Now that you have signed up for Loyalty Programs, you need to start collecting miles and points. The most lucrative way is to sign up for credit cards that give you a great sign on bonus, however, in order to do that, you first need to evaluate your credit health.
There are 3 credit bureaus that keep track of your credit: Experian, Transunion, and Equifax. They may not necessarily have the same information or credit score on all 3 bureaus but they should be relatively similar.
There are 2 sites that I know of that you can check your report and/or scores for free. FYI you do need to provide your SSN and answer personal questions about yourself to verify your identity.
AnnualCreditReport.com will give you free one time access to your 3 credit bureau reports annually. Its a good idea to save your reports after you access them. If you find discrepancies in your report, you can always initiate disputes.
CreditKarma.com will give you your Tranunion and Equifax score and report for free and it can be updated on a weekly basis.
To give you some personal information about my credit score and health so you can compare to yours: I had my first credit card in 2002. I started applying for multiple cards ever year starting in 2010. I have applied for over 30+ credit cards since then and I have never been late on any payment, I always pay my balances in full, and I have no items in collections. Some cards I close after one year and some I keep open for a while. I also have a mortgage and car payment. This is my Credit Karma score from Sept 2010 and as of Nov 2014.
Before you start freaking out about the 30+ cards I mentioned or start going off and applying for credit cards, please realize that everyone’s situation is different and results on each persons credit will vary.
Here are some questions and answers about credit and myths vs. fact
Q: What factors affect my credit score?
A: 1) Your payment history has the heaviest weight in affecting your score. Have you always made payments on time and do you have any balances in collection?
2) The age of your accounts (how long you have had a credit card or loan) and the types of credit (credit cards, auto/personal loans, mortgages) affect your score. The older your accounts and the more types you have, the better your score.
3) The percentage of your credit usage vs. your credit limits affect your score. The lower the usage, the better the score.
4) Your credit behavior such as opening new accounts and your recent credit inquiries affect your score.
5) Your available credit also has an affect on your score.
Q: What is a good credit score?
A: Your score ranges from 300-850 and I personally consider anything above 700 to be a good credit score.
Q: I heard that applying for a lot of credit cards will hurt your score, is this true?
A: Applying for credit cards will temporarily drop your score from 2-5 points per card, however, after a while, it will readjust back up assuming you don’t negatively affect your score in other ways.
Q: Will checking my own score hurt my credit?
A: No, checking your score won’t affect your credit and will not count as an inquiry on your credit report. Things like applying for credit cards, getting a new phone, setting up your electricity bill, and applying for house or car will be counted as an inquiry because they use your SSN to pull your credit report and/or scores.
Q: I have never had a credit card in my life and my score is not great. What should I do?
A: You may or may not be approved for a rewards earning card since credit card companies prefer people with good credit scores, however, there are cards out there that are designed to help build credit for someone such as yourself. They will most likely give you a very low credit line but this is something you can start out with.
Q: I would like to buy a house or a car within the next few months. Should I be applying for credit cards?
A: If you already have good credit, I would temporarily avoid applying for cards until you get your house or car loan since recent opened credit may be negatively viewed by lenders and you will have to explain why you opened each card.
Q: I have a credit card with no annual fee and I never use it. Should I close this card?
A: Since the age of accounts affects your score, it is best to keep your oldest accounts open, even if you never use them.
Q: Some reward earning cards have annual fees and I don’t want to pay these? How can I avoid them?
A: Credit cards that have a great sign-on bonus may or may not waive the annual fee the first year but you need to make a decision of whether keeping the card open and paying the annual fee is beneficial for you. You can call the number on the back of your credit card to see if they will waive the fee or give you a retention bonus. Once you hear their offer, you can make the decision whether to keep the card open. If you are an active military member, some credit card companies will waive your annual fees. You need to call the credit card company to ask about this benefit.
Q: Won’t closing my card after 1 yr negatively affect my credit?
A: Your age of your accounts will slightly decrease after closing your accounts after a year so you need to make the decision whether keeping your cards open and paying the annual fee is beneficial for you. However, there are other factors that can raise your score. See the first Q&A.
So is playing this game of opening credit cards for miles and points bonuses and benefits right for you? You must have good credit and must maintain it by always paying your balances ON TIME and IN FULL each month. You also must be very organized by keeping track of when you credit cards are due and which cards you have open.
If you have a good score and think you have the discipline, then you are ready to play this game!