You need car insurance. Maybe you're ready to take out a mortgage loan to buy a home. Or maybe you'd rather rent an apartment in the heart of the big city.
If your credit score is low, all of this will cost you more, a lot more.
That's because lenders and financial services providers rely on your three-digit credit scores to determine how likely you are to pay your bills on time. If you have a low credit score, lenders consider you a risky borrower, one who is likely to pay bills late or skip them entirely. Generally, lenders consider a FICO credit score of 740 or higher to be an excellent one. If your FICO score is lower than 640, though, you can expect to pay more for credit cards, loans and other financial services, if you can even qualify for them at all.
"Because of a poor credit score, you may only have access to credit cards with higher interest rates," says John Heath, directing attorney of Salt Lake City-based Lexington Law Firm.
Heath also warned that poor credit may not only cause you to pay more for necessary expenses, but also result in being denied for insurance.
"If you have poor credit, you could be denied insurance, or your premiums may increase," Heath says.
Here are five services and products that you can expect to pay more for because of your low credit score:
1. Mortgage Loans
It's not easy to qualify for a mortgage loan if you have a low credit score. But if you do qualify, expect to be charged higher interest rates. That can cost you tens of thousands of dollars.
Tim Lucas, editor of MyMortgageInsider.com, puts it like this: Borrowers with a FICO credit score of 740 today could qualify for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage loan with an interest rate of 4 percent. A borrower with a FICO score of 640 would be charged an interest rate of 4.38% for the same loan. On a 30-year loan of $250,000, the borrower with lower credit would pay $55 more every month. That comes out to almost $20,000 if that borrower pays off the mortgage in full over 30 years.
And for borrowers with even lower credit scores? They'd be charged even higher interest rates that will cost them even more money as they pay back their mortgage loans.
"The lifetime cost of having a bad credit score is staggering when it comes to a mortgage," Lucas says.
2. Credit Cards
Credit cards already come with high interest rates. But if your credit score is low, you can expect to pay even higher rates. Gary Herman, president of ConsolidatedCredit.org, says that even a few points difference in the interest rate on credit card debt can have a significant impact on your budget.
Say you have credit card debt of $5,000 at 18% interest. If you only make the minimum required payment each month to pay off that debt, you'll pay more than $3,000 extra in interest than if you only made the minimum payment each month and your interest rate was 13%.
"That's a much larger burden, which is why high-interest credit card debt can be so difficult to manage and pay off," Herman says.
3. Auto Loans
Auto loans are smaller than mortgage loans, of course. But they can still add up to large monthly payments, especially if your credit scores are low. Auto lenders, like all lenders, charge higher interest rates to borrowers with low scores. The difference between an interest rate of 3.5% on a $15,000 five-year car loan and one of 5% on the same loan can add up.
"The cars for the new model year are coming out now, and auto manufacturers are advertising low interest rates," says Ken Chaplin, senior vice president of the consumer division with national credit bureau TransUnion. "But those rates are only for those people with the best credit scores. The better the score, the better you look to lenders, the more likely it is that you'll be able to enjoy those low advertised rates."
It might surprise you, but many insurers charge consumers with low credit scores higher rates for auto insurance. Insurers say that drivers with high credit scores tend to get into fewer accidents and file fewer claims. That's why those with low credit scores are charged more. It's important to note, though, that insurers in Hawaii, California and Massachusetts are not allowed to use credit scoring when setting policy rates for auto insurance.
You might also pay more for homeowners insurance if your credit score is low. Again, insurers say that homeowners with low credit scores are more likely to file claims, making them riskier customers.
5. Your Apartment
Landlords will check your credit, too, before approving your application for an apartment. If your score is too low, landlords will view you as a risk to miss your monthly rental payments. Because of this, landlords might either charge you a higher monthly rent or make you come up with a larger security deposit.
There is some good news, though: Improving your credit score is a relatively simple process. These steps include making all of your payments on time and paying off your credit card and other debts. If you do this, your credit score will slowly improve.
Just don't expect an immediate response. It can take several months or a year or longer of on-time payments and debt reduction to make a noticeable improvement in your score.