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How to Build Credit & Save at the Same Time

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Personal finance is full of decisions: Rent or buy? Roth or traditional IRA? Save or build credit?

But these aren’t all either-or scenarios. In fact, having good credit and well-managed savings go hand-in-hand.

“You have to be serious about building your savings, because you’ll either end up paying bills late or you’ll run up on debt,” said Gerri Detweiler, Credit.com’s director of consumer education. But if you’re already in debt, it can be intimidating to think you have to tackle that in addition to socking money away for later.

The game plan won’t be the same for everyone, but one thing applies to everyone: It can be tough to maintain good credit if you’re not saving, too.

Pay Bills On Time

One thing that doesn’t require extra money is making timely payments, whether that’s credit cards, utility or loan payments. It makes up a significant portion of your credit scores (Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card tool can show you how your payment history impacts your credit scores), so it’s crucial to be organized and avoid missing any payments. No matter your money situation, paying bills before they’re due should be a top priority.

Analyze Your Budget

It can be really hard to make lifestyle changes, even when you know it’s the most logical way to meet your goals. But living beyond your means isn’t a sustainable financial plan. (Hint: If you can afford all of your expenses but aren’t saving for the future, you’re living beyond your means.)

The beautiful thing about budgets is that they not only help you avoid overspending, they also identify areas you can cut from. There are lots of online budgeting tools that give you a breakdown of where your money goes, but knowing where to cut is easier than actually doing it.

“It’s very hard,” Detweiler said. “Sometimes you’re not willing to give up things that you know you should.”

Everyone has different priorities — for some people, eating out is much more important than having cable, a well-decorated home or updated wardrobe — but something has to give.

“If you are tracking your spending carefully, you probably will see areas where you’re spending more than you realize,” Detweiler said. “That can help make a decision of where to cut back, even if it’s just temporary.”

Supplement Your Income

Good credit scores aren’t about how much money you have; they’re about how you manage your money. Even if you have a tight budget, making small moves toward savings will be incredibly helpful in the future. Think about it: Even putting an extra $40 away each month leaves you with nearly $500 at the end of the year. If college students did that for four years, they’d have almost $2,000 in savings by the time they started their first jobs.

It has to be a priority, and if your current income really doesn’t cut it, it’s time to get creative. Consider getting another job, selling possessions you don’t need, opening a high-yield savings account or even changing your withholding on your taxes.

Without a sufficient emergency or retirement fund, any hard work you put toward improving your credit may be short-lived. For every step you take toward chipping away at credit card debt, paying off student loans or paying bills on time, you should contribute something to your future. Otherwise, you’ll end up back where you started.

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