Credit 101: What Is Revolving Utilization?

Aerial view of a young woman with brown hair contemplating her revolving utilization. She has a pen in her mouth and an open notebook on her desk.

According to Experian, the average credit score in the United States was just over 700 in 2019. That’s considered a good credit score—and if you want a good credit score, you have to consider your revolving utilization. Revolving utilization measures the amount of revolving credit limits that you are currently using, and it accounts for a large portion of your credit score.

Find out more about what revolving utilization is, how to manage it, and how it impacts your credit score below.

What Is Revolving Credit?

To understand revolving utilization, you first have to understand revolving credit. Revolving credit accounts are those that have a “revolving” balance, such as credit cards.

When you are approved for a credit card, you are given a credit limit. If you have a credit card with a limit of $1,000 and you use it to buy $200 worth of goods, you now have a $200 balance and an $800 remaining credit limit.

Now, if you pay that $200, you again have $1,000 of open credit. If you pay $150, you have $950 of open credit. But your credit revolves between balance owed and how much open credit you have available to use. How much you have to pay each month—known as the minimum payment—depends on how much your balance owed is.

Other forms of revolving credit include lines of credit and home equity lines of credit. They work similar to credit cards.

What Isn’t Revolving Credit?

Unlike revolving credit, installment loans involve taking out a lump sum and paying it back in an agreed-upon fashion over a set term of months or years. Typically, you agree to pay a certain amount per month for a certain number of months to cover the amount you borrowed plus any interest.

With an installment loan, the amount of your monthly payment is determined by your loan agreement, not the balance due. Common types of installment loans include vehicle loans, personal loans, student loans, and mortgages.

What Is Revolving Utilization?

Revolving utilization, also known as “credit utilization” or your “debt-to-limit ratio,” relates only to revolving credit and isn’t a factor with installment loans. Utilization refers to how much of your credit balance you’re using at a given time.

Here’s how to determine your individual and overall credit utilization:

  1. Look at your credit reports and identify all of your revolving accounts. Each of these accounts has a credit limit (the most you can spend on that account) and a balance (how much you have spent).
  2. To calculate individual utilization percentage on an account, divide the balance by the credit limit, and multiply that number by 100.
    1. $500/$1,000 = 0.5
    2. 5*100 = 50%
  3. To calculate overall utilization (all revolving accounts), add up all of the credit limits (total credit limit) and all of the balances (total spent) on your revolving accounts. Divide the total balance by total credit limit, and multiply that number by 100.

If you have a credit card with a $1,000 credit limit and a balance of $500, your utilization rate is 50%, for example. For the same card, if you have a balance of $100, your utilization rate is 10%.

When it comes to your credit score, revolving utilization is typically calculated in total. For example:

  • You have one card with a limit of $1,000 and a balance of $500.
  • You have a second card with a limit of $4,000 and a balance of $400.
  • You have a third card with a limit of $3,000 and a balance of $600.
  • Your total credit limit across all three cards is $8,000.
  • Your total utilization across all three cards is $1,500.
  • Your revolving utilization is around 19%.

How Can You Reduce Revolving Utilization?

You can reduce revolving utilization in two ways. First, you can pay down your balances. The less you owe, the less your utilization will be.

Second, you can increase your credit limit. If you apply for a new credit card but don’t use it, you’ll have more open credit, and that can reduce your utilization. You might also be able to ask your credit card company to review your account for a credit increase if you’re an account holder in good standing.

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What Is Revolving Utilization’s Impact on Your Credit Score?

Your revolving utilization rate does impact your credit. It’s the second-largest factor in the calculation of your credit score. Your utilization rate accounts for around 30% of your score. The only factor more important is whether you make your payments on time.

Why is credit utilization so important to your score? Because to lenders, it can say a lot about you as a borrower.

If you’re currently maxed out on all your existing credit, you may be struggling to pay your debts. Or you might not be managing your debts in the most responsible fashion. Either way, lenders might see you as a riskier investment and be less inclined to approve you for loans or other credit.

How Do You Know If You Have a Revolving Utilization Problem?

