For those unfamiliar, Dave Ramsey refers to a credit score as the “I-Love-Debt Score” and makes the statement that “the only way to have a good credit score is to go into debt, stay in debt, and continually pay your accounts perfectly — without adding too much debt or paying too much off. In other words, stay in debt for as long as you can.” This is patently false as I currently have no debt whatsoever and yet have a good credit score. Others do too.
He then advises that since you are working to become debt free, once you reach that goal you “…don’t need a credit score, anyway, since you don’t plan on using credit!” While this might sound nice, I can attest that even when you are debt free, a good credit score comes in extremely handy. I would even argue that having one is essential if you want to truly be financially savvy since it can save you a lot of money. If you care about getting the most out of your money, a credit score, whether we like it or not, is important to have.
While you may have heard some of the below arguments before regarding why a credit score can be important, my guess is that some of my arguments you may never have considered before. Below are 21 reasons that it’s important to keep a good credit score even if you’re debt free (and why Dave Ramsey sucks at giving credit score advice).
This one is huge and one that I rarely see mentioned. I can’t over emphasize this point enough, and I would argue for this reason alone, you want to keep a good credit score. Not having one will mean that you will have to spend a lot more time when it comes to numerous financial situations, including any of the ones mentioned below. If you believe that your time is worth something as I do, wasted time can be a huge cost. Even when you are able to get what you want, you usually have to spend a lot more time explaining why you don’t have a credit score even though you don’t have any debt. I had to spend countless extra hours, many being extremely frustrating, sorting out my financial situation which should have been straight forward and simple all because I had no credit history.
Difficulties Even When Successful
Another problem with having no credit score is that even when you successfully get what you want, it’s much more difficult to get it than if you had a good credit score. Not having a credit score often means going through several layers of management until you can reach someone who will approve what you need. The fact is that for most entry-level employees, if anything isn’t exactly correct, they can’t approve it. That means that people who don’t have credit scores have to work much harder to get things than others that have a good credit score can get without any hassles.
Poor Customer Service
This is another aspect of not having a credit score that is often not mentioned, but the reality is that if you have no credit score, you don’t get treated nearly as well in many situations as you do when you have a good credit. When institutions look up my credit these days, they always seem to come back with a smile and an attitude that they are willing to do anything they can to help me. When I had no credit score, they always came back with concerned looks and a demeanor telling me that it was going to be difficult to help me even if they did the best that they could. The fact is, having a good score means that you will get better treatment from anyone who looks it up.
Lack of Financial Flexibility
Having a good credit score gives you a lot of financial flexibility that isn’t available for those with no credit score. When you have a good credit score, there are many financial institutions that want to work with you. That’s not the case when you have no credit score. Having a quality credit score means that you can get a much better deal when it come to virtually any financial transaction than you could get with no credit score at all. When the unexpected happens and you need to get funds for something that you had never anticipated, you simply have more flexibility in getting them than you do without a score to your name. This include the flexibility of financially helping out others if you choose to do so.
Increase Large Transaction Risks
One of the things that I immediately realized when I was still trying to get a credit card (which I was having trouble doing because I didn’t have a credit score) was the additional risk that came when making large purchases. I have always put the purchase of my airline tickets on credit cards because years ago I had a ticket on an airline that suddenly went bankrupt. Since I had made the purchase with a credit card, the credit card company refunded the amount back to me since I never received the service I had paid for. Had I not paid with a credit card in that instance, I would have simply lost the money. I had to make a number of large purchases upon arriving back in the US and although I was able to make them in other ways, I felt a bit uneasy knowing that if things went wrong, I really had no protection simply due to the lack of a credit rating.
Having lived through the Great Hanshin Earthquake (along with a number of smaller natural disasters), I know the importance of having access to emergency funds. When these disasters happen, it’s often impossible to get access to money that you have in your bank account (in the case of the Hanshin Earthquake, it was over 2 weeks before I had access to those funds). It helps to have cash in the days immediately after the disaster when many of the electronic transaction systems are down, but it also helps to have a credit card. During that time, my credit card was a lifesaver in securing a hotel room and other needs when I needed to spend thousands of dollars to get out of the city and find other lodging, but still didn’t have access to my bank accounts. Living in an area of the US where I knew a similar disaster could take place, I found that I needed to keep a lot more cash on hand in case of an emergency. I ended up losing interest on the cash I took out of the bank account plus there was the risk that it might get stolen, or in an emergency I wouldn’t be able to get to where I kept it in my house. Even with a large amount of cash on hand, I still felt my financial preparation was far from adequate had a true emergency happened. That is not the case now that I have good credit and credit cards.
