A few questions for you: First, have you checked your credit score lately? If not, you might want to do that. It’s one of those habits that everyone knows they should do but often forgets to do until something bad happens — like how you only remember to floss after you already have a cavity.
If you haven’t checked your credit score recently, there are many ways to check your credit scores for free, including on Credit.com. It’s also a good idea to check your credit reports regularly for errors or other problems — and you can get those for free once a year from each of the major credit reporting agencies.
But if you have checked your credit score recently: YAY YOU. Did you like what you saw? If not, there are plenty of reasons your credit score may not be in as good of shape as you would like it to be. But that’s OK, because once you figure out what the issue is, you can get to work on taking care of the problem, and start to build stronger credit.
1. You & Your Spouse Never Talk About Money
If your finances involve more than one spender — i.e. you’re married, or you’re living with a significant other — you should talk about money things. When expectations are out of whack and there’s little communication about who’s handling what, things can get messy and expensive.
Make sure all your bills are paid, otherwise you may end up with collection accounts on your credit reports and damaged credit scores as a result. No matter how you share or divvy up financial responsibilities, you should still communicate about cash flow, because a lack of planning could put you in a situation where you fall into debt (or you’re already in it and haven’t started working your way out of it).
You each have your own credit scores, but don’t underestimate the impact the other’s habits could have on your credit file — if someone overspends, misses a payment or starts racking up debt, your efforts to find financial balance may have credit-score consequences.
2. You’re Disorganized
Tracking your spending is one of the best ways to stay out of debt. It’s easy to think you’re not spending beyond your means if you’re not budgeting, and maybe you are really good at estimating that stuff in your head, but more likely than not, you won’t realize how much things add up until you need to pay a credit card bill and you can’t afford it.
Even if you’re able to afford your spending, keep in mind that it’s ideal to keep your credit card balances as low as possible, relative to your credit card limit. That’s called credit utilization, and it has a huge impact on your credit scores.
Additionally, if you’re so disorganized you keep missing bill deadlines, you may find yourself with a collection account or two. It’s one thing to have a collection account if you really can’t afford to pay your bills, but it’s another if you can afford to pay but aren’t because you’re not paying attention to when they’re due.
3. You Just Don’t Care
Maybe you see your credit score, realize it’s not great and you’re reaction is, “Oh, well.” Perhaps it doesn’t seem worth the trouble of tracking your credit card’s balance-to-limit ratio or to minimize how frequently you apply for new credit, but in the long run, you may find yourself in a situation that requires you to have good credit.
Your credit score comes into play in your life more often than you might think. Yes, a good credit score is ideal if you’re applying for a mortgage or trying to buy a car, but it can also help you get lower insurance premiums, get a new smartphone or set up Internet without having to pay a large deposit. If you’re not sure what’s considered a good credit score, this guide can help you.
4. Someone Else Is Dragging You Down
This applies if you are an authorized user on someone else’s credit card or vice versa: The other person’s spending habits on that card also show up on your credit report as long as the issuer reports it. That can be good if that person is using the card responsibly, but if that changes, you may find yourself tangled up in their problems. It’s the same if you co-signed for a loan and the primary accountholder isn’t doing their part to keep the account in good standing. This is why it’s helpful to carefully consider the risks before you enter into such agreements.
5. You’re Underpaid
Income has no direct bearing on credit scores, but if you’re not making enough money to cover your necessities, it can put you in precarious financial situation. Even if you’re able to pay your bills right now, the slightest emergency or unexpected expense may leave you with little choice but to go into debt or let a bill go unpaid, which could lead to dealing with debt collectors.
People who receive small paychecks can have great credit, and plenty of wealthy people have bad credit, but it’s certainly easier to manage your finances if you have a steady, sufficient income.
- Can You Get a Credit Card With Bad Credit?
- What’s the Average Credit Score?
- The Best Simple Credit Cards in America
This article originally appeared on Credit.com.