Most younger folks understand the importance of building and maintaining good credit. After all, the better your credit score, the greater your chances of getting approved for a mortgage, car loan, or any type of financing you might need.
Retirees, by contrast, may be less inclined to give their credit scores much thought. After all, it's less common for a retiree to apply for a new mortgage, and at a time when expenses should, be going down, many retirees may not be as concerned about their ability to borrow because they're not actively looking to do so.
Unfortunately, it's this line of thinking that can get retirees into trouble.
When you need an emergency loan
Emergencies happen to everyone, including retirees. One major reason not to let your credit score slip in retirement is that you never know when you might need money in a hurry. The lower your credit score, the more difficult it will be to get approved for a loan to pay for unforeseen expenses such as medical bills or major household repairs. Remember, too, that even if you're given a loan despite your relatively poor credit, that loan could end up costing you more money by way of a less favorable interest rate. A $5,000 loan with a two-year repayment period at 8% interest will cost you $307 per month, but that same loan at 14% interest will cost $391 per month. Over the course of two years, that's a $2,000 difference, which is a lot for someone living on a fixed income.
In an ideal world, you'll have paid off your mortgage by the time retirement rolls around. But we don't all live in an ideal world, and unfortunately, more and more retirees are leaving the workforce these days with nagging mortgage payments hanging over their heads. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, 30% of Americans aged 65 and older still carry mortgage debt, up from 22% just a decade earlier. While it's not always advantageous to refinance a mortgage during retirement, in some cases -- namely, if rates drop low enough -- it could make financial sense. Refinancing your mortgage could lower your monthly payments significantly, but only if you carry a high enough credit score to qualify for the best rate.
Credit cards and insurance premiums
Just because you're retired doesn't mean you no longer need a credit card, and if you want to take advantage of the best offers out there, you'll need a high enough credit score to get approved. This especially holds true if you plan to travel extensively during retirement. A rewards card with a generous mileage or points program could help you stretch your travel budget significantly. Additionally, many auto and homeowners' insurance companies use credit scores to help determine rates. The higher your score, the better a rate you're likely to snag.
Use your age to your advantage
If you're in or very close to retirement, one of the many things you have on your side is your age. If you've historically maintained a respectable credit score, then now is not the time to let it slip. Hold on to the credit card you've had for the past decade and continue making your monthly payments in full and on time. You should also keep tabs on your credit by accessing your credit report at least once a year. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires that each of the major credit reporting companies, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, provide you with a free copy of your credit report every 12 months. You can access your free credit report online at Annual Credit Report, and sites like Credit Karma and WisePiggy can show you your credit score for free at any time.
It's not just your physical health that you'll need to maintain during retirement; you'll need to preserve your financial health as well. And when you're no longer working and money may suddenly be tight, having a strong credit score can offer you peace of mind at a time in your life when you deserve it the most.