The following is a post by MPFJ staff writer, Kevin Mercadante, who is a professional personal finance blogger, and the owner of his own personal finance blog, OutOfYourRut.com. He has backgrounds in both accounting and the mortgage industry.
Credit problems often start early in life, and it’s not just a coincidence. New college graduates can easily get involved in credit situations that can have very negative unintended consequences. Part of it is simply not knowing exactly how the credit world works. But another part is overconfidence – the assumption that you will be able to overcome any problems you can face.
But the best way to deal with problems, especially credit problems, is to not get into them in the first place. That’s because credit problems are much more easily avoided then they are repaired. Here are seven ways for new college grads to avoid sabotaging credit.
1. Learn the Fine Art of Delayed Gratification
Otherwise known as you don’t have to have it now! If you’ve struggled financially while you were in school, you may be tempted to “live a little” after graduation. After all, you worked so hard to get your degree, you deserve some of the finer things in life, right?
Wrong. You don’t deserve it until you can afford it. Commit that concept to memory. There’s nothing magical about landing your first job. Sure you now have a steady income, and hopefully a generous one at that. But you’ll also begin to watch your expenses rise in tandem.
It will be tough enough to pay for the necessities in life, let alone luxuries. Buy what you absolutely need to survive right now, and don’t begin living the life until you have the salary and bankroll to pay for it directly. A lot of young people go horribly wrong on this front when they begin paying for luxuries using plastic and various types of creative financing. It can end up being the beginning of credit hell. Don’t get into that trap.
2. Work Off the Debts You Already Have Before Racking Up New Ones
There’s a better-than-even chance that you already had debt when you graduated. There’s probably one or more student loans, perhaps a modest car loan, and maybe even a credit card balance or two.
Before you begin adding any more debt to the list, first concentrate on paying off the debt you already have. If you don’t, then you will end up stacking debt on top of debt. Even if you have a healthy income, debt has a way of outstripping income, at least in part because it’s so easy to get into it.
Once you clear the deck of existing debt – with perhaps the exception of your student loans – you can then begin to contemplate the conservative use of credit going forward.
3. Make Sure You Pay Your Non-Loan Obligations on Time
If you’ve read many articles on credit, you are aware of how important it is that your debts are paid on time. But debts aren’t the only obligations that need to be paid when due.
There are other expenses you are likely to incur that may not show up on your credit report if you make your payments on time. But if you leave a bill unpaid, the vendor might report it to the credit bureaus. It’s unfortunate but true.
This is not at all unusual when it comes to utilities and cell phone companies. It can also happen when it comes to rent. If you leave an unpaid balance on an account, perhaps after making a move, the account can go into collection, and that will show up on your credit report. If the balance is particularly large, it could even become a judgment.
Whether it is a collection or a judgment, it will hurt your credit score. Do your best to make sure this doesn’t happen by paying all bills.
4. You Know Those Credit Card Offers Flooding Your Mail? Ignore Them
Many credit card companies aggressively court new college graduates. They are willing to ignore the financial stresses that come with transitioning from student life to adult life, in attempts to get into the new graduate’s financial life on the ground floor. They assume that as your financial situation improves, their business relationship with you will expand.
That may be good for the lenders – and it might even make you feel good on an emotional level. But by accepting too many of these offers it can be a one-way ticket to bad credit. The temptation to run up the balances may be too great to resist.
You should be able to get by with just one or two credit lines early in life. If you already have those, throw all of the new offers in the trash.
5. Never Assume a Lender Will “Understand” Why You Can’t Make a Payment
As a student, you may have grown accustomed to begging off mercy with teachers and professors for late or insufficient assignments. But the credit world is not so forgiving. Never assume that a lender will understand, and agree to float you through a lean time or two. Yes, they may agree to it verbally, but they will almost certainly give a negative report on your credit report nonetheless, hurting your credit score.
6. Never Let Credit be a Substitute for Income
Speaking of lean times, should you fall into one you must resist the temptation to use credit to make up for the lost income. The problem is that when you rely on credit to replace income, your debts grow much more quickly than you can imagine. And once you do get back on your feet, your progress will be slowed by all of the new debt you acquired when your income was soft or nonexistent.
The better route is to make sure that you have emergency savings to cover income disruptions. You should also have some sort of Plan B in regard to income. That isn’t to say that you need to be perpetually working a second job, but it will help to have one ready just in case.
7. Never – Ever(!) – Cosign a Loan for Anyone
When you cosign a loan for someone else you effectively concede your credit performance to that person. How so? If they have a late payment, you have a late payment. If the account goes into collection, you have a collection. To add insult to injury, if the lender comes after the primary borrower for the balance, and the primary borrower can’t pay it, they’ll come after you next. That’s the whole purpose of having a cosigner on a loan in the first place.
Cosigning a loan for another person is an outstanding way to get a bad credit rating through no fault of your own. Think deeply about that the next time you’re persuaded to be the nice guy/girl in someone else’s life.
I realize that all seven of these strategies kind of go against the natural flow of life. But understand that when you are young, the potential is great to do long-term damage to your credit. And if you do, it can haunt you for years. Do your best to stay out of these situations, and you can avoid the worst of it.
How about you all? What mistakes have you made regarding your credit score / credit history?
Share your experiences by commenting below!
***Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/83633410@N07/7658305438/in/