explained it to them.  They both made sure to verify the dates and locations where I’d be making charges.  Both thanked me and wished us a good trip.

Follow Up

Citi actually sent me an e-mail verifying the conversation and the travel information.  I thought that was a nice touch.

Summary

In the end, both companies provided top notch service.  I know it was a simple request and it was only one, but both experiences made me happy to be a customer with their company.  That’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it?

Readers, have you had any really good or really awful experiences with a credit card company?  Please share your experiences in the comments below.  Thanks very much for reading!

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Free Cash: Why We Use Cash Back Credit Cards

We use cash back credit cards for just about every purchase that we possibly can.  Why?  The answer is simple, because we earn free cash and it adds up to a good amount.  Below is how much cash we’ve earned in the last twelve months.

Costco Visa Card

This is our primary spending card.  It has the most rewards that we use.  We get 4% cash back on gas, 3% at restaurants, 2% at Costco, and 1% on everything else.

They issue a certificate once per year that you take into the store to cash.  This year we’ll be getting $281.88.

American Express Blue Everyday Card

When Costco switched from American Express to Visa, we took an offer to open one of these cards.  We primarily use this at grocery stores, as we get 3% cash back.  We do make other purchases on here as well.

Since we opened this last year, we’ve earned $159.32 in cash back.

In addition to this, American Express has the best ‘offers’ of any card I’ve seen.  In addition to the above, we’ve saved money on statement credits just for using American Express to pay our cell phone bill, visit a Mobil station, or even just to sign in to their online app.  Plus we got a big statement credit just for spending a certain amount on the card within 90 days.  Without looking, I’d say we got over $350 in statement credits on top of the cash back.

Citi Dividends Cards

These were the first cash back cards we ever opened, and I don’t think you can even get them as new members anymore.  But, for these (just like everything else) we get 1% cash back on everything, plus 5% on rotating categories that change every quarter.

We pretty much keep these because they’re our oldest cards, and having a card established for that long is good for our credit scores.  We’ll use this for camping reservations or other purchases that don’t give bonus money on any other card.

Between my card and my wife’s card, we have earned $125.41 over the past twelve months since we last cashed out.

Grand Total Earned From Cash Back Credit Cards

Adding all of that up, we have earned $566.81 in cash back just by using our cards.  We pay our cards off in full every month, so we aren’t paying a nickel in interest.  Nor do we pay an annual fee for any of these cards.  That’s basically us buying things or making purchases on things we’re going to anyways, and ending up with over $500.  That is a pretty good deal if you ask me.

In the past, we’ve used our cash back rewards cards to purchase electronics.  All of our flat screen TVs have been purchased with cash back rewards money.  We’ve also applied this toward a vacation in years we haven’t needed anything new.

Readers, do you use cash back reward cards?  Do you make sure to use them to your full advantage?  If so, what tricks or tips do you have?  Please let me know how things work for you in the comments below.

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

7 Steps To Improve Your Credit Score

Few things are worse than finding out that you have a bad credit score.  Many people know that they have this hanging over their head, where others are taken completely by surprise when they go to take a loan or just do a check.

If you have a bad credit score, then don’t wait to start fixing it.  Every step you take can count and help improve your score, and the faster you get started, the faster you can see your score move in the right direction.

Check your credit report for accuracy.

The first thing you should do is check your credit report to make sure that everything is accurate.  A bad score can come about with inaccurate information or if you’ve been the victim of identity theft and there are items that you don’t even know are there.

Work through any late payments.

If you’re late on any payments, you need to get this taken care of in order to gain any sort of traction at all.

Reduce your available debt.

If you have a lot of credit lines open, you can often improve your score by selectively closing credit cards or calling credit companies and asking for a lower credit limit.  Less available credit is often seen as less risk of default, which can improve your score.

Reduce the number of open balances.

If you are carrying a lot of different credit cards with balances, you want to start reducing this number as fast as possible. If you owe $5,000, it’s more favorable to have two cards splitting that balance than it is to have six or seven.  You can start by paying off cards that have the lowest balances.  You may also look for an existing card that will offer a good rate on balance transfers and bring some or all of your credit balances together into one spot.

Pay off your loans faster.

If you’re only making the minimum payments, you need to start bumping this number up.  Sell some stuff.  Take on a side gig.  Make lifestyle changes.  Whatever it takes, you want to start lowering your balances, which will improve your score.

Stop applying for credit.

Newer lines of credit are seen as riskier than older ones.  Every ‘new’ credit card you take can potentially damage your score.  As a general rule, don’t apply for any additional credit.

Stop charging.

If you pay off $500 on your balances but then add $400 in the month, you’re not going to get very far at all.  Make your purchases for what you need today via cash, check or a debit card.  This way, any activity on your cards is only serving to lower it.  Knowing that goes a long way.

The bottom line is that bad credit scores are awful, but they don’t last forever.  You may not be able to change it overnight.  However, you can certainly do so with an organized and disciplined approach.

Readers, have you ever actively taken measures to improve your credit score? How did it go?

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.