Tackling your credit score can be daunting, but you don’t need an expert to understand how it works, or what steps to take next.
Tonya Rapley is the “millennial money expert,” but she wasn’t always. She says she knows from experience that you don’t need anyone else to help you grow your credit and establish financial stability. You can do it on your own.
“I think some people assume they need someone else to help them,” Rapley said in an interview, but this isn’t the case. “Seek the free resources that are out there. When I started my credit journey, I couldn’t afford to pay anyone. So, I checked a book out from the library and that book literally walked me through what I needed to do.”
In order to maintain good credit, Rapley recommends a few basic steps. The first and most obvious step being to make sure you’re making payments on time.
“And if you aren’t making payments on time, be in communication with your lenders or your creditors so you don’t get a late payment reported on your credit report,” she said. “Sometimes it just helps to communicate and to let people know what’s going on. And that could result in them waving a late payment or working with you.”
The next thing Rapley recommends is to understand how credit actually works. “Because if you understand how it works, it’s a lot easier to make it work in your favor.” Part of understanding credit is understanding not to be afraid of it. “Some people are afraid of credit to the point where they don’t have any credit. And no credit is worse than bad credit in a lot of instances.”
Rapley also says it’s important to be responsible with your credit, and not to use it as if it were cash. She says people sometimes use credit “to bridge the difference between their ideal life and their actual life.” If you’re using credit to make up a difference in income, it’s a slippery slope to overextending yourself to the point you can no longer pay your bills.
For people who aren’t starting from a good credit standing, building your score can seem even more daunting. Rapley says the key is to take your credit score one step at a time. “Take it bit by bit,” she says. “Sometimes it can feel overwhelming when you’re trying to get everything together but start with one debt.” She warns, “If you spread yourself too thin you might not have the resources that you need to achieve your goals or you might become overwhelmed and decide this is too much, I don’t wanna do anything at all.”
Rapley recommends people with low credit scores start small, with one credit card with a low spending limit. “You really want to have an open credit line that is positive,” she said. “You want something you can use to build your credit history up. You can’t dispute your way to good credit.”
She also points out that growing your credit takes time. Especially right now, when finances are particularly tight and there is so much economic uncertainty. “I think a lot of the emotional aspects are based around what could happen and it helps to focus on what is happening now,” she said. She also points out that if you do have a line of credit and you’re facing economic hardship, that credit is there to help tide you over for a time.
“In times like this, if you have credit available to you then you have a line of credit to float you the same way a business has a line of credit to float them in hard times,” Rapley explained. “Make sure your necessities are covered and so forth and there will be time for you to get back and focus on your credit. And it won’t take that long to get back on track.”
The most important thing to remember is that it is within your power to build or improve your credit on your own. Rapley says not to avoid looking at your accounts, because ignoring your debt is only more likely to lead to collections. And she says take advantage of free resources. If you can’t get to the library like she did, you can always download a helpful book.
“You don’t always have to have an expert to help you. Sometimes a book can help you just as much.”