Credit Sesame with questions and answers for International Ask a Question Day, March 14, 2024.
Everyone’s done it at school. Most of us still do it. We fail to ask a question because we fear appearing dumb. But, of course, it’s the smart people who ask questions.
International Ask a Question Day is a prompt and an opportunity to fill gaps in our knowledge. It’s an annual event held on Albert Einstein’s birthday, March 14. No question is too basic to ask.
Gaps in knowledge about personal finances and credit health can be especially harmful, sometimes drastically undermining a person’s lifelong prosperity. So, Credit Sesame wants to fill some of the gaps in knowledge that many readers may share.
Ask a question about personal finance basics
Here’s a list of some of the biggest topics in the personal finance sphere. Getting straight with these could improve your credit health, which is important for optimizing your prosperity.
Having a personal or household budget doesn’t curtail your spending freedom. It extends it.
Knowledge is power. And understanding where your money goes allows you cut back on stuff you don’t value so you can spend more on the things you really want.
Today, there are dozens of apps that automate the budgeting process. Some are free. So, don’t be put off by the prospect of hours of working on a spreadsheet or ledger. You don’t have to do that.
Fewer than half of Americans have sufficient savings to cover an unexpected expense of $1,000. And 25% say they’d have to use a credit card to cover the cost.
Borrowing when surprise expenses arise can be expensive and risky. It may not be an option if your finances have been under sustained pressure.
So do your best to build up an emergency fund in a savings account. Here are five tips to get you started.
If you invest in stocks, real estate investment trusts or bonds, you’ll build up a “passive income.” In other words, the money rolls in without you lifting a finger.
Alternatively, you can take an active role in your investment, perhaps by starting a business or becoming a landlord.
Either way, having a source of income and capital growth that supplements your salary can build your net worth and increase your spending power.
Are your debt payments overwhelming your budget? Don’t despair!
Instead, discover how to manage your debt burden so you can cope easily again. There are four main strategies:
- A debt settlement company could reach agreements with the organizations to which you owe money (your “creditors”). These might reduce the amounts you owe. But take care choosing one of these companies. Some are scams
- Debt management companies also negotiate with your creditors. They might reduce your monthly debt payments. Choose a reputable, nonprofit, credit counseling agency to avoid making things worse
- Bankruptcy sounds scary for good reasons. But it is an option that should not be overlooked to give you a fresh start. COnsider carefully before choosing this route.
- Boosting your income can make your debt more manageable because you then have more money to make payments. Not everyone can take second or third jobs. But try it if you can
Budgeting, saving, investing and managing debt well can all contribute to your credit health. In other words, they can make you eligible for loans and cards you otherwise might not get. And they can earn you lower interest rates and smaller fees when you wish to borrow.
Is it worth focusing time and energy on your credit health? You bet!
Having a very good credit score rather than a fair one could save you $316 a month if you have average debt levels across credit cards, personal loans, auto loans, student loans and mortgages, according to Forbes. That’s roughly $56,000 over 15 years. Imagine the difference over your entire life as an adult.
However, it’s not just in cash terms that good credit health improves your life. Poor credit can exclude you from mainstream borrowing, forcing you into the arms of payday lenders and loan sharks.
Poor credit health affects more than borrowing costs
Worryingly, there are other penalties for having poor credit. Insurers can use your low score to up your premiums. Landlords can turn down your tenancy application or charge you more in rent or deposits.
Employers and prospective employers can’t access your score anymore, but, with your permission, they can check your credit report, on which your score is based. So, the promotion or new job you hoped might get you out of your financial mess could be denied to you.
Get ahead of all those issues. Ask yourself how you got into your less-than-ideal financial situation. And ask others how to get out of it.
Tips for improving your credit score
FICO, the company behind the most widely used credit scoring technologies, recommends:
- Check your annual credit report for errors. These can materially affect your score so get them corrected
- Pay all your bills on time. The biggest single factor in your score
- Reduce the debt you owe. In particular, getting each of your credit card balances below 30% (preferably 10%) of the card’s credit limit makes a huge difference
- Don’t open or close existing credit accounts unless you really need to. If you have credit cards you never use, keep them. And use them occasionally
- Don’t open several new credit accounts over a short period. You may look like you’re in financial difficulties.
Read How to increase your credit score for more details and tips.
How to ask a question about personal finance and credit health
It’s difficult to ask questions about personal finance and credit health. Adults are supposed to have acquired all the knowledge they require through some magical version of osmosis.
Luckily, the web provides all the answers you need if you know where to look. You rarely have to ask a question of a human being.
Of course, there are times when only another person will do. For instance, if you’re in big trouble and need a credit counselor. Even if you’re not in financial trouble, you may benefit from a financial advisor. If you’re getting into something new, professional help may be a good idea.
Ask a question, get an authoritative answer
You have to choose reliable and reputable sources. Try these for authoritative answers:
- CFPB — The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a federal regulator
- Experian — One of the Big Three credit bureaus, it has tons of advice articles
- FICO — The company that builds the most widely used credit-scoring technologies
- Credible news outlets with serious fact-checking resources
Each site should have a search facility on its homepage. So, ask a question and get an answer you can trust.
Ask a question: Here are things you may need to know
If you’re unclear about any of the following, you’ll find detailed answers when you search one or more of those sites:
- How can I improve my credit score? Try Credit Sesame’s Credit Builder.
- What’s the best way to save for retirement? Automatically. Set up automated payments or wage deductions and forget it, except for annual reviews to keep yourself on track
- How can I build an emergency fund? Start now! It’s the single biggest step. And set up automated transfers from your checking account to a savings account
- What’s the secret to a good household budget? Be realistic and methodical. And make it easy by using apps
If your credit or personal finance question has not been answered, use International Ask a Question Day to fill some holes in your knowledge.
If you enjoyed International ask a question day March 14, 2023, you may like.
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- 5 Reasons Your Credit Score Matters with Irene Renee, Credit Repair Specialist
Disclaimer: The article and information provided here is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for formal professional advice.
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