Understanding a Credit Card Statement

We were going to put together an article that explains everything you need to know about a credit card statement. However, in the process of researching we found their already to be an excellent article in this area!

Check out the link to this article by thebalance.com on understanding credit card statements! https://www.thebalance.com/how-to-understand-your-credit-card-billing-statement-960246

The only important item the article from thebalance.com leaves out is the concept of the “grace period”. The grace period is the time between the end of your credit card’s billing cycle and the due date for that billing cycle. This is typically about 21 days.  As long as you pay off your card’s balance by the due date then you will not experience any finance/interest charges. If you do not pay off your balance in full by the due date then you will immediately be charged finance/interest charges. These charges will continue until you have paid your balance of in full. The interest rates are steep on credit cards. Sometimes almost 30% so make sure and pay that balance off completely if at all possible!

Make sure that before you apply for a credit card it includes a grace period for purchases! Be aware that even if a credit card includes a grace period for purchases there still might not be a grace period for cash advances and balance transfers.

As always remember the rule of thumb for using credit cards! Before using a credit card make sure you have 1) a written budget, 2) you are tracking your expenses to ensure your budget is being implemented and is realistic and 3) Spend multiple months getting comfortable with steps 1 and 2 before getting a credit card.

If you would like to read more on credit cards check out these two recent articles we recently posted “Don’t Trust The Card or Yourself Without a Plan” and “The Process for Getting a Credit Card”

Understanding Credit Reports

Understanding Credit Reports

Credit Report: This is a report that combines all the information reported by businesses and organizations about an individual’s credit activities and current credit situations. The information is a combination of the different credit, loan and payment activities and is compiled into a report. There are three credit bureaus that compile these reports. Not all businesses report to every bureau which causes the reports to sometimes be different.

According to Annualcreditreport.com a credit report may include:

  • A list of businesses that have given you credit or loans
  • The total amount for each loan or credit limit for each credit card
  • How often you paid your credit or loans on time, and the amount you paid
  • Any missed or late payments as well as bad debts
  • A list of businesses that have obtained your credit report within a certain time period
  • Your current and former names, address(es), birthdate, social security number, phone number and/or employers
  • Any bankruptcies or other public record information

The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires that each credit bureau give consumers one free credit report a year. The three credit bureaus are Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. The credit bureaus provide information to credit score companies such as FICO so that credit scores can be determined.

 The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission both provide excellent additional resources on credit reports. The Federal Trade Commission has resources available to aid in reporting items that are on an individual’s credit report in error.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: https://www.consumerfinance.gov/ask-cfpb/what-is-a-credit-report-en-309/

Federal Trade Commission: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/credit-and-loans?sort=subject


Understanding Your Credit Score

Credit Score defined:  A number that helps lenders determine creditworthiness of a borrower.

Background on Credit Scores: There have been multiple algorithms developed that determine an individual’s credit score. The most common score used by lenders to determine creditworthiness and interest rates is the FICO Score or more appropriately a version of the FICO score (there are multiple FICO scores). The FICO Score was developed by the Fair Isaac Corporation in 1989.  MyFico.com makes the claim that a FICO score is used in 90% of lending decisions.

The second most commonly used score is the Vantage Score. Credit Karma, a reputable credit resource website that uses the Vantage Score, states that over 2000 lenders use the Vantage Score to determine credit worthiness. Most of the online free credit scores come from the Vantage Score formula. While for the most part this score is educational (in that most lenders use the FICO Score) it is still accurate and close to the FICO Score. The information gained from the Vantage Score most of the time will provide the information needed to improve an individual’s score.

How the FICO Score is Determined

The primary FICO score is on a scale of 300 to 850. It is has been determined that a score of 580 or lower is “poor score”, 580-669 is a “fair score”, 670-739 is a “good score”, 740-799 is a “very good score” and 800+ is an “exceptional score”.


The Fico Score is determined by 5 factors. The factors and percentage weight of each factor is as follows: 30% Amounts Owed, 35% Payment History, 10% New Credit, 15% Length of Credit History, 10% Credit Mix. The three credit bureaus Experian, Equifax, and Transunion provide the information that FICO uses in each factor to compute the score.

30% Amounts Owed:

This refers to the amount of credit an individual has used compared to how much available credit that they could use. Using credit each month for purchases will not necessarily a make a credit score go down in fact utilizing credit each month can potentially improve the score whereas not using any credit will not cause the score to be improved.

The closer that the amount of credit used gets to the amount of credit available the more likely that a score can go down. This is because it indicates that individual could have a high risk of over extending themselves and unable to pay back the borrowed amounts when they are due.

