Manage Credit & Debt
Ease the financial stress—and improve your health
Four easy ways to take control of your finances—and your well-being.
Living a healthy lifestyle is more than exercising and eating well. In this series, Better You, Chase Slate explores how wellness relates to work, productivity, and managing your finances.
Feel like money stress is impacting your health? You're not alone.
A recent study by BlogHer and Chase Slate found that 94 percent of participants said their wellbeing is directly linked to financial health. Half of the women surveyed said they experienced health issues due to financial stress, while 98 percent said they wanted to improve their financial health this year.
Getting control of your finances doesn't have to be difficult. In fact, several small changes can give you the peace of mind you need. Below are four easy steps toward a healthier, financially savvier you:
1. Understand your credit score
As intimidating as it seems, knowing your score is the first step to improving it.
"Your credit score is a measure of your credit worthiness and is calculated based on the information on your credit report," says Mical Jeanlys, general manager of Chase Slate. "It can determine your candidacy for a loan, the type of loan you qualify for, how much credit you qualify for, and what your interest rate will be."
Though a lot of factors contribute to your credit score, your payment history makes up 35 percent of your score.
"Missing credit card payment deadlines or paying less than the minimum payment requirement can negatively impact your score," Jeanlys adds.
But paying the minimum doesn't mean you should max out your cards.
Deborah Meyer, certified public accountant and founder of WorthyNest, recommends keeping your credit-to-debt ratio as low as possible. "If your credit line is $10,000, don't spend $5,000 or more on that credit card," she says. "Strive for a credit utilization ratio of 30 percent or less."
One way to lower your debt-to-credit ratio is to request a credit line increase on an existing card. But first, ask your credit card company if it will perform a soft or hard inquiry to increase your credit limit. Hard inquiries will affect your score, whereas soft inquiries do not.
2. Check your credit report health
Just as you should visit the doctor every year for a check-up, checking your credit report is vital for your financial health. Your credit report contains the history of all your credit and loan accounts. This history of on-time payments, length of accounts, and credit usage make up your credit score, so it's important to make sure your report is accurate.
It's always a good idea to see if there's any fraudulent activity or incorrect information, which can affect your credit report.
Under federal law, you're entitled to three free credit reports every year, one from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. If you notice an error, you can dispute it online or by mail.
Jeanlys adds Chase Slate cardholders can check their FICO—Fair Isaac Corporation's software that calculates a person's credit score—for free.
3. Build a small emergency fund
Creating an emergency fund doesn't mean you need to set aside hundreds of dollars at once.
Michael Palazzolo, a certified financial planner, recommends growing your emergency fund as you make on-time minimum debt payments. "Once you've established your savings, you can take the money you were putting into savings and begin applying it to your debt," he explains.
Jeanlys say that your emergency fund should be able to cover three to six months of expenses, but how much you should save varies.
"Focus on costs, not income," she adds. "All you need is a bare-bones calculation of items you absolutely need to pay, plus what it might cost for medical insurance or expenses if you lose coverage that came from your job."
Once you pick a dollar amount, contribute to it every week until you hit your goal.
4. Track your spending
Want to save more? Knowing exactly where your money is going can help minimize unnecessary spending.
Though apps provide instant access to account balances, Lisa London, a certified public accountant, recommends reviewing a physical copy of your statement.
She also suggests keeping an eye out for those frequent $5 to $10 charges, like a pricey latte or string of cab rides. Understanding how frequently you make these purchases can help you decide where to cut spending—and have a significant impact on your savings.
Above all, making a commitment to improve your financial health is a strong first step to reduce the money-related stress you feel day-to-day.
Betsy Mikel is a Chase News contributor. Her work has appeared in Inc., and other media outlets.