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Three Credit Score Myths That Are Wildly Untrue

Sydney Enzler opened her first credit card when she was a 19-year-old college student. Her mom encouraged her to open the account in order to build credit and establish a strong credit score.

“I wanted to use my credit cards every once in a while to build credit, but I generally just use them for larger purchases,” said Enzler.

Now 24 years old, Enzler is one of the millions of Americans who owe a collective $1.1 trillion dollars in credit card and other revolving debt. According to the Federal Reserve, the average interest rate on those credit card balances is 16.97% APR.

With interest rates that high, it’s easy to see how credit card debt can quickly spiral out of control and leave you with a bruised wallet – and ego. The reality is that credit cards aren’t going anywhere, and they play a large role in determining your credit score – a critical factor when it comes to getting the lowest possible interest rate on your mortgage or other loans.

Today, I am dispelling three common credit card myths so that you can focus on the things that will actually improve your credit score.

Myth 1: Carrying A Small Credit Card Balance Is Good For Your Credit

Today In: Money

I applied for my first credit card shortly after my 18th birthday and I remember being told by a well-meaning colleague at work that I should try to use the card regularly and carry a small balance. The rationale was that by using the card and paying a small amount of interest monthly, the bank would love having me as a customer and give me a better credit score.

Fortunately, I was a curious teenager and fact-checked that claim, because it’s not true. And not following that advice has saved me hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in unnecessary interest charges over the years.

To begin, your credit score is not determined by your credit card company or any other lender. Your credit card issuer (in my case it was Chase), provides the credit bureaus with regular updates on your payment and account history. These credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) simply receive information from your lenders and use it to calculate your credit score.

Second, carrying a balance on a credit card will increase your utilization, which could actually lower your score. In general, using less of your available credit is better from a credit score perspective.

The important lesson here is that it’s never wise to pay interest on your credit card if you can avoid it. Always pay off your full statement balance in full if possible. It will help you lower your credit utilization while avoiding costly interest charges.

(Read: The 60 Second Guide To Credit Utilization.)

Myth 2: Checking Your Credit Report Will Hurt Your Score

Reviewing your credit score regularly (and for free) is one of the best things you can do as a responsible credit card user. Period.

However, the myth that checking your credit hurts your score pervades, in part, because of the confusing language that’s used to notate when your credit file has been accessed. Whenever your credit report is requested, you’ll receive an ‘inquiry’. However, it’s important to note that there’s a big distinction between ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ inquiries.

When you request your own credit report, this qualifies as a soft inquiry. Soft inquiries have no effect on your credit score whatsoever. That means that checking your own credit report will not hurt your credit score. It’s that simple.

However, when you apply for a new loan or other type of credit, the prospective creditor will access your credit file to assess your creditworthiness. This will result in a hard inquiry, which will, in fact, have a negative impact on your credit score. Hard inquiries will remain on your credit file for two years, although they will only affect your score for 12 months.

If you’d like to check your credit report, you can do it here for free. By law, each of the three major credit bureaus must give you free access to your credit report once per year. I try to check a credit report from a different bureau every three to four months to check for inaccuracies or fraud. In fact, I just requested my credit report while writing this article and it took all of 90 seconds. You should do the same.

Bonus: If you are serious about protecting your credit you should also freeze your credit files for free.

Myth 3: You Can Pay Someone To Fix Your Credit Score

If you have a history of making late payments and don’t practice sound credit management, there’s no magic switch you can flip in order to have accurate information removed from your credit report on-demand.

While there are a lot of credit repair services roaming the web and social media, the fact is that they don’t do anything that you can’t do on your own.

The best way to repair your credit is to practice good credit management strategies. This means paying your cards and other credit accounts on time, every time. It also means understanding how credit scores work and what the components that go into your score are.

The components of your credit score are as follows:

  • Your payment history comprises 35% of your credit score
  • Amount of debt (credit utilization) comprises 30%
  • Length of credit history comprises 15%
  • Amount of new credit (and inquiries) comprises 10%
  • Your credit mix comprises the final 10% of your credit score

This means that 50% of your score (payment history and length of credit history) is related to time. Clearly, to meaningfully improve your score it will take patience.

If you’re getting ready to apply for a mortgage, or if you are hoping to lower your student loan interest rates by refinancing, here’s what you can do to give your score a boost more quickly. Thirty percent of your score is based on your credit utilization, which is essentially based on a current snapshot of your accounts. While it could take years for negative marks to roll off of your credit report, you can quickly lower your credit utilization.

Your credit utilization is determined by taking your outstanding balance on your revolving credit accounts and dividing it by the total credit available to you. It could take several weeks for the updated information to be passed from your creditor to the credit bureaus, but it’s a fast way to improve an important metric. For the highest credit scores, aim to lower your utilization below 10%.

