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9 Secrets to Better Credit

Jan. 1, 2015 Kiplinger

A little debt is desirable.

Shunning credit cards can really help your bottom line, but a thin credit history can lead to a poor credit score. Young adults who haven’t yet utilized credit cards and retirees (who may have paid off their mortgage and other loans and stopped using credit cards) both can suffer the consequences.

To help beef up your credit history and boost your score, continue to make one or two purchases per month on a credit card.

You can negotiate.

Sure, your credit card comes pre-equipped with a due date, an annual percentage rate and a group of fees that the issuer sets. But they’re usually not set in stone. You may be able to negotiate a different due date or a lower interest rate or minimum payment. “If you have a great credit score, you’re in the driver’s seat,” says Beverly Harzog, a credit expert and author of Confessions of a Credit Junkie.

You may have some leeway with fees, too. If you make a late payment for the first time and get slapped with a fee, call and ask to have it waived. Your good payment history could be enough to catch you a break. You may be able to get an annual fee waived for at least a year if you threaten to cancel your card. With a new rewards card, you may even be able to capture some extra points. If you find out—perhaps through social media or acquaintances—that other people have been offered a larger sign-up bonus, ask the issuer if it will increase your initial reward to match.

You’re being tracked.

Reports from the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) are commonly used to assess creditworthiness. But many more agencies track everything from how you’ve managed bank accounts to your history as a tenant. Many of these lesser-known agencies focus only on negative information. So, for example, if you’ve ever bounced a check or otherwise mismanaged a bank account, you may have data on file with ChexSystems, which collects information on checking and savings accounts.

National agencies must provide you with one free report per year, and all must provide a report for a reasonable fee ($11.50 or less). But rather than attempt to track all of them, you may want to check them in relevant situations. If you’re about to shop for homeowners insurance, for example, get your C.L.U.E. personal property report from LexisNexis, which lists losses related to your personal property. LexisNexis also provides a C.L.U.E. auto loss history report. If you’re shopping for apartments, see if anything comes up on tenant-screening databases, such as CoreLogic SafeRent.

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