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The first thing you need to do is create an emergency savings account to make sure that if something happens you don't fall into more debt. You also need an honest and realistic budget so you can see what you spend your money on and whether it is a wish, a want, a luxury or a convenience that you could do without. Once you have done these things the next step is to get to work and pay off those credit card debts as quickly as you can. There are several schools of thought as to the best way to do this. The financial guru, Dave Ramsey, recommends what he calls the snowball method of paying off credit card debts. What this amounts to putting your debts in order from the one with the lowest balance down to the one with the largest. You then focus all of your efforts on paying off the one with the lowest balance while continuing to make the minimum monthly payments on your other credit card debts. When you get that first debt paid off you will have extra money you can use to pay off the credit card with the next lowest balance and so on. Dave calls this the snowball method because like a snowball rolling downhill you will pick up more and more momentum as you pay off each debt. However there are other financial experts that believe it's best to put your credit card debts in order from the one with the highest interest rate down to the one with the lowest. You then concentrate on paying off the one with the highest interest rate first as this will save you the most money. Which of these two methods would be best for you? It really boils down to a matter of personal choice. The important thing is to pick one and then stick to it.
How it used to be
Until very recently it was easy to understand how to handle credit cards to keep from having them negatively affect your credit score. All you had to do was…
• Make every one of your payments – at least the minimums due – on time every month
• Be sure to keep your balances below 30% of your credit cards' credit limits. Of course, it's better to have an even lower percentage but the difference that 10% or 20% make to your score is really very minimal when compared to 30%.
• Make sure that you apply for a new credit card only when you need it. Your credit score can be negatively affected if you have a lot of recently opened accounts.
A new factor in credit scoring
But now there's a new factor in credit scoring as the three credit bureaus are now using the amount by which you pay down your cards each month in calculating your score. It's likely that other bureaus and scoring companies will soon follow suit. What's the purpose of this? It's to differentiate between people who pay down their balances in full each month (“transacters”) and people called "revolvers," who carry forward their balances from one month to the next. The theory behind this is that people who pay off their balances each month are likely to be more credit worthy and so deserve higher scores. A spokesperson for FICO, the company that invented credit scoring, has said that it is still studying the data and hasn't yet changed its systems. In addition to having invented credit scoring, FICO is the company whose credit scores are used in more than 90% of all lending decisions made in the US.
How this could affect you
If companies in the credit-reference industry and FICO begin to differentiate between "revolvers" and “transacters,” the "revolvers" could see their scores being downgraded even if they always make the minimum or higher payments on their credit cards on time every month. And this could lead to a significant change in how people view their credit cards and there could soon be fewer "revolvers."
Bad news for the credit card issuers
In turn, this could be bad news for the credit card companies. Would you use your cards to borrow if you knew that this would probably make your home, auto and other loans more expensive? For that matter, the interest that credit card companies garner from those that roll forward their balances every month is an important revenue stream. One of the best-kept secrets of the credit card business is that people that always pay their balances on time are referred to as "deadbeats," because they generate little or no profit for the credit card companies.