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5 Steps New Grads Should Take to Boost Their Credit

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Graduation is an exciting time but also a busy one. Between searching for a new job, navigating your student loans, and moving on from college life, your credit score is probably the last thing on your mind. Your credit stays with you throughout your life, though, so it’s important to get a handle on it now. It can affect everything from your ability to get a car loan to the cost of your monthly bills.

“Maintaining a healthy credit score is important because it can impact your overall financial footprint,” Farnoosh Torabi, personal finance expert and Chase Slate financial education partner, tells mental_floss. “A higher credit score can also boost your chances of qualifying for a loan with a lower interest rate on credit cards, mortgages, and car loans. It can also help reduce the rates you pay on insurance, cable, and utilities.”

Torabi adds that in some cases, prospective employers can also request a copy of your report. Landlords also regularly run a credit check when you fill out a rental application; if your credit is concerning, it might affect your approval. In other words, poor credit can be a huge headache.

A common misconception among recent grads (and many people) is that the best way to avoid credit card debt is to not have a credit card. While this might be true, it's also a bad idea. Using a credit card wisely is the first—and easiest—way to start building good credit. So, get yourself a credit card, then follow these five simple steps to improve your score in the short-term and ensure healthy credit in the long run.


Your credit score is basically a gauge of your financial health. And good financial health starts with a budget. It may be an obvious step, but it’s a crucial one that many grads neglect.

“College graduates often forget to budget, which can mean accumulating unnecessary credit card debt or depleting savings before the semester’s over,” Torabi says. “It’s important to set a budget and create a list of your financial priorities so you can meet any necessary payments first, like rent and student loan payments.”

Make sure you have enough every month to cover those essential expenses, then focus on budgeting your wants (your discretionary expenses). Of course, there’s more that goes into drafting a budget, but Torabi’s point is that healthy credit starts with a solid plan.


“Like any other loan, the best way to ensure that your student loan is having a positive impact on your credit score is to pay the monthly bill on time every time,” Torabi says. “It’s actually a great way to establish healthy credit at a young age.”

Paying your bills in full and on time will obviously help you establish good credit, but it’s easier said than done. Torabi suggests facilitating this goal with automatic payments. Budget how much you can afford to pay on your loan or credit card balance every month, then set up an automatic payment so your debt is prioritized.

Bonus: Many student loan services offer an interest rate discount if you set up automatic payments. Check with yours to see if you can score a rate cut.


“The second most important factor that goes into your overall score is credit utilization, which accounts for 30 percent [of your overall FICO score],” says Torabi. “Credit utilization is the balance you’re carrying on all of your credit cards compared to the credit limit on all of those cards. The lower your utilization, the higher your credit score will likely be.”

Torabi says this is why it’s important to pay more than just your minimum balance every month. Not only will you get out of debt sooner, your score should also improve, because you’re using less of your available credit. Whenever possible, throw windfalls like tax refunds or work bonuses at your debt.


You should also know what your credit looks like in the first place. This way, you can fix any errors that might be dragging down your score, but more importantly, you’ll be aware of any issues you need to work on.

You're entitled to a free copy of your credit report every year, and has long been the standard for obtaining a detailed copy of your report. The report itself is relatively easy to read. All of your credit lines and debts are separated as “accounts in good standing” or “potentially negative items,” making it easy to pinpoint the specific accounts you need to improve.

Look for mistakes like paid accounts that haven’t been reported as such or accounts you never opened. If there’s an error, you’ll have to write a letter to the credit reporting company (Experian, TransUnion, or Equifax) explaining the mistake and disputing the negative item on your report.


Student loans are a big burden for many grads, but there are relief options available. Missing a payment will definitely ding your score, and worse, going into default can really make it difficult to repair your credit.

Torabi suggests talking to your student loan servicer to work out a solution. “Know that if you anticipate having difficulty paying down your student loans, it’s best to contact your lender—before missing any payments—to learn about alternative payment solutions,” she says. “The last thing you want is to fall behind on your student loans. Late payment fees can add up very quickly!”

Many credit card companies offer hardship payment plans for customers, too. These programs aren’t advertised, but if you’re struggling, they can save you from massive late fees and compounded debt from high interest rates—both of which can destroy your score. When calling the issuer about these programs, you should approach the topic carefully, though. ClearPoint Credit Counseling explains:

You don’t want to give away too much information about your situation right away. Think of your initial call as an inquiry rather than a done deal ... creditors may be able to make modifications to your account based on the conversation you have. For instance, if you express difficulty to pay, your credit limit could be lowered or access to your account could be limited. It’s also important that you don’t promise more than you can pay.

It shouldn’t be surprising that most of these credit steps are smart financial moves in general. Your credit health is a measure of your financial health, after all, and maintaining solid money habits will help ensure your good score stays intact long-term.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Live Smarter
Working Nights Could Keep Your Body from Healing
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The world we know today relies on millions of people getting up at sundown to go put in a shift on the highway, at the factory, or in the hospital. But the human body was not designed for nocturnal living. Scientists writing in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine say working nights could even prevent our bodies from healing damaged DNA.

It’s not as though anybody’s arguing that working in the dark and sleeping during the day is good for us. Previous studies have linked night work and rotating shifts to increased risks for heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, and car accidents. In 2007, the World Health Organization declared night work “probably or possibly carcinogenic.”

So while we know that flipping our natural sleep/wake schedule on its head can be harmful, we don’t completely know why. Some scientists, including the authors of the current paper, think hormones have something to do with it. They’ve been exploring the physiological effects of shift work on the body for years.

For one previous study, they measured workers’ levels of 8-OH-dG, which is a chemical byproduct of the DNA repair process. (All day long, we bruise and ding our DNA. At night, it should fix itself.) They found that people who slept at night had higher levels of 8-OH-dG in their urine than day sleepers, which suggests that their bodies were healing more damage.

The researchers wondered if the differing 8-OH-dG levels could be somehow related to the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate our body clocks. They went back to the archived urine from the first study and identified 50 workers whose melatonin levels differed drastically between night-sleeping and day-sleeping days. They then tested those workers’ samples for 8-OH-dG.

The difference between the two sleeping periods was dramatic. During sleep on the day before working a night shift, workers produced only 20 percent as much 8-OH-dG as they did when sleeping at night.

"This likely reflects a reduced capacity to repair oxidative DNA damage due to insufficient levels of melatonin,” the authors write, “and may result in cells harbouring higher levels of DNA damage."

DNA damage is considered one of the most fundamental causes of cancer.

Lead author Parveen Bhatti says it’s possible that taking melatonin supplements could help, but it’s still too soon to tell. This was a very small study, the participants were all white, and the researchers didn't control for lifestyle-related variables like what the workers ate.

“In the meantime,” Bhatti told Mental Floss, “shift workers should remain vigilant about following current health guidelines, such as not smoking, eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of sleep and exercise.”