Brandi and Jamal want to take control of their debt…they're just not sure where to start. "Last year we purchased a new home. So in doing that, we charged a lot of things," Jamal says. "When paying down credit card debt, would you recommend paying the card with the highest balance first or the card with the lowest interest rate first?"
Suze says to always pay down the card with the highest interest rate first. "I think one of the biggest mistakes people make is that they don't know how to pay down credit card debt and they pay the one with the biggest balance first," she says.
While they are paying down their debt, Suze wants Brandi and Jamal to check their FICO scores to see if they qualify for lower interest rates on their cards. "It is a three-digit number that determines the interest rates that you will pay on your credit cards, car loans and home mortgages. The higher your FICO score, the lower the interest rates," Suze says. "Your goal in this room is to have a FICO score of 760 or above. FICO scores run from 300 to 850."
Chances are your creditor already knows your FICO score. "They're checking it in the hopes you don't know so that they can charge you a higher interest rate than what you honestly deserve," she says. "They're not going to tell you [that] you can get another credit card at 4 percent interest if you're paying 18. They make their money off of you being ignorant."
Your FICO score can also affect your car insurance rates. "There is a derivative of a FICO score figure the exact same way known as your insurance risk score that determines what your car insurance premium is," she says. "So if you have a low FICO score, you have a low insurance risk score. If you have a low insurance risk score, you're paying 50 percent or so more on your car insurance premiums."
Another thing to remember about paying down your credit cards? Don't pay any of your cards late. Your FICO score decreases when you make a late payment, which means you could be in for a rude awakening. "Let's say you have five credit cards. You're in good standing with them all. And you're late on [one] credit card," Suze says. "Guess what? These other four have the right to do what's called universal default and take you up to the default [interest] rate on all your credit cards, which could be as high as 23, 27, 30 percent."
Under federal law, every person is allowed one free credit report every 12 months for each of the three major credit bureaus. But be careful—checking your credit score more often than what's recommended can actually hurt your score. To get your free report, go to the website set up by the Federal Trade Commission, www.annualcreditreport.com or call toll-free: 877-322-8228.