The American dream is usually characterized as working hard from the bottom up, making a good salary, buying a house and having time to create and enjoy your family life. But the vision doesn’t always come together so neatly; despite strong buyer demand, the inventory of affordable, available starter homes is relatively low, and to secure a mortgage, you need a strong credit score — something that not all Americans have or understand.
Even in the face of this unfamiliarity, most people realize that your credit score is the main determining factor in whether you qualify for a loan, and what rate you’ll pay on that loan. However, your credit score has the power to affect your life in far more than just one area — it can make or break your vision of the American dream on all sides.
Though not all employers will check your credit score before hiring you, and most employers won’t rule out a candidate just because they have a bad credit score, your credit score could have an impact on how you’re seen by prospective employers. If they run a report and see that you’ve had a checkered financial history, and realize you’ll be handling financial responsibilities in the office, they may believe you’re underqualified, and move onto other candidates.
The good news is employers aren’t always allowed to view your credit report. According to Credit Karma, “The short answer is no, credit bureaus do not share your credit score with employers. Subject to restrictions in state law, employers may, however, ask to see your credit report. When your information is requested, credit bureaus will send over a variation of your credit report meant specifically for employers.”
Similarly, your credit score affects housing in more ways than solely influencing your mortgage rates and availability. Landlords will frequently check prospective tenants’ credit scores before choosing whether to rent the apartment to them; obviously, if a tenant has a history of missing payments, or being late with payments, they’re going to be secondary options to tenants with strong financial backgrounds.
Bills and Payments
Your credit score could even affect how you’re expected to pay for utilities — especially when moving to a new location. When turning on utilities for the first time, a utility company may require you to leave an upfront deposit; if you have a high credit score, they may waive that deposit, but they may charge you more if your credit score is especially low. According to the FTC, “Like other creditors, utility companies ask for information like your Social Security number so they can check your credit history — particularly your utility payment history. A good credit history makes it easier for you to get services. A poor credit history can make it more difficult.”
Your credit score can even affect the quality of your relationships. It’s no surprise that money and financial issues are the biggest causes of couple fights (and breakups); if your partner is fiscally responsible, but you’ve had a more questionable history, it could lead to bigger arguments. For example, will you be willing to buy a house together? Will your credit score negatively impact your joint mortgage rate? Will you be paying off your debt together? Even a little money-related stress can quickly escalate into a bigger problem.
How to Improve Your Credit Score
If you’re reading all of this and feeling nervous about your own credit score, take a deep breath. Even if your credit score isn’t as strong as you’d like it to be, there’s always time to revise and improve it. Your first step is always to know what your credit score is; thankfully, you can check it for free. Once you know your credit score, you can take the following steps to improve it (and along with it, the quality of your life):
- Understand your weak points. First, understand why your credit score is where it is. Is it because you’ve accumulated a lot of credit card debt? Is it because you missed several payments? There are many reasons here, but almost all of them can be corrected with better habits in the future.
- Avoid new credit or debts. Don’t apply for any new loans or credit cards; this could tank your score even harder. Instead, focus on the lines of credit you already have.
- Pay all your bills on time. This is the most important factor to focus on; from here on out, make sure you pay all your bills in full and on time. If you need to create a strict budget to do it, then do it. Without a steady history of on-time payments, you won’t be able to lower your score.
- Start paying off your debts. Finally, work to start paying off your debts. Consider moving to a lower-cost area, taking on a second job, and cutting any unnecessary expenses. You can even call your credit card companies to negotiate for a lower rate. Once your debt totals start decreasing, you’ll feel happier and more optimistic as well.
Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix for a bad credit score. It takes years to build an initial score, and months to years to make a significant change. You’ll have to be consistent and patient if you want to succeed, but as long as you stay committed to your financial future, it can be done.
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