Sign up for Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card. It provides a snapshot of your credit report and gives you a grade for each of the five areas that make up your score. That includes payment history, credit utilization, age of credit, credit mix, and inquiries. The credit report card makes it easy for you to see what might be negatively affecting your credit score.

You can also sign up for ExtraCredit, an exciting new product from Credit.com. With an ExtraCredit account, you get a look at 28 of your FICO scores from all three credit bureaus—plus exclusive discounts and cashback offers as well as other features—for less than $25 a month.

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What is a Judgment?

A man sits on a couch with his laptop in his lap, looking at the phone in his hand.

A judgment is an order issued by a court of law. When you borrow money, you are legally required to repay the debt. This includes opening a credit card account, getting a line of credit from your bank and obtaining financing for a big purchase.

You can also become indebted to service providers. This can include utility companies, medical professionals, cell phone service providers and auto mechanic shops. They provide a service to you and then bill you, similar to a credit extension.

So, what happens when you don’t pay a bill or repay a debt? The company, creditor or collection agency has legal ways to pursue payment. One of those options is to sue you. If they are successful, the court issues a judgment against you.

What Happens After a Judgment Is Entered Against You?

The court enters a judgment against you if your creditor wins their claim or you fail to show up to court. You should receive a notice of the judgment entry in the mail. The judgment creditor can then use that court judgment to try to collect money from you. Common methods include wage garnishment, property attachments and property liens.

State laws determine how much money and what types of property a judgment creditor can collect from you. These laws vary. So, you need to look to your own state for the rules that apply. A consumer law attorney can help you understand your state’s laws on judgment collections.

What Is a Judgment on Property?

Your property includes both physical items and money. That means judgment creditors can seek debt payment from more than your wages and bank accounts. They may also take back a car you financed or other personal property. Another option is placing a lien on some of your property, such as your home.

What Property Can Be Taken to Settle a Judgment?

Creditors must follow the law when applying a judgment to take, or seize, your property. Some things are exempt—which means they can’t touch those items or properties. Some examples include the home you live in, the furnishings inside it and your clothes. State laws identify these items and set limits based on their value.

Non-exempt property can be taken to help meet a judgment debt. Your creditor can take or leverage these possessions in the following ways:

  • Wage attachments. This is known as wage garnishment. When your employer receives the proper legal notice, they must withhold a percentage of your wages. These payments are sent to the judgment creditor until your debt is paid.
  • The Consumer Credit Protection Act caps these types of garnishments. The limit is 25% of your disposable weekly wages or the amount you earn that’s above 30 times the minimum wage. The lessor of these two amounts applies. Some states set the cap even lower.
  • Nonwage garnishment. If you’re retired, unemployed or self-employed, your bank account may be garnished instead. Here, too, there are exemptions. Veterans payments, social security and disability benefits are not eligible for nonwage garnishment. Some states add even more restrictions to the garnishment of bank funds.
  • Property liens. If you own real estate, your judgment creditor may file a legal claim against it. These liens notify lenders of the creditor’s rights to your property. That way, if you sell your real property, the debt must be paid out of the proceeds. In many states, liens are placed automatically when a judgment is entered.
  • Property levies. Judgments may also allow some of your non-exempt personal property to be taken through a levy. Law enforcement may seize things like valuable collections or jewelry to be sold at auction. Sales proceeds are applied to your debt.

What Can You Do to Avoid a Judgment?

Heading off a lawsuit is the best way to avoid a judgment. To do so, don’t ignore calls and correspondence from your creditor. Reach out to learn if they’ll accept suitable payment arrangements. Educate yourself on smart ways to pay debt collectors, and consider using the services of a debt management agency.

What if the loan company or debt collector has already started the lawsuit? Don’t skip court. Show up and fight. You may win if the statute of limitations has expired.

If you haven’t made a payment on an old debt for many years, you may have a successful legal defense. Most states set the time frame between four to six years. Collectors often still file suit because they win by default if you don’t show up. So, it’s important that you go to court with proof of your last date of payment.

