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Financial enlightenment from CreditKarma.com

It is no secret that managing your credit wisely is very important to your financial health. Having good credit can help you obtain loans for a home or car, while late payments or outstanding debt can be crippling for years.

Credit history can even have an impact on employment opportunities and the contracts you make to rent housing, receive insurance or use a cell phone.

In theory, the credit system appears simple. When consumers take out a loan or use a credit card, they add to their credit history. Naturally, lenders such as banks and credit card companies also keep track of how well a borrower meets their payment requirements.

The data from a person’s credit history can be compiled into credit reports, which can be interpreted into a three digit number known as a credit score. Credit scores usually range from 300 to 850, with higher numbers designating a better score.

Originally developed and used only by lenders, these scores are now often used by most organizations when entering into contracts with consumers.

Elizabeth Weston, a columnist for MSN Money who claims the title of “the Internet’s most-read personal finance writer,” tells consumers “the two most important factors in your scores are whether you pay your bills on time and how much of your available credit you actually use,” adding that she recommends using less than 30 percent of your credit limits.

Simple, right? Make your payments on time without maxing out your available credit and you have got it made.

But, in practice, things get complicated. Many consumers find that they cannot make the payments they agreed to. Unless you have taken some finance courses or have some credit-savvy parents who have taught you well, the ways to build good credit might begin to seem like a secret.

Who is willing to share this secret? One of the best sources of credit information currently available to students is the Web site CreditKarma.com.

This site helps educate consumers about building, tracking and understanding credit. For credit novices there are informative articles that explain the basics of credit cards and credit scores.

More seasoned spenders can benefit from more in-depth articles, as well as a truly free look at their own credit reports.

Many Web sites claim to offer free credit reports only to surprise their patrons with hidden fees or obligations later on. However, CreditKarma.com is well documented as a safe and honest way of tracking credit.

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