5 Consumer Credit Changes to Watch Out For
The credit crisis has taken its toll on many consumersâ€™ immediate ability to borrow and pay down their debt as, over the last year, banks and other lending institutions have slashed credit limits and hiked interest rates in an effort to protect themselves from rising consumer defaults. But economists predict that this vastly altered consumer credit market wonâ€™t be a fleeting change.
â€śIn the previous two decades, our credit scores have become more important over time,â€ť said personal finances expert Liz Pulliam Weston (“Rules Have Changed for Consumer Credit,” Chicago Tribune, April 19, 2009). â€śThen in the past year, itâ€™s suddenly become critical.â€ť
She warns that if consumers donâ€™t pay attention to these recent credit developments they could make some costly mistakes that could negatively affect their personal finances.
1. Credit Scores
The overhauled credit markets have polarized the world of credit scores: now thereâ€™s good credit and bad credit and relatively little in between. Consumers with good credit have seen little to no effect on their financial lives, while consumers with less than stellar credit are increasingly facing higher interest rates, more stringent loan terms, and disqualification from all types of loans â€” home, auto, student, etc.
The Recommendation: Donâ€™t take on any more debt and start paying off your existing debt.
2. Credit Benchmarks
The qualifications for good credit and bad credit have also shifted. About a year ago a 700 to a 720 FICO credit score â€” the most widely used credit score formula â€” was considered acceptable for most consumer loans, and a 620 FICO score was considered subprime and subject to less favorable terms. Today, consumers need a 740 to a 760 credit score to get the most consumer-friendly loan and credit card terms, and consumers with a 660 to 680 score are considered subprime.
The Recommendation: Pull your credit report to see if there are any unforeseen blips or mistakes that could have dinged your score. You can get a free copy of your credit report from each of the major reporting bureaus once a year at annualcreditreport.com. For a free estimate of your credit score, you can use some of the new credit simulators at Bankrate.com, Quizzle.com, or Credit.com to get an idea of where you stand, but if youâ€™re considering taking out any new loan you may want to use a site like MyFICO.com to pull your actual credit score and see where you really fall on the new scale.
3. Credit Limits
Consumers with lower credit scores are having their credit limits slashed by credit card companies, which can severely throw off your credit utilization ratio â€” the ratio of your available credit to how much youâ€™ve borrowed â€” and consequently, lower your credit score.
The Recommendation: Consumers with good credit scores, 750 and above, can try negotiating with their creditors to reinstate lines of credit, if need be. Creditors are more willing to accommodate consumers with good credit since they are harder to come by in this recession.
4. Card Cancellations
In addition to lowering limits, credit card companies are shutting down lines of credit due to low use, which may be one of the few credit changes to hurt consumers with good credit.
The Recommendation: Make sure to occasionally use the cards that you keep in the â€śback of your walletâ€ť â€” charging some purchases at least a few times a year â€” and promptly pay off the balances on these cards in full.
5. FICO Score Formula Changes
One of the three major credit reporting bureaus, TransUnion, has begun using Fair Isaacâ€™s new FICO score formula, which places more emphasis on your credit utilization and ignores overdue balances of less than $100. Itâ€™s unknown when or if the other credit bureaus, Equifax and Experian, will follow suit.
The Recommendation: Keep balances to below 30 percent of your available credit, and if possible, try to bring your credit utilization down to 10 percent to get better interest rates and more favorable borrowing terms on consumer loans.
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