Millennials are a bit of a mystery when it comes to how they handle their finances. They’re hyper-aware of how important is it to get a head start on saving for retirement but at the same time, they’re shelling out big wads of cash on vacations and other experience-driven purchases.
The way 20-somethings approach credit and debt is also something of a paradox. Many of them are taking on thousands of dollars in student loans to earn a degree, but studies show that the majority refuse to carry a credit card. In the meantime, their credit scores aren’t exactly flourishing. While millennials may feel justified in being gun-shy, based on the financial woes their parents experienced, they’re not necessarily doing themselves any favors. In fact, dodging credit cards can actually do more harm than good. If you’re a 20-something who’s still not convinced, take a look at some examples of how to boost your credit score by paying with plastic.
1. Paying bills on time isn’t always enough
There are lots of different credit scoring models out there but your FICO score is the one lenders rely on most often when reviewing applications for new credit. Several factors come into play when determining your score, but your payment history is the most important. Paying your bills on time is a must, but things like utilities or your cell phone don’t always have a direct impact on your score.
You’ll see more of an improvement to your credit if you charge your recurring payments to your card each month. That way, you know that the bills are being paid and there’s no risk of paying something late. As long as you’re making your payments to the credit card company on time and paying the balance in full, you should see your score begin to grow.
2. Reporting rent payments doesn’t guarantee results
Millennials are waiting longer to buy their first home and while some are still living at home with Mom and Dad, many more are renting. There are a lot of advantages to renting versus buying, but getting credit for paying your landlord on time isn’t always one of them.
While there are companies like Rent Reporters and Rental Kharma that report rent information to the credit bureaus, your payments don’t factor into your FICO score calculation. Charging your rent to a credit card instead and then paying it off at the end of the month is a smarter move if you want to guarantee that it’ll show up on your credit report. However, many landlords don’t accept credit cards, and if they do, you’ll get charged a percentage of your rent.
3. Credit builder loans aren’t a perfect solution
Getting a loan from a bank or a credit union can be a hassle when you have a relatively short credit history. If you just graduated and you’re interested in buying a car, for example, you may end up paying a lot more in interest if your score is low because you just haven’t had enough time to work on building your credit.
Some banks offer credit builder loans, but these won’t do you any good if you need access to the money right away. The way they work is the bank sets aside the money you want to borrow in an interest-bearing account. You make payments on the loan for six months to a year and once you’ve paid in the full amount, you can access the cash. Your credit score benefits if the loan is being reported properly, but you’re sacrificing convenience.
With a credit card, you’ve got a cushion that you can use right away so you don’t have to worry about coming up short if there’s an emergency. In terms of the interest rates, there’s a chance you could squeeze out a lower APR with a credit builder loan but in most cases, the rates are comparable to what card issuers charge.
4. You can diversify your credit profile
Part of your credit score is based on the kinds of debt you owe. Student loans are categorized as installment loans and they’re weighted differently compared to revolving lines of credit. If all you’ve got on your report at this point is your student loan debt, opening a credit card can create some balance in how your score is calculated.
The trick, however, is to keep your balances on your cards low. Your credit utilization ratio, which is simply the amount of debt you have versus your available credit, affects what your score adds up to. Installment loans don’t have as much of an impact since you’re not adding to the balance, but maxing out your credit cards can send your score into a tailspin.
5. Piggybacking on someone else’s account isn’t risk-free
Having a parent or friend add you on to their card as an authorized user can help you work towards a higher credit score, but there are some potential downsides. Since both of you are on the account, any activity related to the card will show up on each of your credit reports. That means that if the primary cardholder is sloppy about paying on time or they’ve run up a big balance, your score’s going to pay the price.
Even if you’re both on your best behavior, your credit could still suffer temporarily if they decide to remove you from the account.
Getting your own credit card means you’re in control of what gets charged and how the account is managed. When you’re the one who’s on the hook for the debt or any late payments, you’ve got a great incentive to use the card responsibly and build your credit in the process.