Another key to credit management is keeping track of your credit rating. Your credit rating is affected by a variety of factors, including late payments, total outstanding debt and total available credit. Obviously, late payments hurt your rating, along with heavy debt. However, having a lot of open credit accounts is actually good for your credit rating, as long as they're mostly clear of actual debt. So don't cancel unused credit accounts.
There are two ways online banking can help you track your score. First, in the U.S., everyone is entitled to one free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus -- TransUnion, Equifax and Experian -- per year. Some banks offer access to these reports directly through your online account. Otherwise, you can get it at Web sites like annualcreditreport.com. Your bank may offer other credit reporting or scoring services for an additional fee.
The second option, offered as a premium service by some banks or credit card companies, is a credit monitoring program. This kind of service watches your credit report at any one (or all three) of the credit bureaus. You can set up alerts for suspicious activity: if someone tries to apply for a credit card in your name, or if your credit rating dips below a certain level. That lets you know exactly how well you're doing at managing your money and your debt, since drastic declines in your rating mean lots of late bills or too much debt. The protection such services offer from potential identity theft is helpful as well -- nothing makes it harder to manage your debt than an identity thief racking up bills in your name.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Brandon, Emily. "Checking Account Fees Reach Record Highs." U.S. News & World Report, Oct. 19, 2009.http://www.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2009/10/19/checking-account-fees-reach-record-highs.html
- Bruene, Jim. "Online Financial Services Scorecard: March 2008." NetBanker. May 8, 2008. Accessed Jan. 20, 2010. http://www.netbanker.com/2008/05/online_financial_services_scor_1.html
- Federal Reserve System. "Consumer Credit." Jan. 8, 2010. Accessed Jan. 20, 2010. http://www.federalreserve.gov/releases/g19/Current/
- Whitney, Lance. "Online banking is booming." Cnet News, June 16, 2010. Accessed Jan. 20, 2009.http://news.cnet.com/8301-1001_3-10265409-92.html