Debit Cards Have Drawbacks
It’s often argued that there really is no need to have credit cards if you have a debit card, but in my experience, there are some definite drawbacks to this argument. I had a friend who had his debit card stolen and his account compromised. While he eventually got all the money that was taken out of his account back, his account ended up being frozen for a few weeks while an investigation took place. During this time, he had no access to any of his banking funds. As mentioned above, in an emergency you might need to access more funds than are in your debit card account with no way to transfer additional funds to it. It also doesn’t cover you with large transactions like an airline ticket refund if an airline goes bankrupt.
Difficulty Getting Security Clearance
One of my friends who came back after living overseas for a number of years landed a great job, but the job required security clearance. The lack of a credit score turned out to be a major stumbling block for him to get his clearance. He eventually did, but it took a lot of time and effort since his lack of one sent up a red flag, and even ended up meaning much more scrutiny in other areas of his life as well to get the clearance. Again, if you consider time and aggravation as a cost, then there is a definite one when you don’t have a score to your name.
Difficulty Getting an Apartment
I remember talking with one apartment manager when returning to the US that told me as soon as I mentioned that I didn’t have a credit score that I wouldn’t get approved for an apartment in his complex. He explained that there was high demand for the apartments so it simply wasn’t worth the risk to management even though I had a good explanation as to why I didn’t have one. While I did eventually find an apartment, the lack of a score caused some type of issue at each complex I looked at, making the entire process much more difficult than it ever should have been, and definitely much more so than if mine had been good.
The Possibility of Divorce
Nobody ever thinks they are going to get divorced when they first get married, but the truth of the matter is a high percentage of couples do. If you go into a divorce without a credit score, this can cause a number of issue both during and after. When people believe that they will never have to take out another loan when they become debt free, they are probably at a point where they never think they will get divorced either. The problem with divorce is that it can be an extremely expensive process and can quickly wipe out any savings and emergency funds that you might have had. Once divorced, financial circumstances can greatly change to where loans you thought you would once never need, might be needed to bridge gaps until you can create a new budget for your new reality. Hiring lawyers, finding a new job, getting a new place to live all become more difficult without a score in an already stressful time.
Difficulty Getting Loan Approval
If there is ever a situation when you need a loan, not having a credit score will make it many times more difficult to secure it than if you have a good credit. The thing is, even if you anticipate never needing to get another loan again, circumstances change and life could place a wrench into your best laid plans. Even if you are debt free at a moment and don’t anticipate ever needing a loan, that can quickly change if you unexpectedly lose a job and are unable to find a new one as quickly as you hoped. Life throws curve balls from time to time and if you are thrown one without a good credit to your name, recovering from it can be a lot more difficult than if you had it.
A More Expensive Mortgage
If you need to take out a mortgage, you will end up paying much more if you don’t have a credit score. The problem is that no credit score is equivalent to a bad credit score to most lending institutions. If they have no records that you can pay off your debts, they assume the worst and assume that you can’t. This means no score is the same as having a terrible score in the eyes of lending institutions. While you still may be able to secure a loan (and you may not), you will end up having to pay a larger interest rate to do it which can mean paying tens of thousands of dollars more over the lifetime of the loan.
Difficulty Securing Utility Services
When I needed to get utilities in my name after returning from Japan, I couldn’t just call and have them turned on like I expected. Several required me to pay a deposit in order to put the service in my name since I had no credit history of paying these bills in the past. It makes for an extra step in the process, it takes more time to get the service and you lose the interest that you could have earned from the money that you must give as a deposit.
Trouble Getting a Cell Phone Contract
Upon my return to the US, I was actually denied the first cell phone contract I tried to get due to no credit history. I was eventually able to secure one, but I ended up having to pay a deposit to do so much like I had to when it came to the utilities. While the deposit wasn’t a huge amount, I did lose the interest that I could have been earning on it. Far more frustrating was the extra time and headaches (and the costs associated with them) caused by not having a score that would have never come into play if I had a good one.
Possible Negative Effect on Job Opportunities
One thing that many people fail to realize is that as many as 70% of companies will check the credit history of a candidate for a job before they hire. With so many qualified people in the job market these days, it’s often the little things that end up determining who gets hired. A lack of a credit score compared with someone with the same qualifications that has a stellar one could be the difference in who gets the job. Similar small details can make the difference on promotions within certain corporations, especially for sensitive positions. If you lose a job or are passed over a promotion, that can mean thousands of dollars in lost income.
