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Does Your Credit Score Matter in Retirement?

It's another financial tool you can leverage

Close up of credit score meter pointing to an excellent credit score of 800 or above
Olivier Le Moal / Getty Images

Think your credit score doesn’t matter in retirement? If you want to open a new credit card, borrow money or get certain insurance, your creditworthiness comes into play even after you’ve stopped working. ​

“Retiring doesn’t mean you quit living, it doesn’t mean you no longer need access to financial resources,” says Rod Griffin, senior director of public education and advocacy at Experian. “Maintaining credit is a critical part of your financial toolbox, having it there to work for you if you need it.” 

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Having access to credit can also be lifesaving in the event of an emergency or if it means you don’t have to tap your savings to cover an expense. It's money saving too. A good credit score can be a way to get discounts and deals from a cash back credit card or percentage off at a retailer. “People think credit is about debt, but it's not. It’s about having another financial tool to leverage,” says Griffin. 

According to Experian, a credit score between 800 and 850 is deemed exceptional, while 740-799 is considered very good and 670-739 is good. Anything below that and it may be more costly to borrow money. It could mean you need to provide collateral or pay a higher interest rate. ​

The good news for retirees is that your credit score isn't dependent on how much you earn. You can be on a fixed income and still have excellent credit, says Bruce McClary, a spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. In retirement how you manage your credit is what matters. ​

Be in the know 

If you're paying your bills on time, keeping your balances low in proportion to your credit limits and limiting the number of accounts you open in a year your credit score should remain intact. But that doesn’t mean you can forget about it. McClary says retirees have to stay on top of it by checking their credit reports from Experian, TransUnion and Equifax, the three credit scoring agencies, at least yearly. Everyone should be doing that but older adults in particular. 

“Don’t take your hands off the wheel just because you retired,” says McClary. “You should regularly check your credit report to keep an eye on your credit score.”

By law, everyone is entitled to one free credit report from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion per year but since COVID-19 the reports have been accessible for free weekly. That is slated to expire at the end of the year. To  request free copies of your credit report visit AnnualCreditReport.com. Be wary of other sites that may try to charge you for your reports or attempt to steal your personal information. ​

Griffin recommends checking your credit reports at least once a year to make sure there aren’t any errors that can lower your score. “Older adults are more often targeted by identity thieves,” says Griffin. “Becoming a victim can damage your credit score. By reviewing your credit report if something turns up you can act on it.” Last year nearly 42 million adults were victims of identity fraud, costing consumers $52 billion. If you do see a potential fraud on your credit report you can go to the AARP fraud center for more information and help.​

Stay active 

Whether you are flush with cash or on a fixed income, it's important to stay active with your open accounts to protect your credit score. You can have all the credit in the world but if you don’t ever use it, it won’t matter. Accounts that don’t have activity in the past three to six months can be excluded from your credit score, says Griffin. ​

To prevent that from happening doesn’t mean charging up a storm but you should keep a couple of accounts open and use them periodically, making sure to pay the balance each month. You don’t want to rack up debt or pay interest but you do want to show creditors you are still actively using the credit cards. “The key is to pay your bills on time, keep balances as low as possible, be sure to be active and check your credit report regularly,” says Griffin. A good credit score “lets you have another financial advantage in retirement.”