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Ask the Bitches: What’s the Difference Between Credit Checks and Credit Monitoring?

The world of personal finance is full of terms designed to confuse and waylay the innocent. Yet you are a beautiful and mysterious adventurer on the exciting journey of life! You do not have time to parse the different meanings of seemingly synonymous financial terms like “credit checks” and “credit monitoring.”

Fortunately, we’re a coupla’ nerds with nothing better to do.

Recently, an anonymous follower (we’ll call them “Pudding Cup” because I assume that, like pudding, they are both sweet and smooth) asked:

Dear Piggy and Kitty, I have a question. I just got an email from the auditing office of my state saying that the unemployment filing host “Accellion” was hacked and they don’t think anything happened, but are offering a free year of credit monitoring. I have no idea what that would do or how I would use it to make sure nothing bad happened? Also doesn’t monitoring your credit (somehow?) make it worse? Would this be helpful or not really?

In short, Pudding Cup has mixed up two distinctly different concepts to do with credit: credit monitoring and credit checks. I’ll detangle the two below.

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Dafuq Is a Down Payment? And Why Do You Need One to Buy Stuff?

Dafuq Is a Down Payment? And Why Do You Need One to Buy Stuff?

“What is a down payment?” In an ideal world, no one would need to ask themselves this question because no one would need one! Expensive things like cars and houses and college educations would be a lot more affordable. Enough so that we could pay for them with the money that we already have. And we’d all have mountains of it.

But unless you have a Scrooge McDuckian money vault at your disposal, buying a car or house or bachelor’s degree in cash is probably impossible. Down payments are necessary because of how our world works. Today we’re going to teach you what they are, when you need them, and how to use them to your advantage.

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As best I can tell, there are two likely reasons for the prevalence of this misconception. Sadly, they both link back to perfectly true, but often misunderstood, facts about how credit works.

Let’s End This Damaging Misconception About Credit Cards

I don’t know who started the rumor that carrying a balance on credit cards is good for your credit score, but I think they should be drawn and quartered.

You shut your pie hole, Poppins. This is serious.

Of all the damaging misconceptions about personal finance we’ve had to correct over the course of running Bitches Get Riches, this is by far my least favorite. And it keeps popping up again and again in questions from our followers! Why? How? Who is teaching all of our darling kangaroo babies such a terrible way of handling their credit cards?

Until I can find the culprit and give them their just desserts (hot oil? The rack?), I have made it my mission to set the record straight.

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Dafuq Is Credit and How Do You Bend It to Your Will?

We’ve been getting a lot of variations on the same question recently: “How dafuq do I credit?”

How indeed? A lot of our readers are struggling with not only maintaining a good credit score, but with even understanding credit in the first place.

It’s one of the many money terms I have the sneaking suspicion everyone else in my high school class was taught on a day I was absent.

Thus, I’ve been left to figure it out for myself over the years. And what I’ve found is reassuring: credit is not nearly as scary or complicated as you’ve been led to think. But like a pack of trained raptors, it must be treated with care and attention lest it rend you limb from limb.

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There are so many loopholes in pet insurance contracts that I assume they were constructed using Roller Coaster Tycoon.

Is Pet Insurance Worth It?

As we’ve discussed, Piggy and I are pretty obsessed with our pets. I admire Piggy’s restraint in having but a single dog. My house currently contains four dogs, one cat, six chickens, and two clinically narcissistic garbage disposals guinea pigs. Friends who know me to be an IRL Pokemon Master often ask me what my pet insurance rates are like.

My pet insurance bill is approximately zero dollars. Same goes for Piggy.

Neither of us have pet insurance. And there’s a reason.

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The best way to pay off credit card debt

The Best Way To Pay off Credit Card Debt: From the Snowball To the Avalanche

The Harvard Business Review recently published a study on “the best strategy for paying off credit card debt.” Set aside for a moment the idea that you should try not to rack up credit card debt in the first place (shit happens, no judgment). This study benefits the millions of Americans who are literally $800 billion in collective credit card debt according to the Federal Reserve. So it’s a problem that needs a solution.

The researchers tested a couple of different methods for credit card debt reduction:

  1. Dispersing payments equally across every credit card each month.
  2. Concentrating as high a payment as possible on one account at a time.
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I've come to think that's the ideal role for credit cards to play in a debt-free person's life.

Why You Might Not Need Your Emergency Fund

Excluding my mortgage, I’m a debt-free individual. That means my credit card is a pretty lonely lil’ guy. He doesn’t even get to live in my wallet. He’s entombed in my office with my library card, my old student ID, and that Best Buy gift card with only $3.52 left on it. He has a zero-balance and a $10,000 limit.

I used to keep $6,000 in cash squirreled away as part of an emergency fund—enough to make a few rent payments if I lost my job or had to cover an unexpected accident deductible. I was very lucky, and none of those things ever came to pass; but this meant my emergency fund sat in my savings account, slowly depreciating. Meanwhile, I was toying with the idea of closing my credit card altogether—after all, I never used it.

But eventually, I saw a wonderful opportunity to justify that card, and put my emergency fund to better use: I invested the $6K and designated my credit card as my new emergency fund. I’ve come to think that’s the ideal role for credit cards to play in a debt-free person’s life.

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If you're confident in your ability not to abuse it, raising your borrowing threshold will give your credit score an instant boost.

How to Instantly Increase Your Credit Score

One of the ways you can improve your credit rating is to lower your credit utilization ratio, that is: the amount you owe compared to the amount you could borrow.

It’s usually better to just pay down the principal, but sometimes that’s not possible. If you’re confident in your ability not to abuse it, raising your borrowing threshold will give your credit score an instant boost.

I’d assumed this was a complicated process requiring some degree of cringing, but it turns out increasing your credit limit is extraordinarily easy. This method was described to me by an educator in my city’s free first-time homebuyer program. I will try to transcribe it exactly as she said it:

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There is a way to build up good, healthy credit while neither increasing your debt nor your risk.

How to Build Good Credit Without Going Into Debt

As we’ve discussed, adult human beings need credit—good credit—to do lots of important adult things such as renting apartments and buying cars. But having debt, whether it be in the form of a balance on a credit card or just Ye Olde Stvdint Loane, can be fucking terrifying.

Fear not, gentle readers. For there is a way to build up good, healthy credit while neither increasing your debt nor your risk.

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