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What does "manage your credit" mean, anyway?

The other day I was having lunch with a friend at a deli, which had just run out of Swiss cheese. "Oh for Pete's sake," my friend blurted out. "What kind of sandwich place doesn't have Swiss cheese?"

That got me thinking—not about cheese—but about the phrase, "for Pete's sake." It's a common saying I hear all the time; I just wasn't sure what it really meant. (Who is this Pete fellow?)

Then I realized there are a lot of terms or sayings we use that don't have obvious meanings. In fact, I use one all time that may not be clear to everyone: "Manage your credit." What does that actually mean?

Man-age (man'ij) vt. 1 to control the movement or behaviour of; handle 2 to have charge of; direct; administer

Credit management can mean many things to many people. For those of you who want to take an active role in your credit, it means understanding how credit affects your life—and how to use it to your advantage.

Here are three things you can start to do right now.

1. Order your credit profile more than once a year Your credit profile can change daily (especially if someone is pretending to be you), so you need to know what's going on all the time. Credit reports make it simple to track your credit information.

2. Establish your own credit

Do you only have credit cards that are joint accounts? Even if you share the account with your spouse, it may be best to get an individual account to build credit in your own name. That way, you can make sure it's your actions that affect your credit record and credit score. Keep in mind, when you share an account, you also share that person's credit behavior.

Maybe you're just getting started or want to start over and re-establish your credit, when doing so you'll want to make sure that it's you (and not your accounts) that's in control. There's a step-by-step guide you can use that will be a big help.

3. Create a spending plan

High credit card account balances can mean lower credit scores—and that can hurt your chances for better interest rates. Print out your credit profile and circle any accounts with large balances. These are the cards you want to pay down first. So, you should try to budget in a way that allows you to put extra money toward these accounts each month.

Whether it's signing up for credit monitoring services or sticking to a spending plan, taking action regularly is what managing your credit really means. So for Pete's sake, get going!

About the Author:

TransUnion's TrueCredit.com provides millions of consumers with tools to manage their own credit health and achieve greater control over their finances, through easy-to-use educational materials, free monthly newsletters and personal credit reports. TrueCredit.com's online products include 3 bureau credit monitoring services, insurance credit scores, debt management and identity theft protection tools. www.truecredit.com/

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