(ARA) - Summer is here and Americans across the country are grappling with two of the season's most compelling questions: First, is your body beach ready? Second, is your credit as buff-or better-than your bod?
Just as fitness is an ongoing process, whipping your credit into shape takes time, too. If you wait until the weather warms to start working out, you may be dissatisfied with the results. Likewise, you can't ignore your credit score until the moment you really need it.
The same principles that can help you look good can help your credit score be its best, too. Practice good diet and exercise habits and you'll look and feel better. Practice smart money management and your efforts will show in your high credit score.
Whether you'll be buying a car this summer or applying for an apartment with a landlord who checks credit scores, here are a few steps that can help get your credit in shape for summer expenses.
* Get a checkup. Before you start any diet or exercise plan, you should consult your doctor. Before you begin working on (or working out) your credit, you need to understand the current status of your credit report and score. Luckily, you can do a personal credit checkup yourself, by getting your credit score and report online. Enrolling in a product like freecreditscore.com to check your score is like taking your temperature or blood pressure reading, and doing it yourself poses no negative impact on your score.
* Put your spending on a diet. The key to losing weight is to eat fewer calories than you burn. The key to financial health is to earn and save more than you spend. Increasing your saving and reducing spending can help your credit in several ways. Spending less on nonessentials can make it easier to pay necessary bills, and even help you pay down debt. Plus, reducing your use of credit card spending may improve your ratio of credit available to credit used. Credit bureaus consider your debt-to-credit ratio when calculating your credit score.
* Establish a spending regimen. Just as you follow a nutrition plan and exercise regimen, you need a plan for how you'll manage your finances. Budgeting is an essential part of getting fiscally fit, so if you've never had a budget before, now is the time to start one. If you already budget, it's a good time to evaluate what's working well and where you could improve your spending plan.
* Commit to a new lifestyle. Health experts will tell you that losing weight and staying fit requires more than a short-term commitment to a diet. Real health success comes from making lifestyle changes, and the same is true for financial and credit health. If you look at your money management efforts as something you're just doing until you get back in shape, you'll eventually return to unhealthy habits.
Just as taking care of your physical health is a year-round endeavor, keeping your credit in shape is too. With the right combination of exercises and wise management practices, it's possible to get your credit looking good - and you'll feel great, too.