1. Pay your bills on time. Creditors scrutinize your credit history. If you pay your bills on time, this reflects well on you. If you have a record of delinquent payments, you might want to consider credit counseling on how to better manage your finances.
2. Manage your debt. Your debt/income ratio — the percentage of your income that goes to paying off debt — is another gauge of your financial health. You can calculate this ratio by dividing your monthly minimum debt payments (excluding mortgage) by your monthly take-home income. If your debt payment absorbs:
- Less than 20% of your income, you are doing well
- Between 20% to 35%, consider reducing your overall debt
- More than 35% consider credit counseling or some type of aggressive debt-reduction strategy
3. Don’t over-apply for credit. Limit the number of loan applications you submit. Each bid shows up as an inquiry in your credit report. Even if you’re just comparison-shopping for the best rate, too many inquiries can be viewed as a desperate bid to obtain credit to get out of financial trouble.
4. Shred your documents. Be sure to destroy any piece of paper with Social Security or credit card numbers. Thieves often go through garbage retrieving people’s identification so they can use this information to commit fraud.
5. Don’t give information away. Never include your Social Security Number your checks, driver’s license or health insurance card. Be extremely cautious how you use your Social Security Number, it is your key personal identification number that is a gateway to your personal identity. If required to provide this information, always ask if there is another option.
6. Check your credit reports on a regular basis. The only way to protect your name and credit is to be proactive. With the rise of identity theft cases, it is important to review your credit files, and to report any inaccuracies to the major credit reporting agencies.
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