If you successfully defeat or avoid a judgment, don’t stop there. Take some sensible steps to help you get out of and stay out of debt. Adopting these smart financial habits can also help prevent future judgment actions.

How Long Can the Judgment Creditor Pursue Payment?

The answer depends on where you live, since state laws differ. Some states limit collection efforts to five to seven years. Others allow creditors to pursue repayment for more than 20 years. With the right to renew a judgment over and over in many states, it may last indefinitely.

Judgment renewals may be repeated as often as desired or limited to two or three times. This is another state-specific issue. Judgments can also lapse or become dormant. The creditor must then act within a specific time frame to revive it.

What Happens When You Can’t Pay a Judgment Filed Against You?

If you own a limited amount of property, it may all be exempt from judgment collection efforts. Also, you may not work or only work part-time. With the CCPA cap, that may mean you don’t earn enough for garnishment.

This inability to pay your debt is called being judgment proof, collection proof or execution proof. While these circumstances exist, the judgment creditor has no legal way to collect on the debt. It’s not a permanent solution. The creditor may revisit collection efforts periodically for many years.

For a more permanent solution, you may want to consider filing bankruptcy. This process can discharge or eliminate most civil judgments for unpaid debt. Exceptions apply for things like child support, spousal support, student loans and some property liens. Speak with a bankruptcy lawyer to learn whether this will help your situation.

Can You Settle a Judgment?

If you can afford to pay a decent lump sum, you may be able to negotiate a settlement. The judgment creditor may be willing to settle if they fear you will otherwise file bankruptcy. Get the terms and settlement amount you agree upon in writing. Be sure the creditor agrees to file a satisfaction of judgment with the court after they receive your pay off.

Can a Judgment Be Challenged or Reversed?

Challenging and overturning a judgment is difficult, but not always impossible. This is the case if there were errors. Perhaps you weren’t notified of the suit or it was never your debt to begin with. Consult with an attorney to find out whether you have grounds to challenge the decision.

If you want to challenge a judgment, act fast. If you received prior notice of the case, you may have up to six months to reopen it. If you weren’t notified, you likely have up to two years to appeal. By reopening the case, you have the opportunity to fight the claim anew.

Do Credit Reports Still Include Judgments?

For many years, credit reports included judgment information. But that changed in 2017. The National Consumer Assistance Plan is responsible for creating more accurate credit data requirements. These changes resulted in the removal of civil debt judgments from credit reports.

Judgments are still a matter of public record. But the NCAP now requires that there be identifying information on these records for more accuracy. That data includes a social security number or date of birth along with the consumer’s name and address.

Public records cannot include this type of identifying information. It would violate privacy laws. This is the reason these judgments are no longer reported on credit files.

How Do You Find Out if You Have Any Judgments Against You?

You should receive a summons when you’re being sued. So, you can expect a default judgment will follow if you don’t show up in court. You can also expect a notification when a judgment is entered against you.

Mistakes happen, though. You may have missed the notice or moved to a new address. If that happens, you may not learn of the judgment until collection actions start.

What if You Find a Judgment on Your Credit Report?

Take action if you learn that judgments are still being reported by Equifax, Experian or Trans Union. The NCAP eliminated this practice. So if there’s a judgment on your report, this is definitely something that you should dispute. Credit repair services, like Lexington Law, can help you dispute the error and correct your report.

If you’d like a more in-depth look at your credit score, give ExtraCredit, our newest product, a try. It has five killer features that all work together as a solution to your credit troubles. Plus, you’ll be able to see all 28 of your FICO credit scores. 

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Disclosure: Credit.com and CreditRepair.com are both owned by the same company, Progrexion Holdings Inc. John C Heath, Attorney at Law, PC, d/b/a Lexington Law Firm is an independent law firm that uses Progrexion as a provider of business and administrative services.

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How Much Cash Do You Really Need to Buy a Home?

Are you ready to buy a home? You’re not alone—in 2019, more than five million people bought an existing home. And that doesn’t even include the number of people who purchased new construction.