Fico scores pay attention to the amounts owed on different forms of credit and treat them differently.

Keys to Success: Pay off credit cards fully each month (if you have only a small amount of available credit it may benefit you to pay off your card balance more frequently than to just once during a billing period). Pay installment loan payments on time with the appropriate amount each month.

35% Payment History:

This is the heaviest weighted factor in computing an individual’s credit score. In general this factor is looking to see if an individual has made their credit payments on time. According to myfico.com if someone misses one or two payments but has a good history it most likely won’t hurt their credit score much at all. However, missing many payments can have a strong negative impact on one’s score.

All forms of credit accounts are considered in this factor. Fico also considers public records and collection items. Myfico.com states that negative factors include bankruptcies, lawsuits and wage attachments. Myfico continues with the details of late payments and collection items are considered such as how late they were, how much was owed, how recently they occurred, how many there are.

Keys to Success: Create a budget plan that ensures you are able to pay credit cards in full each month, afford monthly installment plans, and includes an emergency fund so that unexpected bills such as an Emergency room visit or replacing a washer doesn’t cause you to a bill sent to collections.

10% New Credit:

This factor focuses primarily on two items. The first is the age of an individuals and how much credit accounts have been opened in recent history. Adding a new credit card account has the effect of lowering the age of an individual’s credit which can potentially slightly lower their credit score. Likewise if an individual opens multiple accounts in a short span of time it can have a negative impact on a credit score because of the possibility of that individual being a higher risk – especially in instances when that individual does not have a long credit history.

The second item is inquiries. The FICO score only considers inquiries in the last 12 months even though most inquiries will stay on an individual’s credit report for 2 years.  With the fico score inquiries have a small if any impact. The score allows for individual’s to interest rate shop without being penalized by the inquiries.

Keys to success: Avoid opening numerous accounts rapidly. Only open a new credit account when needed.

15% Length of Credit History:

This factor improves as length of time an individual has credit. It is possible to a high FICO score without having a great score in this factor.

Myfico.com describes three items that are taken into account in this factor: “1) How long your credit accounts have been open, including the age of your oldest account, the age of your newest account, and average age of all your accounts. 2) How long specific credit accounts have been open. 3)How long it has been since the account has been used.”

Key to success: If you don’t have a credit score open a secured credit card, or find someone to cosign with you. Be slow to cancel a card that has been open for a long time even if it has been a source of debt. It is okay to not use it anymore, but it may not be wise to close it you are looking to building your score.

10% Credit Mix:

This factor considers the different forms of credit accounts that an individual has opened. This factor does not play a significant role in determine the FICO credit score. It is important to not go out and open a credit account unless it is actually needed. This factor considers whether an individual has experience in paying back different forms of credit accounts on time such as credit cards or installment loans.

Key to Success: Manage the accounts that you do have responsibly. If you have no credit accounts as mentioned above start with a secure credit card to begin to build credit.

Limits of the FICO Credit Score:

It is important to note that the information above is to be used as general guidelines. Every individual’s FICO Score calculation will be slightly different based of the individual’s experience with credit utilization and the fact that every individual has a unique credit history. Secondly, FICO has made multiple credit scores. Different lenders use different scores for different forms of credit. For example FICO has created a formula for a fico score specifically for mortgage lending that mortgage lenders tend to use. The same could be said of credit card lenders and car loan lenders.

How to Access my FICO Score?

It is extremely difficult to access a FICO score for free without taking a credit card with a company that offers a free score as benefit. Discover happens to be the only company we have discovered at this point that seems to offer one FICO score for free based off the Experian Credit Report. You can also access the Vantage Scores based of Equifax and Transunion credit reports by creating a free account with creditkarma.com. The Vantage Scores provide by Credit Karma and the FICO Score from Discover will provide valuable insight, and will help you improve your score without paying for access to other FICO scores.

To learn more about your credit score through reliable online resources we suggest visiting www.myfico.com, creditkarma.com, and yourvantagescore.com.


The Process for Getting a Credit Card

Step 1: Consider a few questions before applying for a credit card. If your answer is “no” to any of the following questions we would suggest reconsidering applying for a credit card until the answers are yes.

  • Do you have a written budget and a method (spreadsheet, budgeting app, pen & paper) to track your expenses monthly see if they line up with your budget?
  • Have you been using a written budget and tracking your expenses for at least 3 months?
  • Are you aware of the impact credit card interest rates can have on your financial reality if you do not pay the card balance off fully each month?

