Setting Out on Your Own: Money Management and Credit 101

by Colleen Tressler
Consumer Education Specialist, FTC
Consumer Information Blog
August 20, 2013

Whether you’re heading off to your freshman year of college or getting your first apartment, preparing to be out on your own can be fun and exciting. It also means taking on new financial responsibilities. The decisions you make now about how you manage your money can affect your ability to get credit, insurance, a place to live, and even a job.

The first step toward taking control of your financial situation is to do a realistic evaluation of how much money you take in and how much money you spend. Start by listing your income from all sources. Then, list your “fixed” expenses — those that are the same each month — like rent, car payments, and insurance premiums. Next, list the expenses that vary — like entertainment, recreation, and clothing.

Writing down all your expenses, even those that seem insignificant, is a helpful way to track your spending patterns, identify necessary expenses, and prioritize the rest. The goal is to make sure you can make ends meet on the basics.

When you apply for a credit card, a personal loan, or insurance, a file about you is created.This file, known as your credit report, is maintained by credit reporting companies. Your report will grow to include information on where you live, how you pay your bills, and whether you’ve ever been sued, or filed for bankruptcy.

Credit reporting companies sell the information in your report to creditors, landlords, insurers, employers, and other businesses with a legitimate need for it. They use the information to evaluate your applications for credit, insurance, employment, or renting a place to live.

Order a free copy of your credit report to make sure the information is accurate, complete, and up-to-date before you apply for a loan for a major purchase like a car, buy insurance, or apply for a job.

You also want a copy of your credit report to help guard against identity theft. That’s when someone uses your personal information — like your name, your Social Security number, or your credit card number — to commit fraud. Identity thieves may use your information to open a new credit card account in your name. Then, when they don’t pay the bills, the delinquent account is reported on your credit report. Inaccurate information like that could affect your ability to get credit, insurance, or a job… 

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