Don’t lose sight of the fact that it can take time to improve your credit score. Start to establish healthy credit habits today so that your score reflects them in the future. But most importantly, don’t despair if your credit isn’t perfect.

Regardless of what your credit score is, it’s important to know that your credit score might not be as important as you think it is.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website or some of my other work here.

Camilo Maldonado is Co-Founder of The Finance Twins, a personal finance site showing you how to budgetinvestbanksave & refinance your student loans. He also runs Contacts Compare.

Source: Three Credit Score Myths That Are Wildly Untrue

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Avoid These 10 Public Service Loan Forgiveness Mistakes – Zack Friedman

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It’s no secret that student loan forgiveness is a hot topic. When it comes to Public Service Loan Forgiveness, in particular, the requirements can be tricky.

That’s why it’s critical to ensure you know the details and are not headed down the wrong path.

Here are the 10 most common public service loan forgiveness mistakes to avoid at all costs.

1. Thinking Public Service Loan Forgiveness is automatic

Nope. Thinking that you work in “public service” and are performing a “public service” job won’t cut it.

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program is a federal program that forgives federal student loans for borrowers who are employed full-time (more than 30 hours per week) in an eligible federal, state or local public service job or 501(c)(3) non-profit job who make 120 eligible on-time payments.

Those “eligibility” requirements bring us to our second common mistake.

2. Not completing the Employment Certification Form

 The number one thing you can do to ensure you’re on track for public service loan forgiveness is to complete the Employment Certification Form.

The next question is: how often should I submit the employment certification form for public service loan forgiveness?

You should submit this form:

  • when you begin a job in public service
  • when you switch employers
  • annually

It’s important to submit this form annually to keep the U.S. Department of Education aware of your employment to ensure you’re on the right track.

3. Submitting an Employment Certification Form with errors

This sounds like a no-brainer, but your employment certification form could be rejected if there are errors.

Here are a few common mistakes:

  • information on one form that does not match previous forms
  • missing information such as an employer address
  • not completing all the required fields
  • correcting errors on the form, and then failing to place your initials next to the corrected errors

This all may sound bureaucratic, but better safe than sorry.

4. Not having your employment certification form signed by your employer

Your employment certification form must be signed by an authorized official at your employer.

Make sure it is that person who signs the form, not the person who sits next to you at work.

5. Not enrolling in an income-driven federal student loan repayment plan

To be eligible for public service loan forgiveness, you must be enrolled in an income-driven federal student loan repayment plan.

Remember, only federal student loans (not private student loans) are eligible for public service loan forgiveness). You also must make a majority of the 120 required payments while enrolled in a federal student loan repayment plan.

While the 10 Year Standard Repayment Plan qualifies for public service loan forgiveness, your federal student loans would be paid off after 10 years so there would be no more student loans to forgive.

How do you know which income-driven student loan repayment plan is best for you? Well, it depends on your specific financial situation.

This public service loan forgiveness calculator shows you which income-driven student loan repayment plan will maximize your student loan forgiveness.

6. Forgetting to consolidate your student loans, if necessary

Remember, only Direct student loans qualify for public service loan forgiveness.

So, if you have Perkins Loans, FFEL Loans or you borrowed student loans before 2011, you may need to consolidate these federal student loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan.

How do you know if you have Direct student loans?

You can check at Federal Student Aid. If you don’t see the word “Direct” next to your student loans, then you may need to consolidate those student loans.

How do you consolidate those student loans?

If you decide to consolidate those student loans, you can do so through StudentLoans.gov.

7. Not taking advantage of Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Were you denied public service loan forgiveness because you were enrolled in the wrong student loan repayment plan?

Congress has set aside an extra $350 million of public service loan forgiveness for this exact situation.

8. Failing to re-certify your income each year

As the name suggests, your income-driven student loan repayment plan is based on your income.

As your income may change each year, the federal government wants to ensure that you are still eligible for that income-driven student loan repayment plan.

Therefore, make sure to re-certify your income each year at studentloans.gov. At the same time, you can submit your annual Employer Certification Form.

9. Skipping student loan payments

While your 120 student loan payments under public service loan forgiveness do not have to be consecutive, you need to submit each payment within 15 days of the due date for that payment to count.

10. Thinking your job is what qualifies you for public service loan forgiveness, when it’s your employer that matters

Remember, it’s your employer that matters, not your role.

If you work with a non-profit, but are employed by a private company, this would not qualify for public service loan forgiveness.

Now that you’re in the know, hopefully the path toward public service loan forgiveness will be smoother.

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