Step 2:  Determine what kind of card you would like to apply for. Cards have different benefits some of which are: sign up bonuses, cash back cards, hotel rewards, airline miles, rewards cards, balance transfer, student, zero APR, no annual fee, a retail card, etc. Typically cards offer more than one of the benefits listed. You can go to places like bankrate.com, creditcard.com, and creditkarma.com (the websites do make money off marketing the cards if someone applies for the card through their website). Make sure that you look to see what annual fees may be associated with the card you decide on.

Note: Make sure that before you apply for a credit card it includes a grace period for purchases! Be aware that even if a credit card includes a grace period for purchases there still might not be a grace period for cash advances and balance transfers.

The grace period is the time between the end of your credit card’s billing cycle and the due date for that billing cycle. This is typically about 21 days.  As long as you pay off your card’s balance by the due date then you will not experience any finance/interest charges. If you do not pay off your balance in full by the due date then you will immediately be charged finance/interest charges. These charges will continue until you have paid your balance of in full. The interest rates are steep on credit cards. Sometimes almost 30% so make sure and pay that balance off completely if at all possible!

Step 3:  Determine your credit score. An easy way to get your credit score is to create a free account with creditkarma.com. Credit Karma offers scores for two of the three credit bureaus and it is free. When perusing through different cards, usually in the details section for the card it will show a credit score range applicants typically have when they are approved for the card.

Step 4: Apply for a card. Nowadays this is possible through an online application- this is the easy way. Applying at a bank or a retail location or sending off an application is still an option. Make sure you answer the questions on the application asked accurately.

Step 5: This step happens behind the scenes. The lender will complete an investigation into your credit history to determine your creditworthiness. If applying online, often this takes just a matter of seconds. The lender will obtain your credit report from one of the credit bureaus. The lender may get your report from one of the bureaus or all three of the bureaus. The lender will also get your credit score to help make an informed decision on whether or not to grant you a card.

Step 6: The lender will decide to accept or reject your application. If your application is accepted then the lender will determine the exact terms of your credit agreement. The higher your credit score the lower the interest rates will be on the card and the lower your credit score the higher the interest rates. Under the Fair Credit Report Act if your credit application is rejected you are allowed to request a free credit report. You must request it within 60 days of being notified of the application rejection.

Step 7: Make sure to include your credit card in your budget! It is easy to forget how much is spent on the card when not carefully including it in your budget and making sure that money is accounted for to pay off the balance each month. Read more here on budgeting with a credit card.

Is A Larger Paycheck The Solution?


Do you ever feel like your financial stress and ability to manage debt depends all on the size of your paycheck? When it feels like there is more money going out than coming in, it is easy to become frustrated and feel that the issue can solely be blamed on not making enough money. I am not going to deny that having a larger salary can make a huge difference at times. However, I will argue that an extrinsic issue like this may not be the first step in a solution to your money woes.

At the Center for Financial Success, we have found that the difficulty in managing money lies not in the size of the paycheck, but in one’s resolve to learn how to effectively manage their money and stick with it. People are quick to assume that a larger paycheck will solve all of their financial problems – keep in mind that even millionaires declare bankruptcy.

In our experience at the Center working with students and community members to create long-term practical money management solutions it starts with helping the client learn how to live within their means. What does this look like? It looks like avoiding the use of credit on consumer items that you need every month if can’t pay it off at the end of the month. It looks like breaking the habit of living from paycheck to paycheck and learning how to not spend every dollar you make. It involves incrementally cutting back to the point where there is actually a small amount being saved every month. This eventually leads to addressing debt, getting a month ahead, and the beginning of making progress on your financial goals.

The point of this article is not to dissuade you from pursuing a higher paying job. However, there are certain financial habits that must be formed regardless of income level. Regardless if you are making $32,000 or $1.5 million a year, you will fall into the same problems of being trapped in overspending and unnecessary financial stress without healthy spending habits.

Once you are able to develop basic financial management skills instead of focusing only on the need for more money, it can be a little easier to avoid the financial stress caused from overspending. After you establish financial goals and develop a maintainable spending plan, you will find these principles to be effective regardless of how much you earn. You will be getting “more bang for your buck” – a habit that will pay huge dividends especially as your paycheck increases!

Unfortunately, a one stop solution that magically enables someone to pick up the basics of personal financial management does not exist. Sound financial management skills can be compared to a muscle –  it must be exercised before it can be strengthened. Just as a weight room is a great resource to strengthen your muscles, there are great resources out there to assist you in growing your personal financial management skills. We offer resources for these skills through our blog, peer financial coaching services, and presentations. When you visit our website, you can find links to external sources we find helpful.

If you enjoyed this content and would like to enhance your personal financial management skills, take a few seconds to fill out our new client form so you can be on your way to a life with less stress with Peer Financial Coaching Services.