The point is, the housing market is always bustling and busy. And if it’s your first time buying a home, it might seem a bit daunting. You might have a couple of questions—how much money do you need to buy a home? And how can you even get those funds?

Overwhelmed? Don’t be. We’re here to guide you towards saving up, so hopefully you’ll be able to afford your dream home. Keep reading to learn more!

How Much Do You Need for a Down Payment?

Let’s start with one of the first payments you might have to make—a down payment. When someone takes out a mortgage loan, they’ll put down a percentage of the home’s price. That’s the down payment.

You might’ve heard that down payments are about 20% of the total cost of your new home. That can be true, but it really just depends on your mortgage. There are mortgage options that require little to no down payment, and how much you need often depends on your eligibility for different programs. Here are some different loan options:

1. USDA Mortgage

The USDA guarantees mortgages for eligible buyers primarily in rural areas. These loans do not have down payment requirements. To qualify for a USDA loan:

  • The property must meet eligibility requirements as to where it’s located.
  • Your household must fall within the income requirements, which depend on your state.
  • You must meet credit, income and other requirements of the lender, though they may be less rigorous than loans not backed by a government entity.

2. Conventional Mortgage

Conventional mortgages are financed through traditional lenders and not through a government entity. Depending on your credit and other factors, you may not need to put down 20% on such loans. Some lenders may allow as little as a five percent down payment, for example. But you’ll have to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI) if you put down less than 20%.

3. FHA Mortgage

FHA loans, like USDA loans, are partially guaranteed by a government agency. In this case, it’s the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). A down payment on these loans may be as low as 3.5%. Requirements for an FHA loan can include:

  • You’re purchasing a primary home.
  • The home in question meets certain requirements related to value and cost.
  • A debt-to-income ratio between 43% and 56.9%.
  • You meet other credit requirements, though these may not be as strict as with conventional loans.

How much do you need to make to buy a $200K house?

Given the above information, here’s what your down payment might look like on a home worth $200,000:

  • USDA loan: Potentially $0
  • Conventional loan: From $10,000 to $40,000
  • FHA Loan: As low as $7,000

These are just some options for mortgages with low down payment requirements. Working with a broker or shopping around online can help you find the right mortgage. In addition to the down payment, you do need to ensure that you can afford the mortgage and make the monthly payments.

Don’t Forget the Cash You’ll Need for Closing

Closing costs are typically between three and six percent of your mortgage’s principal. That’s how much you’re borrowing, so the less you put down, the more your closing costs might be.

Here’s a range of closing costs assuming a cost of three percent of the low range home purchase, when buying with less than 20% down:

  • For a home purchase between $500,000 and $600,000, you’ll need at least $15,000 for closing costs
  • Between $300,000 and $500,000, at least $9,000 for closing costs
  • Between $150,000 and $300,000, at least $4,500 for closing costs

Where Can You Get the Money to Buy a Home?

These numbers should give you an idea of how much cash you’ll need for a home purchase. Acceptable sources for procuring cash to close on a house can be one or any of the following:

  • Stocks
  • Bonds
  • IRA
  • 401(k)
  • Checking/ savings
  • A money market account
  • Retirement account
  • Gift money

The key here is that the money needs to be documented. You have to be able to prove you had it and didn’t borrow it simply for the purpose of making your down payment or covering closing costs.

Don’t have cash available from any of the above-mentioned sources? There are other sources you can use as long as they can be paper-trailed, such as your tax refund or a security deposit refund on your current home rental.

Plan for Other Important Costs

While down payments and closing costs are the biggest out-of-pocket expenses involved in buying a home with a mortgage, you may need to cover other costs. There might be some additional home buying and moving-in costs. Those could include inspections, the cost of any necessary repairs not covered by the sellers and moving fees.

Are You Ready to Buy a Home?

Saving up the right amount of money is just one step in buying a home. You must also ensure your credit score is in order. Lenders look at different credit scores when they consider someone for a mortgage. Sign up for ExtraCredit to get a look at 28 of your FICO Scores to understand how lenders might see you as a borrower. Once you check your scores, you can decide whether you need to build your score or start shopping for your mortgage.

