Tips to iron out bad habits and improve your credit score

Don't let bad credit get in the way of your love life.
Don't let bad credit get in the way of your love life. AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File

Your credit score can only impact your finances, it can also take its toll in the love department as well.

A new poll suggests that good credit trumps good looks for Millennials looking for a partner.

A full two-thirds (67 per cent) of respondents said they’d choose a mate with an awesome credit score over good looks, according to a new poll conducted by digital financial company MOGO.

“Attitudes towards credit and finances can create heaven or hell within your relationship,” says Edmonton mortgage broker Natalie Wellings, who deals with people’s credit ratings on a daily basis.

READ MORE: Simple tax tips to help couples score big on their tax returns

“It’s important to make sure you are both on the same page and have similar values when it comes to credit responsibility.”

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If you have bad credit, it’s not the end of the world: only two per cent of respondents think it’s a deal-breaker while 87 per cent of people would encourage their significant other to fix their credit score.

But if your partner does have poor credit, you might want to exercise some caution.

“I would definitely not recommend co-signing anything for them,” said Chantel Chapman, founder of Holler for your Dollar and MOGO’s financial fitness coach.

“Even if you buy something together, that credit vehicle is going to show up as a joint account on your credit bureau.”

If your partner forgets to make a payment, your good credit could take a hit.

“[Credit] really is all organization,” says Chapman, adding that a credit score can give you an indication of how a person might handle other areas of their life as well.

Your credit score isn’t a black mark for life; it can be improved by ironing out bad habits.

“People make mistakes in their life, and credit is something that can be changed and improved over time by following certain logical steps,” says Welling.

Start by finding out your own score

Practice what you preach and get your own credit report via one of Canada’s two national credit bureaus: Equifax or TransUnion.

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“People want to have a partner who has good credit, but a lot of people don’t even know what their own credit is,” Chapman says.

If your credit score is under 680 there is room for improvement.

“My advice is to sit down as a couple and pull your credit reports together,” Wellings says, who suggest couples do this before making any big life decisions or financial commitments together.

Look for any credit score red flags

Look on your credit report to see if you owe any collections or judgements and tackle those first.

“It’s not like your regular monthly payment, like you’re 30 days late on something,” said Chapman, “It’s something that you’ve owed for a long time and it ends up going to a third-party collection agency. If you spot anything like that, that will lower your score so you need to pay those off right away.”

READ MORE: 6 clever tricks to help break the paycheque-to-paycheque cycle

Often it can be a small cost dragging down your score, like that forgotten cellphone bill from 2007 or even unpaid parking tickets.

“And when you do pay them off, it’s very, very important to tell the collector: ‘Please take this off my credit bureau.'”

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Make sure to get proof that you paid off the debt.

WATCH: Understanding your credit score

Avoid maxing out your credit card

“If you are close to your limit, your credit score drops,” says Wellings. “So whether your limit is $500 or $5,000, when you are close to your limit, it drops your score.”

Chapman recommends never using more than 70 per cent of your credit limit.

Even if you’re making payments every month, if your credit card or credit line is typically maxed out, it will be noted on your credit report.

“If you see that, you have to make a lump-sum payment right away to make sure you have a 30 per cent buffer between your balance and your limit.”

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You never know when your bank is reporting your financial status, so even having your card maxed from a big purchase for one day can leave a black mark.

Ongoing healthy credit habits

Staying below the 70 per cent threshold is good, but if you tend to carry a balance staying below 35 per cent is even better.

“It keeps you away from racking up debt,” Chapman says.

“People end up using and abusing credit cards and that can really impact their score.”

However, you can’t build credit unless you use credit.

READ MORE: What affects your credit rating and how can you improve it?

Chapman recommends people Netflix and chill. No, not that Netflix and chill.

“It’s best to pay your automatic payments, like Netflix, on your credit card. You know that comes out every single month, it’s the same amount of money. And then…have your bank account automatically pay your credit card that same amount every month.”

Then do your best to ignore your credit card.

“Put your credit card on ice,” says Chapman. “Let it chill while you have this loop happening paying for your Netflix bill. That will show that you’re using your credit card responsibly but not racking up debt.”

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Even those small payments can bring big gains and have you on your way to a golden credit score.

WATCH: Getting the most out of your credit cards

With files from Patricia Kozicka

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