Millennials are big on communication and DIY projects. While some say they are self-centered, or even self-obsessed, others point to their tendency for group-think and communitarian leanings. They believe more in the power of their network of friends than in institutions.
One thing is for sure: Millennials are heavily invested in controlling the narrative of their lives — both globally and digitally. While such a tack can be instantly gratifying on social networking sites, it widens the attackable surface an identity thief or other scam artist can exploit, because it creates a target-rich environment. In essence, one person’s will to control their narrative can actually empower the bad guys, giving them just enough information to edit and/or exploit it for their personal gain.
There is another scuttlebutt about millennials, of course, and it’s that the Gen X and Baby Boomer helicopter parents who raised them have created a generation of trophy kids with overblown notions of entitlement and underwhelming powers of concentration, and that they will never grow up or take responsibility for their lives.
Kim Kardashian definitely disproves that idea. She’s a millennial through and through and is reportedly worth about $85 million. The New York Post recently reported on KK’s trajectory as an entrepreneur, and it’s an “all about owning her money” narrative. According to the Post, she started in her teen years when she borrowed money from her father to buy five pairs of Manolo Blahnik shoes that cost $750 each. “I sold each pair on eBay for $2,500,” she told Claire Atkinson. She credits, as it were, a lot of her success to her parents’ lessons about money and managing, well, credit.
Credit is an area where controlling the narrative has a huge upside when it comes to personal finance. Your credit, well managed, is a wealth-building résumé. Badly managed, your credit can quickly become a weapon of individual destruction: both rap sheet and virtual debtor’s prison severely limiting your choices in life.
Here are some tried and true ways for millennials (or indeed anyone) to control their credit narrative.
1. Get Your Credit Reports
You’re entitled to free annual access to your credit report from each of the three major credit-reporting agencies once a year through AnnualCreditReport.com. You can choose to get all three at once, or get three different credit profile snapshots during the year by ordering a report from a different bureau every four months. Bonus: Some states offer additional free access to credit reports, so check the laws in your state.
2. Carefully Review Your Credit Reports
Make sure that every account as well as the characterization of your activity is accurate. If you find accounts or collections about which you had no idea, immediately report them to the fraud departments of the credit bureaus, they could well be a warning sign that you are a victim of identity theft. If you find incorrect or incomplete information, contact the credit reporting agencies and request an investigation. You are in the best position to know if something represents fraudulent activity, is incorrect, or if it’s simply negative information that is correct. You must be proactive about this. Don’t wait until a lender or prospective employer brings it to your attention. It could cost you dearly in the form of a declined credit application, higher interest rates or a lost job opportunity.
3. Stay On Top of Your Credit Scores
A number of sites like Credit.com offer free credit scores that are updated frequently. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been encouraging financial services companies to provide free scores as part of its drive to improve financial literacy in America. A number of banks and credit card companies now offer free scores as part of their monthly statements.
4. Pay Your Bills On Time
Thirty-five percent of your credit score is based on your payment history. One way to avoid late payments is to sign up for auto-pay. In the event that your account is closed, your debit card is replaced, your credit card expires or your account number changes because your payment card was lost or stolen, make sure that every creditor who automatically debits that particular account is provided with the updated information.
5. Keep an Eye On Your Bank Balance
Check your bank account daily to make sure you have sufficient funds or set an alert to notify you if your balance goes below a certain level in order to ensure that your checks will always clear. Also make sure that every transaction looks familiar.
6. Enroll in Free Account Notifications
This helps you keep track of your expenditures and will alert you to suspicious activity. Financial institutions are very good at identifying charges or debits that don’t seem quite right, but you still know best. If you see a charge that you didn’t make, immediately notify your bank, credit union or credit card company and dispute it.
7. Keep Your Debt in Check
Thirty percent of your credit score is based on your debt usage – which includes how much debt you carry in relation to your available credit, so it is important to keep your credit utilization rate relatively low. A good rule of thumb is to run balances of less than 20% of your available credit—10% is even better.
Never forget that you are the ultimate guardian of your financial security and no one is in a better position or has greater incentive than you to make sure your credit report is accurate and the charges to your accounts are proper.
This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.
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