5 Easy-to-Forget Things That Influence Your Credit Scores

It's time to think beyond your student loans and credit card statements. You may have some items you forgot about that are damaging your credit.

Your credit scores can have a huge impact on your finances, as they are a major determining factor for getting approved for loans or new lines of credit. That’s reason number one as to why you should know where your credit stands. (If you don’t you can find out now — Credit.com offers two free credit scores, which are updated every 14 days.) Beyond simply getting approved, keeping your scores as high as possible can help ensure that when you go to get a mortgage for your dream home (or any kind of loan), you’ll see good terms and conditions paired with that loan.

Everyone knows that your credit score will take a hit if you’re late paying your credit cards or skip mortgage payments. However, there are some things that could be dinging your scores that may not seem like they should matter — but they do.

Let’s take a look at these five easy-to-forget things that can hurt your credit.

1. Library Fines

While holding onto that copy of “To Kill a Mockingbird” for a few extra weeks may not have seemed like a big deal at the time, it came at a cost. And if you opted to ignore that fee, you may be in for a surprise — not paying your library fine could wind up hurting your credit scores. Libraries can send overdue fines to collections, and then you’re in trouble. The New York Public Library’s policy on fines states: “The Library is obligated to attempt the recovery of all outstanding debt and/or library materials. To that end, borrowers with fines or fees of $50 or more are subject to contact from a collection agency. A non-negotiable collection fee will be applied to the account of any borrower who reaches this threshold.”

Moral of this story: Turn those books in on time! Or at least be sure you pay your fines.

2. Parking Tickets

Like library fines, cities and towns are more frequently turning unpaid parking tickets over to collection agencies, and that can have a huge impact on your credit score. In Houston, Texas, not paying your parking tickets on time can earn you a delinquent fee after 30 days, and you’ll be hit by a $30 fee and wind up in collections after 90 days.

3. Setting Up Your Cable

When you move to a new place and want to get cable, the company may run what’s called a hard inquiry on your credit. Hard inquiries are made when you’re actively seeking credit, whether it’s for a student loan or a mortgage. Sometimes this can extend to when you get HBO, as it’s a way for a company to see if you’re truly able to take on a new financial obligation. Remember: Inquiries don’t have an extremely long-lasting impact on your scores. In fact, according to credit bureau Experian, inquiries “have minimal impact on credit scores, and that impact is even less after three to six months.”

4. Renting a Car

As with setting up your cable, some car rental companies will do a hard inquiry on your credit if you’re renting with your debit card, and that could hurt your credit score. It’s also important to make sure you pay all of your fees and fines — whether from accident damage, returning the car without enough gas, or extra fees that weren’t covered by your insurance company (if they’re covering your rental) — so the outstanding balance doesn’t land your account in collections.

5. Your Gym Membership

From automatic payments that get declined when your credit card information changes (like if you have to close an account that’s been hacked) to cancelled contracts that wind up in collections, your gym membership could be hurting your credit scores. Be sure to pay attention to the conditions in your contract concerning late payments, fees for cancellation, or what happens when you put your membership on hold. Otherwise, it won’t just be your body that needs to get in shape.

Image: Choreograph

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4 Ways Your Cellphone Could Wreck Your Credit

cellphone-could-wreck-your-credit

Your cellphone: It’s hard to live without! (How did we ever get by with a landline in the “olden days”?) And cellphones are really more than cellphones — they’re mobile devices that have become our cameras, our entertainment devices, our way to connect socially, our shopping malls, our sources of news and information and our banking machines. Sometimes we even remember to use them to talk to people!

But your phone is poised to destroy your credit if you’re not careful. Here are 4 ways you’re at risk (and what to do about it).

1. Watch Your Phone Bill Carefully

I get my phone bill emailed to me every month, and I pay it on time. One month, the email didn’t come. (Did the phone company forget? Did it end up in my spam folder? Who knows?) Fortunately, I have my bills scheduled on a calendar, so I knew it was supposed to arrive even though it didn’t. I signed into my phone account, got the amount, and paid it. But I’m organized and ready in case that happens, not everyone else is. Make sure you know when your phone bill is expected, so you don’t miss a payment (or two). Those unpaid bills could ultimately wind up in collections, and that could really hurt your credit.

2. Monitor Your Usage

Do you know what your plan covers and what it doesn’t? Certain habits — like constant movie streaming — can put you over your data limits and saddle you with a big bill for hundreds or even thousands of dollars. To avoid racking up debts related to data overages (which can impact your credit), make it a habit to track your usage once a week. It generally only takes 15 seconds to quickly check and see how you’re doing for the month (and some phones allow you to limit your usage above a certain point).

3. Be Careful of What Apps You Download

Apps require us to give them permission to access certain information. And it’s easy for overly-trusting people to overlook exactly how much information they’re allowing an app to take. Your app may have access to a lot of your personal information. And breaches of their systems could leave you vulnerable to identity theft, which can severely impact your credit. That’s why it’s a good idea to read privacy policies carefully before downloading an app so you know what data is being collected, how it’s protected and whether it gets shared with any third parties.

Plus, from time to time you’ll hear a story of a parent who gave their phone to a child to play with only to have that child inadvertently put thousands of dollars of app-related charges on the parent’s credit card, which can hurt your credit utilization (the amount of debt you’re carrying versus your total available credit) and your payment history, if you miss the bill.

4. Be Wary of What Information You Save in Your Phone

Not only are apps accessing information, you store a lot of information in your phone. If you leave your phone somewhere, then someone else could access a lot of that information. From your personal information to bank accounts (if you do your banking on your phone) to stored credit cards, your phone is an identity thief’s dream! At the very least, it’s a good idea to lock your phone and download a tracking app so you can find it if it goes missing. And, if you ever have reason to believe your phone and the personal or financial data on it was compromised, you should monitor your accounts and your credit. (A sudden drop in credit scores, for instance, is a sign identity theft is occurring. You can view two of your scores for free each month on Credit.com.)

The truth is, I’d be totally lost without my phone! I use it to manage my social life and stay connected with my employees. But I’m very careful about my phone because it’s a potential credit hazard that could destroy my score.

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