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It's not you, it's your credit score

by Jennifer Rose Hale

Tonight's the big date. You iron your shirt, check your hair, make sure your fingernails and teeth are clean. Front to back, you're looking sharp. You've checked everything…except your credit score.

Your credit score may not be part of the first impression you make on a potential love interest, but if your relationship is going anywhere, it will eventually enter into the picture, perhaps when you're stressed about bills or struggling to get a loan. Want to make yourself a better catch? Increase your credit score with these tips.

Get in shape: sweat off excess debt

How can you be lean and agile when you're lugging around years of flabby debt? Make a plan to pay it off, whether you tackle high-interest-rate loans first or follow the debt snowball plan espoused by Dave Ramsey. Increase the amount of money you can dedicate to debt by cutting expenses (restaurant dining, cable TV), dropping memberships and subscriptions you don't really need, or shopping around for lower rates on necessities such as insurance.

If possible, transfer your credit card debt to a low interest credit card; less interest means less time paying off the bill.

You also can take on an extra job, whether it's mowing lawns, pet sitting or working retail in your off-hours. A second job isn't a life sentence, but it can be enough to boost your income temporarily and get rid of, say, student loans. A potential mate is unlikely to be turned off by a work ethic that makes you a more stable partner.

Be on time with love and bill paying

Don't make your date wait--or the electric company. Either way, you're bound to be left in the cold. Companies report delinquent payments to the credit bureaus that produce your credit reports, and that will ding your credit score.

Give yourself and your credit room to grow

You'll be more appealing if you have possibilities: growth in your job, active interests and open-mindedness. Nothing is less interesting than a stick in the mud.

Your credit score also depends on whether you have room to grow…in other words, your debt-to-credit ratio. This is the amount you owe versus the total amount of credit available to you. If you've maxed out, or are close to doing so, you'll be less appealing to lenders as well as love interests. It's a good idea, if you're anticipating a big purchase such as a home, to keep even paid-off accounts open to ensure your debt-to-credit ratio is favorable.

Show commitment to love…and an old credit card

At some point, your date wants to see some commitment, and it's the same for the credit bureaus. You'll want to have long-term accounts on your credit history, such as a student credit card from college days.

Your nest egg can help build a nest

As life moves forward, you may start dreaming about the house with the white picket fence, or maybe the midtown condo. Whatever your dreams, you'll need cash in the bank to get there. Start building your savings account early by living within your means and stashing the extra in a high-interest savings account, always a good option when you might need the money in a few years. The next thing you know, you'll be well on the way to that 20 percent down payment.

Love means never having to co-sign

Even though love often means partnership and compromise, be sure to think twice (or three times) before co-signing a loan for a significant other. When you co-sign, you take responsibility for the entire debt if the borrower defaults. That co-borrower who is your sweetie today may not look so appealing three years from now when the car loan isn't being repaid and the lenders are looking to you for the balance.

A loan default brings as much pain to the co-signer as it does to the borrower, but without anything to show for it.

Confidence to go fishing

There may be many fish in the sea, but do you have the confidence to cast your line? Metaphors aside, reducing your debt, increasing your savings, and knowing you're in a position to finance life's big purchases will give you the confidence to pursue other areas of fulfillment: your job, your friends, and true love.

And last…say "I do" to good credit scores

Although you may financially move in together with a joint checking account, each of you maintains your own credit score. When you apply for a mortgage or car loan, for example, the lender may very likely check both of your scores, and a poor score for you or your spouse may mean worse terms for both of you. So, just as you may start an exercise plan together to get you both healthy, start working together on the health of your two credit scores.

At the end of the day, whether it's Valentine's Day or any other day of the year, a better financial outlook can open up possibilities for love.

Check out the Federal Reserve website and myFICO.com for more tips on improving your credit score.

Published 02/07/11 (Modified 11/21/13)


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