12 Surprising Ways to Wreck Your Credit Score

A seemingly small stumble -- such as forgetting to return library books -- can cause your credit score to plummet.

The next time you check your FICO score, you might discover it has taken a tumble because of a seemingly small mishap on your part.

This happened to me a few years back because I misplaced a bill for a whopping $12.70 that ended up being reported to the credit bureaus. Worst of all, the problem stemmed from a charge through automatic billing on a credit card I no longer used.

The result was an 80-point decrease in my credit score and several months of regret. My credit score has rebounded since then, but thinking about this small oversight still haunts me.

With my precautionary tale in mind, here are some other types of mishaps that can damage your FICO score:

1. Car rental reservations

Planning to rent a car? If you use a debit card to make the reservation, the rental car company might require a credit screening. That can ding your credit score.

Here’s a better option: Confirm the reservation with your credit card to avoid the unnecessary credit inquiry and settle the final bill with your debit card upon returning the vehicle.

2. Past-due rent payments

Fail to pay the rent on time, and the landlord might report your delinquency to each of the three credit bureaus.

If you’re having trouble with rent, meet with the landlord and propose an alternative payment plan until you’re caught up. That way, you can salvage your good name and credit rating.

3. Library delinquency

When you check out a stack of books or DVDs, it’s easy to forget to return them by the appointed time. But the consequences for this oversight can be worse than you’d think.

My local library assesses a fee of 25 cents per day for each outstanding item. Once the account reaches $25, an additional fine of $7.95 is tacked on, and the entire account is forwarded to a collection agency.

Get your materials in on time. And if you lose them, fess up and pay the fees. Otherwise, your credit score could take a hit.

4. Outstanding medical bills

If you’re having trouble paying medical bills, there are some steps you can take to ease the financial burden. But whatever you decide, make sure you promptly tend to the matter. Muting the ringer on the phone or sending calls from collectors to voice mail will eventually result in a blemish — in the form of a collection account — on your credit report. Those marks stick around for at least seven years.

5. Delinquent tax obligations

Did the IRS or the local tax collector send you a hefty bill for unpaid taxes? You can run, but you can’t hide. They will eventually track you down and demand what they’re owed.

If you fail to respond and work something out, expect your credit score to take a dive.

6. Defaulting on recurring bills

If you are slightly past due on a bill from cellphone, utility or other provider of recurring services, chances are you’ll receive several notices before services are terminated.

But once the provider has had enough, expect to be turned over to collections and subsequently reported to the three credit bureaus. Don’t ignore correspondence or fail to settle outstanding obligations.

7. Breached gym membership contracts

Even if you are tired of forking over hard-earned cash each month for a gym membership you aren’t using, don’t just walk away. Properly close the account, or it could cost you in the form of early termination penalties and a damaged credit score.

8. Unpaid traffic citations

Most of us are aware of the consequences associated with ignoring tickets issued by law enforcement. But what about those random tickets issued by parking services at the local university or the downtown street patrol? Ignoring them and failing to pay could show up as a collection in your credit profile.

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