Despite the chatter about how millennials can learn a lot about money from their baby boomer parents, many baby boomers are drowning in debt or struggling to maintain their credit scores. While the Greatest Generation — the generation before baby boomers — has an average VantageScore of 735 and an average debt of $23,245, baby boomers have an average score of 700 and an average debt of $29,317, according to Experian. Note that your VantageScore is determined by the three major credit bureaus.
Baby boomers also have, on average, 2.66 credit cards and an average credit card debt of $5,347. Overall, baby boomers rely too heavily on bankcards and have higher-than-average debt compared to other generations. Here are 19 tips for baby boomers on improving your credit score and better managing your finances.
19 Best Ways for Baby Boomers to Build Credit
1. Review Your Credit Report
Start by requesting your credit report to find out what your credit score is. You can request a free report once a year, or you can purchase one whenever you need to through the three national credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax.
2. Set a Credit Score Goal
Your credit score ranges from 300 to 850, and every lender has a different classification of what is “good” or “bad” credit. But generally speaking, if your score is above 720, you’re in great shape as far as banks and mortgage brokers are concerned. A credit score of 620 tends to be the drawing line for many creditors — below that you’ll likely face higher-than-usual interest rates. And if your score is too much below, you might be denied a credit card or mortgage.
3. Check Your Credit Report for Errors
If you think your credit score is too low, check your credit report for any errors such as accounts that aren’t yours, late payments that you know you paid on time and debts you’ve already paid off that are listed as outstanding.
“According to the Federal Trade Commission, over 40 million Americans have at least one mistake on their credit report,” said AJ Smith, VP of content at SmartAsset. “Be sure to get a copy of your three credit reports annually and correct any inaccuracies which may be lowering your score.” You should also check that certain negative information, such as bankruptcies, should be deleted from your credit report after seven or 10 years.
4. Pay Bills On Time
The key to good credit is paying your bills on time, keeping account balances low and only taking out new credit when you need it. Set up automatic payments with your bank so your bills all get paid before they’re due.
5. Watch Out for High Credit Card Balances
High balances do make a difference. If you have outstanding balances, start chipping away at them. It’s a surefire way to raise your credit rating. Many credit card companies report to the bureaus every 30 days, so if you’re diligent about paying down those balances, you can see an upturn in your credit score in as little as two to three months.
Leslie Tayne, a financial attorney, debt expert and author of “Life & Debt,” advised to “Keep balances below 30 percent of the available credit … (and) pay off debt instead of doing balance transfers or moving debt around in other ways.”
6. Keep It Positive
Know that positive actions are also factored into your score. “Your payment track record accounts for about 35 percent of your score, so you may want to consider setting up reminders or automatic bill pay if you have trouble paying your monthly bills on time,” added Smith.
7. Protect Yourself From Scams
Beware of websites that offer credit-monitoring products or services for a high fee and credit repair scams. Some of these sites might be scams designed to steal your personal information. If your information becomes stolen, the scam artist might be able to hurt your credit by charging or opening accounts.
8. Don’t Open New Credit Accounts You Don’t Need
Each new credit line you open can lower your average account age, which could actually lower your credit score. Your score can also be lowered if you open several accounts in a short period of time.
9. Remember the ’60-Day’ Rule
Even if you’re in a bind, try not to let your payments go 60 days past due. Some lenders won’t report balances that are 30 days past due, but they might report a delinquency if you miss two payments back to back.
10. Know the Credit Card ‘Cut’ Rule
If you decide to cut up credit cards, leave the oldest one open. “Credit bureaus look at how ‘aged’ your credit history is with a lender. Meaning, how long have you had credit open with a given bank or credit card company,” said Jared Blank, CMO of DealNews. “The longer you’ve had credit open, the more positive impact it has on your score.”
But just because you leave a credit card account open doesn’t mean you need to rack up charges. “Credit scoring agencies want to see that you are not using all of the credit that has been extended to you,” Blank added. “Your score will improve if you have what they call ‘low utilization,’ meaning you have credit available to you that you are not using.”
11. Watch Out for Repeated Credit Inquiries
Each time you apply for credit and a creditor requests your credit report, a few points can be deducted. The reason why your score can drop is because credit bureaus will see that you are taking on additional monthly obligations.
12. Limit Pre-Approved Credit Cards
If you have a history of signing up for pre-approved credit cards you get in the mail, you could be negatively impacting your credit. Filling out credit card application forms result in credit inquiries, and too many inquiries can decrease your credit score.
Additionally, having the habit of opening and closing credit cards too often makes you look like a rash borrower. Although accumulating sign-up bonuses from credit cards might make you a pretty penny, it can also hurt your credit score.
13. Cut a Deal With Your Creditor
You can’t change the fact that you paid a bill late, but you could possibly ask your creditor to set up a payment agreement with you, advised Credit.com. That way, you can potentially prevent the bill from being sent to collections, which saves you from dealing with a slew of other problems regarding your credit.
14. Don’t Add Authorized Users to Your Credit Cards
Although adding your son or daughter as an authorized user might allow them to build credit, allowing them to use your credit lines can be a recipe for disaster. If they rack up debt they can’t pay back, you will be responsible for the debt.
15. Increase Your Credit Limit
Reach out to your credit card company to increase your limit, but don’t hike your spending. Having a higher credit limit while keeping spending low can boost your credit score.
16. Watch Your Spending
“Look for ways to reduce your monthly spending or increase your monthly income so you can reduce your debt-to-credit ratio, a key factor in your score,” advised Smith. Build a household budget and stick to it.
Lower spending is a proven way to increase income — income you’ll need to pay household bills and improve your credit. Make no mistake: Creditors tend to love savers because they’re much lower credit risks.
17. Build an Emergency Fund
Create a rainy day fund of about six months’ worth of your annual income. That way, if you do run into a rough financial patch, you’ll have the means to pay your bills and keep your credit score healthy.
18. Know Your Bill Payment Due Dates
Know all of your payment due dates and pay a week ahead of time. This can ensure your payments are recorded on time and your credit is protected. Schedule automatic payments so you don’t risk forgetting a due date.
19. Keep Your Creditors in the Loop
If you do fall behind on your payments, contact your lenders and creditors right away. Many creditors can help you set up a payment plan to help you keep your credit in good standing.
Baby boomers will need all the financial help that a good credit score can provide. Follow the tips above to give your credit the power boost it needs to put you in good financial standing.