More than 1 in 4 millennials say their credit score has cost them a home, a loan or a new line of credit.
Many millennials are buckling under the weight of bad credit.
When Joe went to put a $2,000 down payment on his first car (which cost $11,000), he didn’t think it would be too difficult. The high school English teacher, who declined to give his last name, was 25 at the time, had been teaching for almost two years and was earning about $58,000 a year.
But the deal skid to a halt after his poor credit history emerged.
“I was told I had to put down more money than I could afford, or find a cosigner in order to be approved for a loan,” he told Moneyish. He was finally able to get a lender that came with a high interest rate.
The Pittsburgh, Penn. native, now 28, still carries anxiety about his now-average credit score. And he is just one of the almost half (46%) of millennials who fear that their credit card scores are holding them back, according to a new survey by the financial tech firm OppLoans.
More than 1 in 4 (27%) also say that their credit has prevented them from getting a new car, while 26% of those who have applied to get approval or a new loan, and 25% applying for an apartment or house, have also been declined.
The survey looked into the credit knowledge and experience of 2,000 Americans ages 18 to 34, and found that many young adults are suffering the consequences of bad credit. In fact, 24% of those surveyed said they never learned how to build good credit in the first place, and 15% reported that their level of debt is unmanageable, with 1 in 5 admitting that they don’t have control over their finances.
“The most shocking part of this survey was the multitude of ways that millennials were impacted by bad credit,” Jared Kaplan, CEO of OppLoans, told Moneyish. “It wasn’t just applying for loans and credit cards — millennials were having trouble buying cars and renting apartments, too. Fourteen percent of respondents said they lived with roommates because their credit prevented them from renting on their own.”
The younger a person is, the more likely they are to be grappling with credit woes: 43% of millennials have poor credit, compared to 20% of Boomers and just 9% of the Silent Generation, according to 2016 data from TransUnion. “Because they’re younger, millennials have shorter credit histories, which will impact their credit scores,” Kaplan explained. “Older generations have had more time to build a strong credit history that will help offset early mistakes.”
Joe struggled to build credit from the get-go because he was in college during the recession. “I was living in New York, trying to get an apartment,” he said. “I had no credit, so I couldn’t get a credit card.”
He was eventually approved for a credit card with a small $1,000 credit line after his parents loaned him some money. “Once I did though, it seemed like any little issue kept my credit really low,” he added, such as making late utility bill payments and not spending his money wisely.
Many millennials were also unable to build credit in college in part from the Card Act of 2009, which required students under 21 to show independent means of income or have a cosigner to get approved for a credit card. Although intended to prevent credit card companies from taking advantage of students by signing them up for cards with high interest rates and credit lines they couldn’t afford, it also hindered many young adults from getting credit cards at all.
“It become harder for people to get access to credit cards, so they weren’t building credit while in college,” Erin Lowry, the 29-year old financial blogger and author of “Broke Millennial,” told Moneyish. “Having college loan debt in college doesn’t mean you’re racking up credit; so once you’re out, with no credit history, it takes a long time to build credit, and makes it difficult to rent an apartment or get an auto loan.”
And while there are no quick fixes to boosting your credit score, here are a few ways millennials — or anyone, really — can dig themselves out:
Educate yourself. Make sure you’re getting the right information about good credit management. “It really hasn’t been until (the last) seven to 10 years that the public has began to understand what goes into credit scores,” Lowry said. “There is so much misinformation about how to deal with your credit.”
For example, more than 1 in 5 credit card users (22%) have wrongly carried a balance to help improve their credit scores, according to a recent CreditCards.com report. But carrying a balance is not one of the five factors that makes up a FICO credit score, which are: payment history; the percentage of available credit that has been borrowed; the length of credit history; how many credit lines you own; and how different the types of credit lines you own are, according to creditcards.com.
Set up automatic payments. Missed credit card payments are the most common cause of poor credit for this age group, according to Kaplan. “We found that 36% of millennials who missed credit card payments simply forgot about them,” he said. “Setting up automatic payments on credit card accounts will help ensure that bills don’t slip by. Once a black mark is on a credit report, anybody who pulls it will see it for years to come.”
Be consistent. One of the most important steps to take to get your credit score up is to start pumping positive information unto your credit report. To do this, make one or two small purchases within your budget every month, pay it off on time and in full, and repeat, Lowry said. You also don’t want to be using more than 30% of your available credit limit, she added. “Utilization makes up 30% of your overall credit score and the goal should be to use no more than 30% to demonstrate responsible credit behaviors,” she said.
Follow up. Ten percent of millennials reported being unaware that they had bills to pay in the first place, according to the same OppLoans survey. To avoid this, Lowry suggests following up about bills and checking to see if you owe anything. One way to do this is to request a credit report from a national credit report company such as Equifax, Experian and Transunion. This can be done for free online every 12 months to see if you have outstanding balance.
You should also follow up with doctor’s offices, your student loan providers and any subscription services to check whether you’re on the hook for anything. “Call the doctor’s office 30 to 40 days after your visit to see if there is any outstanding debt,” said Lowry. “This will prevent it from being sent to a collections office.”
Know which payments matter more. Not all payments count toward your credit score, Lowry said, so prioritize the ones (after your rent and utilities, of course) that matter more; pay your credit card bill on time and in full before you worry about Netflix. “If you run into an issue with your budget and are unable to make all your payments, then you should reach out proactively to those who will report late payments and discuss the situation to see if there’s anything that can be done to give you a grace period to make the payment,” she added.
Most late credit payments get reported to the credit bureaus at 30 days past their due date, and loans generally take longer to be reported, Kaplan said.
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