Pay More for a Car
There have been a number of surveys over the years that show that some car dealers have a tiered system on how much they mark-up a car depending on the credit score of the individual buying the car. Those who are deemed the least credit worthy, which would include those with no credit score, can be charged as much as 3.5% more for a car than those with top scores. This has nothing to do with the interest rate on a car loan, but the actual amount that is charged for the car. That means that even if you don’t need a car loan, you can potentially end up paying more for a car when you don’t have a score.
Another way that lack of a score can cost you more, as pointed out by Anni in the comments, is that you can often get dealer discounts by financing a car worth thousands of dollars, then pay off the car loan soon after. I know that this situation arises because I did it once for one of my car purchases. I had the cash to purchase the car in full, but there was a deal to save $2000 through the credit section of the car maker if I agreed to finance the car, so it made good financial sense to do so. I took the $2000 discount and the loan, but as soon as the $2000 credit came through, I paid off the entire loan. The key here is that to take advantage of these car maker financing discounts, you have to qualify for them, and if you don’t have a credit score, you’re not likely to do so.
A More Expensive Car Loan
If you do need to take out a car loan, you will end up paying thousands of dollars more in interest charges with no score than you would with a good one. Interest rates for those with good credit are usually in the low single digits, while those without will pay double-digit interest rates on the exact same loan. While you may not think you will ever need to take out a loan again, something that you never expected like a divorce or a lost job could result in you needing to get one.
More Expensive Insurance
The insurance industry is in the business of assessing risk. They look at a wide variety of things to determine the risks of the individuals and families that use their services. One of the things that they look at is your credit score. Having one that is poor makes you a higher risk than an individual who has one that is high. The problem is that having no score doesn’t allow them to determine whether you are a higher or lower risk, so they will always make the assumption that you are a higher risk when the risk is unknown. What that all means is that if you have no score, you will end up paying more for life insurance, car insurance and homeowners insurance than you would if you hade a good score.
Difficulty Getting a Credit Card
One of the things that Dave Ramsey says is that you don’t want credit cards, but this is only true if you can’t control yourself. The truth is that credit cards are only a disadvantage if you don’t pay them off fully each month. Once you are out of debt and have built an emergency fund so that there is no need to put expenses on your credit card that you can’t pay off in full each month, credit cards are actually a financially savvy tool to use. They give you insurance in many transactions you may not have otherwise, they may provide additional insurance for you with certain purchases such as airline tickets and car rentals, and they can even pay you cash back for purchases you would otherwise make. The problem is that if you ever find yourself in a situation where you need a credit card, but you don’t have a score, it can be extremely difficult to get one. Even when you do, you can expect to have a very low credit limit that will take years to grow to where it can be useful for larger purchases. I know because the only credit card I could qualify for when I returned was with a bank that I had been with for over 20 years, and they still would only give me one with a $500 limit to start.
Difficulty Getting School Loans
If you ever decide to go back to school, having no score can make it difficult to secure loans. Again, many assume that they will never need to go to school again, but further education might be the only way to secure a job if you happened to lose the one you have. If you can’t qualify for student loans from your school or federally funded loans to pay for your education, you will have to turn to private loans which have interest rates much higher and can end up costing you thousands of dollar more for the same education.
Difficulty Getting Business Loans
If at any time you decide that you would like to start a business, not having a score can hurt you financially in trying to secure a loan for the business. When banks give business loans to individuals, they want to see that they have a track record of paying out the other loans that they have taken out. With no score to your name, that record doesn’t exist and you become a greater risk to give a business loan to. With no score, you might not be able to qualify for one at all without putting up a large amount of collateral, and even if you do, you are likely to pay a higher interest rate on the loan than if you had good credit. You will definitely have a much more difficult time securing the loan which can mean many more hours (if not days) trying to get the money you need.
Dave Ramsey gives lousy credit score advice because he fails to take into account that life can get messy in ways that we never anticipate. In addition, he doesn’t take into account the costs associated with the extra time and aggravations that can come with not having a score. If it were true that you needed to always remain in debt in order to have a good credit score as he states, I might give him some slack, but the fact is that this statement is patently false, I know because I’m currently debt free with a good score. While I’m certainly not saying that all the advice that he gives is bad, the advice he gives regarding credit scores sucks.
Finally, if you don’t like my analysis and want to see what Dave Ramsey has to say, think about getting a copy of his book The Total Money Makeover. The book is an combination of educational handbook, inspirational coaching guide and self study manual. It has sold something like 5 million copies – so its a good example of his best work.