Sign up for ExtraCredit today!

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How to Invest in Stocks: A Guide to Getting Started

A tablet shows the trajectory of a stock.

In 2020, around 55% of American adults invest in the stock market. That’s down from a peak of 65% in 2007 but around the average over the past 10 years. Do you want to get a piece of the action? Before you jump all in, make sure you know the basics of how to invest in stocks. 

A quick note before we dive in: we’re not investment experts or advisors. So if you’re seriously considering investing, you should work with professional brokers, financial advisors or other knowledgeable experts when you invest. That’s especially true if you plan on investing a lot. 

1. Decide on a Budget for Investing

Start by deciding how much you want to use to invest in stocks. Here’s a good starting place—make the potential stocks you’d invest in a percentage of your portfolio. A rule of thumb that many advisors go by is to take 110 or 120 and subtract your age. That’s how much of your investment portfolio you should keep in stocks.

For example, if you’re 30, then you’d keep between 80 and 90% of your portfolio in stocks. If that feels a little aggressive for your financial goals, start with 100 and subtract your age from that.

You also need to decide how much you can invest overall. That depends on your own income, what financial obligations you have and your overall budget. While investing is important, you shouldn’t invest money at the sake of paying your bills, for example.

2. Open an Account for Making Your Investments.

Stocks aren’t like retail goods. You can’t just buy them here and there when you see one you like on display on an ecommerce site. You typically need an account to purchase your stocks through. Some options you can choose include:

  • Opening a brokerage account. This lets you buy and sell stocks through a professional service. You can opt for a brokerage where you do your own research and push the buttons on buying and selling, or you can choose a managed option where someone provides advice or handles these things on your behalf.
  • Using a robo-advisor. This is an app or software program that lets you set goals for your investments and uses machine learning, AI and algorithms to handle your investments. One popular robo-advisor is Acorns, which is an app that lets you round up your purchases with connected debit cards and put the change into investments. While you’re making many micro investments, the total can add up over time.

3. Get Help Creating an Investment Plan

An investment plan is a comprehensive approach to wealth building. Stocks may play an important part in that, but you typically want to ensure you’re well diversified. A diversified portfolio just means you have various types of investments. This way if one isn’t performing well, the others might offer some protection.

One option for getting investment advice is by signing up for an Ellevest account. You pay a monthly membership for this robo investment app, but you gain access to investment and other financial coaching and educational materials.

4. Learn More About Stocks

You don’t have to be a stock expert or financial advisor to have success investing in stocks. But you do have to know a bit about what you’re investing in, especially if you’re going to make very specific stock choices.

You might be familiar with the concept of buying and selling stocks as seen in television and movies. While you canbuy and sell specific stocks because you want to invest in a specific company, you don’t have to invest like that. You can also invest in groups of stocks via stock mutual funds. When you invest in a stock mutual fund, you’re actually buying many different stocks or pieces of stocks. That spreads your risk out over a wider range of assets.

You should also understand the trends associated with the stock market, at least in general. For example, stocks do tend to rise over time barring big economic downturns. On any particular day, the chance that stocks will rise is around 53%. The chance that they will fall is around 47%. But if you look at the long-term, such as a 12-month period, stocks typically have a chance of rising of 75%. 

5. Use Other Tools to Make Investing Easy as You Get Started

Start by getting your immediate financial house in order. Understand what your budget is, and check your credit to ensure there are no surprises looming. You can sign up for ExtraCredit to get a comprehensive understanding of where your credit score is. Once you know where you stand, you can start creating an investment plan with confidence. You can even rely on ExtraCredit’s Reward It feature for cashback offers when signing up for Credit.com partners that provide investment apps and other financial services.

Sign up for ExtraCredit today!

Start Investing in Stocks Today 

So, should you invest? Honestly, that’s up to you. Take a good look at your finances and, if you need guidance, try working with a professional. If you do decide to start investing, start easy and slow. There’s no need to jump all in right at once. Hopefully, if investing works out, you’ll reap some serious rewards. 

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