Creating good financial habits is essential to managing your money well, but people aren't always sure how to do this. Often, it's as simple as avoiding the bad habits that hurt your credit and make it difficult to stay on top of your bills.
A recent survey by The Ascent looked at some of the most common bad financial habits that Americans struggle with today. You may not have problems with all of these, but even one of them can wreak significant havoc on your finances.
1. Paying your bills late
Paying your bills late can hurt you in multiple ways. First, you could get hit with late fees that drive up your bill even further and second, it could seriously damage your credit score. A single late payment can drop an excellent credit score by more than 100 points, according to FICO. The effect is less severe for those with good, fair, or poor credit simply because there's less room for the score to fall, but this doesn't make the consequences any less severe.
A low credit score makes lenders less willing to work with you because they fear you might fail to pay them back as well. You may find it impossible to secure new loans or lines of credit if you have late payments on your credit report. These stay on your record for seven years. The effect a late payment has on your credit report diminishes with time, but if you make a habit of paying late, you'll struggle to improve your credit.
Do your best to always pay your bills on time and set reminders for yourself if you struggle to remember to pay on your own. You could also set up automatic payments if this is an option. If you know a payment is going to be late one month, reach out to the person or company you owe and ask them not to report the late payment to the credit bureaus. They may comply if you've had a good payment history to date.
2. Accumulating a lot of debt
Debt isn't inherently bad. Showing that you can borrow money and pay it back in a timely fashion can actually be good for your credit. But when debt spirals out of control, it becomes stressful and costly. It can leave you unable to pay your monthly bills and it can cost you quite a bit in interest. This is especially true of credit card debt. Some cards can have APRs exceeding 30%, which causes balances to swell quickly.
You can avoid debt by creating a monthly budget and sticking to it and not charging more to your credit cards than you know you can pay back at the end of the month. But this advice may come too little, too late if you're already in debt. In that case, try to cut your monthly spending or increase your income by working extra or starting a side hustle to free up more cash to put toward your debt repayment. You could also try transferring a credit card balance to a new card with a 0% introductory APR or taking out a personal loan to cover the amount so you can have predictable monthly payments.
3. Not saving
Saving may be a challenge if your bills take up most or all of your monthly income, but having a savings cushion you can fall back on is crucial to staying out of debt and achieving your financial goals. Create a budget and look for ways to cut spending, like dining out less or making your coffee at home. You could also pursue a promotion at work or start a side hustle to get more cash coming in.
Set aside at least three months' worth of living expenses in an emergency fund and six months' worth is even better. Use this money if you encounter a major unplanned expense, like a job loss, medical emergency, or home repair. Keep this money in a separate savings account to ensure you don't spend it.
Start planning for your other financial goals as well. These may include buying a home or a car or saving for retirement. If the goal is a long way off, consider investing that money rather than leaving it in a savings account so that it can grow more quickly. Consult with a financial advisor if you're unsure of how much you need to save or how to free up more cash for savings. Just be sure to choose a fee-only financial advisor instead of a fee-based advisor who earns a commission for recommending investment products, even if they don't suit you.
Changing these bad financial habits will take time and practice, but you'll be rewarded with more money, greater financial stability, and better rates on loans and credit cards when you choose to apply for them.