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If you’re often turned down for credit or you can only qualify for loans with exorbitant interest rates, your credit score may be to blame. Fortunately, there is no shortage of strategies you can use to boost your score.
As your score increases, you’ll generally be better positioned to get loans at more affordable rates.
Achieving a higher credit score takes time, patience and financial responsibility, says Tom Quinn, vice president of scores at FICO. “While you can’t fix your FICO score overnight, you can focus on behaviors and practices that creditors look for in a borrower,” he says.
In other words, if you’re hoping for a magic bullet to increase your credit score, there isn’t one – but you will surely benefit from taking the following steps.
Many people believe checking their credit report will hurt their score, but this isn’t the case, says Christina Roman, consumer education and advocacy manager of Experian, one of the three main credit bureaus.
“Consumers can and should check their credit report regularly,” she says. In addition to Experian, credit reports are also generated for consumers by TransUnion and Equifax. Each of these reports has all of the information that’s used to calculate your credit score.
If you see an error, fix it as quickly as possible – especially if it’s clear the error has brought down your credit score. To dispute a credit report error, contact both the credit bureau and the company that sent the information and provide proof that the information is incorrect.
If your credit score isn’t as high as you’d like, make sure to pay everything you owe on time. Your payment history makes up 35% of your FICO score and is also an important factor in your VantageScore.
Being a few days late may incur a late fee, but it won’t trigger a credit score drop. But once you’re at least 30 days late, the credit bureaus will likely hear about it. Payments made on time, month after month, will raise your credit score – and help to keep it there.
On the other hand, a delinquent payment can have immediate negative consequences, says Quinn. “If you have a history of missed payments, their impact on the score will gradually lessen over time as they age,” he adds.
Quinn suggests setting up payment reminders or enrolling in automatic payments to avoid late payments in the future.
This strategy does take time to reflect in your score, but the longer your good payment behavior continues, the more weight it will have.
Your credit utilization rate refers to how much of your credit limit is available compared with your current balance. If you have $1,000 available on your credit card and you have a $100 balance, then your credit utilization rate is 10%. You may have heard that it’s best to keep your utilization rate under 30%, but aim for as close to 0% as possible, says Roman.
“Thirty percent represents a mathematical limit at which your scores will begin to dip, but the lower your utilization rate, the better,” she adds. That’s because around 30% of your score is based on how well you use your available credit.
“The data continuously shows that individuals who have a higher credit utilization ratio are riskier to lenders compared to those with lower credit utilization,” says Quinn.
To reduce your credit utilization rate, lower your balances or ask for a credit limit increase – and then do not use it. One trick is to pay down your credit card balances multiple times a month instead of making one big payment at the end.
You may also see a quick jump up in your score if you pay off a large percent of an existing balance at once or if you get a big credit limit increase. If decreases in utilization are incremental, however, expect your score progress to be gradual, as well.
There are additional strategies for improving your credit, but they only work if you’re committed to being financially responsible.
If you’re new to the credit card scene and a friend or family member with excellent credit is willing to add you as an authorized user, you may see your credit score go up quite a bit over the course of a few months. However, be sure the main cardholder manages the card responsibility. A missed payment or maxed-out card might be detrimental to your score.
A new line of credit can help improve your credit mix, which is another component of the credit score calculation. In fact, there are credit-builder loans designed specifically for consumers without a credit history. Just be sure you keep your eye on the prize. “It’s essential to use loans responsibly to achieve your goal of building credit,” Roman says.
Opening too many lines of credit in a short time can signal money troubles, which may be reflected by a drop in your credit score. On the other hand, closing an old credit card – especially one with a zero balance – essentially lowers your available credit, which can trigger an increase in your credit utilization ratio, warns Quinn. “And if your credit utilization ratio climbs, your FICO score might dip in response,” he says.
If you want to keep your credit score high, just follow the big three:
Though it can seem like a lot of work, building strong credit scores help millions of people gain access to the credit they need to reach their financial goals – like purchasing a car, buying a first home or getting an education.
In some ways, improving your credit score is like getting healthy. The methods are simple, but not necessarily easy. The key is to start with small steps, like never missing a payment, putting extra funds toward your debt and staying engaged with your credit journey. By practicing those healthy financial habits consistently, you’ll begin to notice your credit score inching up.
It depends how battered your credit score is. If you start working on better financial habits, your credit score might climb within a month as your positive activities are reported to the credit bureaus. But is it enough to boost you from poor credit to good? Probably not. That journey usually takes time.
If speed is your priority, consider strategies like paying down big card balances with savings, keeping your credit utilization rate at 10% or less, and becoming an authorized user or opening a secured credit card if you’re new to credit.
The effect of paying off a collection account depends on the scoring model. Newer credit scoring models ignore paid collections. The notation will remain on your credit report, however, but it will show that the account is paid. Ultimately, clearing up negative items is always a good idea on your road to credit improvement.
The two most commonly used scoring models are FICO and VantageScore, which provide scores ranging from 300 to 850. A good FICO score range is 670 to 739, above 740 is considered very good and anything over 800 is exceptional.