1. Getting your first credit card

Smiling asian woman on couch using tablet to shop online at home in the living room
wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock

Getting your first piece of plastic is a lot of responsibility, whether it happens in your teens or later in life. You might not be too focused on building your credit score when you’re young, but an early start will help you hit the rest of the milestones on this list.

The length of your credit history accounts for 15% of your FICO score, and it’s not something you can really fix down the line. Keep in mind, it will take some time before you see results; you need to have an account open for at least six months before you get your first score.

Unfortunately, we don’t all make good decisions when we’re young, and an early start won’t matter much if you don’t use your card responsibly. Your history of punctual payments is the biggest influence on your score, making up 35% of the final number.

Luckily, there are a few ways to take back control if you start spiraling into debt.

Anyone struggling with minimum payments should consider credit card refinancing or credit card consolidation. If you can switch to a loan or credit card with a lower interest rate, you can save money and pay down your balance quicker.

A lower balance will also help your credit score by reducing your credit utilization ratio — that is, how much credit you’re using compared to how much you have available. The credit bureaus frown on ratios above 30%, but if you can pay down your debt and get it to 10% or lower, your score should tick up.

2. Graduating from college (or not)

Parents congratulate the student, who finish their studies at the university. He graduates. They are very happy about this.
VGstockstudio / Shutterstock

The period in your life immediately after leaving college can be critical, both professionally and personally.

Whether you graduated with honors or fell several credits shy of receiving your diploma, your academic record won’t impact your credit score — that’s the good news.

Your student loans, on the other hand, will influence your score.

That can be a good thing. For some people, it may be one of their first opportunities to build credit.

While other financial obligations — like rent or car insurance — aren’t typically reported to the credit bureaus, student loan payments are. And this new type of credit will add to your credit mix, which accounts for about 10% of your FICO score.

Just make sure you’re making your payments on time and you’re not suffering more than you have to. With interest rates way down, you can refinance your student loan in three quick steps and potentially save thousands.

3. Getting married (or divorced)

Wedding rings
KirylV / Shutterstock

What’s more exciting than your wedding night? The eager bride and groom can finally get down to business — and talk about their credit history.

Being single is easy. You only have to keep tabs on your own credit score. But when you tie the knot and open joint accounts, they’ll show up on both of your credit reports.

Now you’re not the only person responsible for your debt, and how well you manage it will impact both of your credit scores.

The situation can get pretty delicate if the marriage ends. When you go through a divorce, you’re still responsible for shared credit cards and loans you opened when you were married, at least until they’re closed or you have your name legally removed from the accounts.

Divorce and debt typically go together, according to a MoneyWise survey. About 40% of respondents said divorce had saddled them with more than $5,000 in debt.

4. Buying your first home

Happy young couple carrying cardboard boxes opening door entering inside modern own house, excited married family property owners moving in into new home, buying real estate, mortgage loan
fizkes / Shutterstock

Sure, it’s the American dream — but to make that dream come true, you’ll be taking out the largest loan of your life.

You’ll need a solid credit score if you want to qualify and a great credit score if you want to take advantage of the incredibly low interest rates available in 2020.

You’re likely to get a small ding on your score when you apply for a mortgage, as the lender will make a “hard” inquiry that will show up on your credit report. But you’ll erase that blip soon enough, simply by making your payments on time and adding a home loan to your credit mix.

The real concern is missing payments; your big monthly commitment can suddenly become a liability if you lose your job or face some unexpected medical bills.

If you’re having trouble, don’t wait for it to crash your score. Look into forbearance to put your bills on pause — or, better yet, refinance your mortgage to take advantage of today’s record-low rates. You could save hundreds of dollars a month.

5. Retiring

Retired couple walking around the town with a map. Smiling mature man and woman roaming around the city.
Jacob Lund / Shutterstock

Though you’re unlikely to need a new student loan in your 60s and 70s, your credit score will still be relevant in retirement. Many people treat themselves in their golden years, finally getting that vintage car or cottage by the lake.

A solid credit score will make those loans more affordable — which is more important than ever now that you’ve shifted from collecting paychecks to using your retirement savings and Social Security.

Even if you’re not making big purchases anymore, you could save a lot of money by keeping your score in good condition. Your auto or homeowner’s insurance provider may take your credit score into account when calculating your premiums.

One easy way to keep your score high as you age? Keep your old accounts active to preserve your credit history. If you have a longtime account in good standing without annual fees, don’t be hasty to close it when you pay off your balance.

You might also want to sign up for a free credit monitoring service, which will inform you if your score ever drops due to a missed payment, fraud or an error on your credit report.

About the Author

Ethan Rotberg

Ethan Rotberg


Ethan Rotberg is a staff reporter at MoneyWise. His background includes nearly 15 years as a writer, editor, designer and communications professional. He loves storytelling, from feature writing to narrative podcasts. His work has appeared in the Toronto Star, CPA Canada and Metro, among others.

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