January 21st, 2014
How Improving Your Credit Health Is Like Making the Perfect Marshmallow
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A couple of weeks ago, I decided I wanted to make marshmallows. After all, I had to put that shiny new candy thermometer I got for Christmas to use somehow, right?
And I gotta say… creating those marshmallows was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. I’ve never been a fan of cooking, but baking (and apparently marshmallow-making) has always fascinated me, as it’s more of a science than anything else. One mistake and your entire batch could be ruined. Do everything perfectly and you end up with sweets that’ll delight your coworkers.
The title kind of gave it away, but managing your credit health is the same way. If you have an excellent score and miss one payment, your score could tank. But if you’re careful enough, you just might end up with a score good enough to get you the best rates and financial products.
More than that, the journeys to the perfect marshmallow and excellent credit health are remarkably similar. Check out the sweet parallels:
They both require precision.
When I was heating up the sugar/corn syrup/water/salt mix, the instructions told me to stop when the mixture reached 240°F. It was a very precise temperature that I knew was mentioned for a reason, so even when the thermometer told me my mixture was stuck at 230°F for a long time, I patiently waited until it hit the, ahem, sweet spot.
Credit scores are the same way. They’re very fickle and not very forgiving. A few months ago, I logged into my Credit Karma account and was astounded to find my score had dropped 20 points just because I let my credit card utilization slip to 0%. But it makes sense—how can the bureaus accurately judge me if it looks like I’m not using my credit cards?
Preciseness: it does credit a world of good. Be vigilant as you work on improving your credit health. Keep your credit card utilization between 1 and 20%, your payment history at 100%, your number of credit inquiries as low as possible and your derogatory marks at 0. You won’t regret it!
They both require constant supervision.
After the sugar-heating process (which required lots of supervision in itself, by the way) (who knows how the marshmallows would’ve turned out if I’d accidentally heated the sugar to 300°F?), the next step was to mix the hot sugar with the gelatin and whip it until it was stiff.
Even though I’d never made marshmallows before, this process felt familiar—like whipping egg whites to form a meringue. I knew that over-beating egg whites causes them to collapse on themselves, so I made sure I watched my mixer until the mixture was exactly the right consistency. And spoiler alert: the marshmallows turned out great!
At Credit Karma, we can’t under-emphasize the importance of monitoring your score and account balances and transactions. Doing so is an integral part of helping you detect fraud early and take action before anything serious happens. While whipping up a new batch of marshmallows is easy, fixing the damage done to your credit could take years. So trust us. Let us keep an eye out for you.
Things will get messy. And sticky.
Here’s a tip to keep in mind if you ever decide to make marshmallows: be prepared for the stickiness. And be prepared for the powdered-sugar-bath your kitchen counters will receive. And don’t cover your pan (in which the marshmallows will set) with Saran wrap, because the marshmallows will get to that too. Seriously. Sticky.
Improving your credit health isn’t all fun and games. You may kick yourself for opening up that credit card after the hard inquiry lowered your score. But sometimes sacrifice is necessary—in the long run, that card can help your utilization rate and number of accounts. So don’t be afraid of a little mess—sometimes it’s exactly what you need to secure a happy ending.
They take time.
The whole marshmallow process took about 8 hours—1 hour to make, 6 hours to set, and 1 hour to cut. Can you imagine how they would’ve turned out if I had heated the sugar until I felt like stopping, whipped the mixture for less time than it required or impatiently cut into the marshmallows before they properly set? I’m shuddering just picturing it.
Don’t be discouraged if your score doesn’t seem to be increasing. Besides literally needing time to pass to increase your average age of open accounts, it also takes time to learn the ins and outs of credit and show lenders that you can be financially responsible.
In other words, improving your credit health is a journey. Don’t get flustered by the bumps on the road when your score dips. Instead, use those moments as opportunities to learn from your mistakes, and eventually you’ll find yourself with some pretty sweet marshma—I mean, great credit.
Jenna Lee is Credit Karma‘s Social Media Manager. Although her specialty lies in creating witty post-it notes, she also enjoys sharing all the financial information she’s learned since joining Credit Karma in February 2012. When she’s not working, you can probably find her trying out a new dessert recipe or learning/perfecting any musical instrument she can get her hands on. She may or may not have created a Twitter specifically to put in this byline. Say “hi” @leejennaa!
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