You may have heard the expression, “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” These words of advice are definitely applicable when it comes to credit cards — just because an account’s upper limit is higher than its current balance doesn’t mean it’s wise for the cardholder to keep spending until they max it out.
Why? Because utilizing more than 30 percent of your available balance on any individual card — or across all of your cards — makes you appear riskier to lenders. It gives the impression you may be depending on credit cards to get by. This measure is called your credit utilization rate and having a high percentage of credit in play can start to drag down your credit score.
Here are five tips for getting your credit utilization rate in check if it starts to creep northward of 30 percent or so.
Make Payments More Than Once Per Month
Adjusting your credit card payment schedule from once per month to every two weeks can help. This simple action helps bring your balance down more quickly, and lower balances tend to lower utilization rates. As Experian notes, utilization rate is actually the second biggest factor lenders consider when calculating credit rating.
If you’re used to paying $300 once at the end of the month, try instead paying $175 or $200 twice per month. This may require jostling around your budget to come up with the extra funds, but this slight increase will slash your debt faster and help pull your utilization back into the safe zone, too.
Ask for a Credit Line Increase
Another way to go about optimizing your utilization rate is to ask for an increase on one or more credit lines. First, check to see whether your lender has already approved you for a higher limit. If no automatic increase has been granted to your account, you’ll have to put in a request. You’ll have a better chance of hearing a “yes” from lenders if you’ve made timely payments in the past.
It’s important to keep in mind this strategy only works if you avoid running up your balance, even with a higher limit in place.
Pay More Than the Minimum Due
Paying more than the minimum amount due is another way to chip away at balances more quickly, especially if most of your minimum payments are going toward interest fees rather than tackling the core balance.
However, as many Freedom Debt Relief reviews note, many cardholders are unable to pay more than the minimum — or may even fall behind on minimum payments — following financial hardship like divorce, medical bills or layoffs. If your credit utilization is high because you’re unable to keep up on credit card payments, it’s time to revisit your budget and speak with a credit counselor qualified to offer advice on how you can get back on track.
Avoid Closing Old Credit Accounts
While closing old credit accounts you haven’t used in a while may feel like cleaning house, it can adversely affect your credit utilization — and thus your score. Shrinking your available pool of credit means your utilization percentage will rise, even if your balances remain the same.
As long as there’s no annual fee on old accounts, it usually doesn’t hurt to keep them open. In fact, it’ll help your credit in terms of lengthening your history, too.
Open a New Credit Card
Last, but perhaps riskiest, is opening a new credit account. However, it’s only prudent to do so if you can keep spending very low on this card. This can do more harm than good if you’re tempted by the allure of an available balance.
It’s worth looking into what you can do to lower your credit utilization rate. Keeping it below 30 percent will help your credit score; while exceeding this cap can start to negatively affect it.