A Zero Credit Score: Financially Freeing or a Bad Idea?
You’re constantly told to go after a high credit score. What happens when your aim for the opposite goal? There are a few major benefits to a zero credit score, but there could be a lot at stake, too.
Most people celebrate when they have a high credit score. There are countless financial gurus who swear by certain techniques to get the number up to the coveted 850. But that’s not Erin Flaherty’s approach.
Flaherty and her husband have spent the last year working in the complete opposite direction. She watched with glee as her credit score went from 810 to 780 to 640 to 310 to zero. That’s right — zero.
Flaherty is part of a small but vocal group of people who believe that the only credit score worth having is a zero credit score. And she swears that the big zero is doing wonders for her financial life.
It all started 10 years ago when her husband received a gift: a free session of the wildly popular Total Money Makeover course by the controversial personal finance legend Dave Ramsey. His approach to credit scores? They don’t matter.
Ramsey’s beliefs center around the idea that “debt is dumb and cash is king.” Having any debt — including a mortgage — makes a person a slave to the lender (as the Bible says). His followers go through “Baby Steps” to help them correct their debt mistakes and find financial freedom.
How to Get a Zero Credit Score: Flaherty’s Journey
For Flaherty, fixing her debt wasn’t easy. It took more than two years to pay off roughly $30,000 of student loans and consumer debt. Each time she paid off an amount that she owed, she closed the account to avoid further temptation. Because credit bureaus punish you (at least temporarily) for lessening your available balance and diminishing your credit history, Flaherty’s score dropped with each passing month.
And just like that, when she owed nothing more, Flaherty had a zero credit score and tons of bragging rights within the Dave Ramsey circle.
“I didn’t think it would get that low and stay that way; but it’s been two years now, and it’s still a zero,” Flaherty says. “I still check in on it every month to make sure nothing is going on, and each time I breathe a sigh of relief when I see it there and am reminded that I’m 100 percent debt-free.”
Flaherty’s excitement over a zero credit score spread to her friends and family. “I couldn’t believe how many people were interested in getting rid of the stress of having a high score. I thought that they would judge us or think we were crazy.”
Two of those friends were newlyweds Anna and Eric Cole, Flaherty’s neighbors. They also have a zero credit score now, but getting there wasn’t exactly smooth sailing.
Challenges of Having a Zero Credit Score
For the Coles, having a zero credit score put a significant roadblock in their way when they needed money the most. “We didn’t plan on borrowing any money,” Anna says. “We were going to be debt-free, but then Eric got injured, and we didn’t have an income for a few months. We went through our emergency fund, but we ended up having to borrow money for a roof repair. The zero credit score made it very hard to find a lender.”
The Coles’ story illustrates the biggest challenge of having a zero credit score: It becomes extremely difficult to borrow any money. Even for those who are well prepared for financial hardship, the need to borrow cash may always be there. An inability to prove to lenders that you’re reliable with money can be a major hurdle.
Plus, if you’re interested in buying a home or an investment property, it’s nearly impossible without a cosigner. Smaller lenders, such as local credit unions, may be more willing to make such a sizable loan to zero-score borrowers using a manual underwriting process, but not without extra legwork on your part. You will need to show paid bills (such as rent or utilities), at least 18 to 24 months’ worth of income, and maybe even personal references. You may also be denied if you can’t put down more than 20 percent.
And keep in mind that having a zero credit score doesn’t mean you’re exempt from credit bureaus having or sharing your data. The large Equifax data breach made it apparent that this, too, comes with risk. “You will still need to be diligent about tracking your credit score and history to be sure no one has taken your information and built your score back up for you,” Flaherty says.
The Bottom Line on a Zero Credit Score
Having that zero credit score provided the Coles and the Flahertys with the financial freedom they craved. Not having the typical pressure of trying to reach perfection to please future borrowers is a huge relief. But as Anna Cole says, “The key is to know what a zero score can and cannot do for your financial goals.”
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