Have at least one credit card
Seniors managing well on Social Security plus their retirement plans might be tempted to go cash-only. But that is a bad idea, warns credit expert Curtis Arnold.
“If they stop using credit cold turkey, their credit score is likely to be adversely affected,” says Arnold, founder of CardRatings.com.
The trick is to use that credit card, but pay off the full balance each month. That way you’re charging only what you can actually afford, and you won’t accumulate a larger balance from month to month, which can be detrimental to your credit score.
Consumer advocate Beverly Harzog regularly hears from divorced or widowed senior women whose husbands handled all the finances. Never having signed for loans and never having had credit cards in their own names can make them invisible to the big three credit bureaus — and give them little access to loans.
“You don’t build credit as a married couple. Everyone should have a credit card in their own name to build credit themselves,” says Harzog, author of “Confessions of a Credit Card Junkie: Everything You Need to Know to Avoid the Mistakes I Made.”
Sometimes your status as “authorized user” on a spouse’s card does get reported to the credit bureaus. Find out for sure by requesting a free copy of your credit report.
If you don’t have credit in your own name, apply for a card right away. Just make sure to choose a card that reports to the three main credit bureaus — Experian, TransUnion and Equifax.