It's a popular misconception that large student loan debt hurts your credit because it represents such a big chunk of your available debt. Credit utilization (balance/limit ratio) that amounts to about 30 percent of your credit score applies almost entirely to "revolving" credit, such as credit cards, which come with defined credit limits. Student loans, on the other hand, are considered "installment" accounts -- just like auto loans and mortgages -- and carry no penalty for big balances. But the key is paying on time.
3. Manage your credit portfolio.
Everybody's heard of an investment portfolio, which consists of assets including stocks, bonds or real estate. You have a credit portfolio that works the same way. It consists of student loans, credit cards and -- if you play your cards right -- a car loan and a mortgage.
Like investments, credit is a tool we can leverage to buy the things we need. Both require constant management, nurturing and protection. Check your credit reports; review your bank and credit card account activity daily to protect against fraudulent activity; sign up for programs offered by financial institutions that notify you when transactions post; don't provide personal information to people you don't know; and don't needlessly apply for credit but always be looking for the best deals, rates and rewards.
You can check your credit reports for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com, and there are plenty of free tools out there, like Credit.com's Credit Report Card, that provide you with an easy-to-understand overview of your credit standing.
4. Do a hygiene check on your Facebook and Twitter accounts.
You heard me right. I said "hygiene." You wouldn't show up to a job interview looking like you just rolled out of bed, so don't post pictures of yourself having just rolled out of bed, or doing things that you wouldn't want your mother to see. In a world where every word we write, and every picture and video we post becomes another tile in our undeletable digital life mosaic, it is imperative to act appropriately in all social media environments. It's not just your friends and Twitter followers who are interacting with and scrutinizing you. It's also future employers, financial institutions, insurance companies, divorce lawyers, identity thieves, debt collectors -- even government agencies and intelligence services.
Keep these unexpected audiences in mind as you post things. Never show the world your address or Social Security number. Don't tell Facebook you're about to leave on vacation (informing robbers of precisely the right times to visit your place). There's no need to post pictures from the last beer pong tournament either. As for pictures of yourself smoking banned substances, come on dude!
Pro tip: Become Facebook friends with the most critical adult you know and then ask for constant feedback.
5. Manage your identity portfolio.
Your identity, like your credit, is a huge asset. It has many components. And like credit, it can be your best friend or your worst enemy (an enhancer or destroyer), depending upon how effectively and responsibly you manage it.