If you’re often turned down for credit, or you can only qualify for loans with exorbitant interest rates, your credit score is probably to blame, at least in part. What may seem unsolvable is how to improve your credit score.
Fortunately, there is no shortage of strategies that you can use to boost your score. As your score increases, you’ll generally be better positioned to get loans at more affordable rates. If you’re looking for ideas to try, keep reading.
[ READ: Best Credit Cards for Fair Credit. ]
What Is a Credit Score?
You can skip this section if you know what a credit score is. But for those who don’t, a credit score is a number that helps lenders decide how likely you are to pay back a loan, with higher scores generally earning better terms. The two most commonly used scoring models are FICO and VantageScore, which provide scores ranging from 300 to 850
FICO credit scores break down this way, according to myFICO.com:
— Credit score of 300-579: You have what’s classified as a poor credit score. You’ve likely had some financial setbacks and may have struggled to pay a lot of bills. You’re probably going to struggle with getting a loan, and the loans you do get are generally not going to have very good terms.
— Credit score of 580 to 669: You have what is considered a fair credit score. You still won’t get the best interest rates, but loan terms will likely look better than those available to consumers with a poor credit score.
— Credit score of 670-739: You have a good credit score. This range includes the average FICO score in the U.S. — 716 as of April 2021, according to FICO.
— Credit score of 740-799: You have a very good credit score. You can get friendly interest rates, and a FICO score of 760 is enough to get you access to top credit card offers and lowest interest rates.
— Credit score of 800-850: You have what is referred to as an exceptional credit score. Again, you should already be able to qualify for top offers and rates as long as your score is at least 760.
What Are Some Steps to Increase Your Credit Score?
Consumers looking to improve their credit scores may benefit from taking the following steps.
Step 1: Check Your Credit Reports and Dispute Any Errors
There are three main credit bureaus that generate credit reports: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. Your credit report has all of the information that ends up giving you your credit score. Do you have a bunch of debts in collections? That may be part of the problem. Do you have somebody else’s information on your credit report? It’s possible to see accounts that belong to someone who shares your name mistakenly listed.
If you go to AnnualCreditReport.com, for the time being, you can get a free credit report from each credit bureau every week. Before the pandemic, you could get a free one from each bureau once a year. Even if your credit score is stellar, it isn’t a bad idea to check on your credit report and make sure everything looks good.
If there are errors on your credit report, you’re going to want to fix them, especially if it’s clear that an error has brought down your credit score. To dispute a credit report error, you’ll need to contact both the credit bureau and the company that sent the information and tell them, with proof, that the information on your report is wrong.
Step 2: Don’t Miss Payments
If your credit score isn’t as high as you want it, make sure you’re paying everything you owe on time. Your payment history makes up 35% of your FICO score and is also an important factor in your VantageScore. True, if you pay a bill a few days late, that’s not going to hurt your credit score, though you may have to pay a late fee. If you’re at least 30 days late, however, the credit bureaus will likely hear about it. On time payments, month after month, year after year, will bring up your credit score — and help to keep it up.
“Paying your bills on time is essential to maintaining and ultimately boosting your credit score,” says Jason Gaughan, consumer card product executive at Bank of America. “If you struggle with remembering to pay off your balance by your card due date, setting up consistent reminders can make all the difference. For some cards, you may also have the option to set up automatic payments through your bank.”
[ READ: Best Bad Credit Loans. ]
Step 3: Lower Your Credit Utilization Rate
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 pretty low. It’s best to keep your utilization rate under 30%, and people with high scores often carry no more than 10%.
“Like scores in golf, you want to have low scores in credit utilization — anything under 30% is good,” says Tabitha Mazzara, director of operations at Mbanc, a mortgage lender headquartered in Manhattan Beach, California.
About a third of your credit score is based on credit utilization, Mazzara says. “Even if you pay your monthly bills on time, if you owe $9,000 on a credit card that has a $10,000 limit, that means your credit utilization is at 90%. It’s not ideal.”
Granted, this can seem like weird logic. The credit is available for you to use. Why should it matter if you use all of it, as long as you pay it all back from month to month? Good question. But it’s just the way it is. If your credit utilization is always or often high, credit bureaus figure that the odds of you eventually missing a payment or struggling to pay off your debts are higher.
To reduce your credit utilization rate, you should either be borrowing less, or you can ask for more available credit — and then not use it. You can also pay down your credit card balances several times a month instead of making one big payment at the end of the month.
You can also consider trying the following steps to improve your credit. But keep in mind that everybody and their financial habits are different. For the person who isn’t financially responsible, some of this may be bad advice.
Become an authorized user on somebody’s credit card. Well, not just anybody’s credit card, and this can be easier said than done. But if you are 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 could see your credit score go up quite a bit so long as you and the cardholder manage the card responsibility.
Take out a loan. This could potentially be a reckless move, if you aren’t good with money. But a credit-builder loan can be helpful for consumers without a credit history. And if you have credit card debt, taking out a personal loan to consolidate it can also help your credit score by bringing down your credit utilization rate, according to the credit bureau Experian.
Open up new credit card accounts. But not a lot at one time, and like taking out a loan, this can backfire if you struggle with money management. “Be strategic about opening new cards. Opening new cards can both help and hurt your score,” Gaughan says. “If you want to get a new card, make sure you haven’t opened a new line of credit recently. Also, once you get a new card, keep your card balance low to help boost your score.”
How to Quickly Improve Your Credit Score
How long does it take to increase your score and how can you speed up the process? Well, it really depends how low and battered your credit score is.
If you start working on better financial habits, you can see your credit score start to climb within a month. But enough to jettison you from poor credit to good? Probably not. These things usually take time, sometimes a lot of time.
If your priority is speed, consider strategies like paying down card balances, keeping your credit utilization rate at 10%, becoming an authorized user or opening a secured credit card.
[ READ: Best Secured Credit Cards. ]
What Are Ways to Maintain Good Credit?
If you want to keep your credit score high, there are a number of strategies you’ll want to keep in mind. We’ve mentioned all of this, but here are some highlights:
— Make sure your credit report doesn’t have mistakes on it that could hurt your credit score.
— Pay your bills on time — late payments can hurt your credit score.
— Pay off or pay down credit card balances.
In theory, it isn’t hard to raise your credit score. But if you have a mountain of debt crushing you, or you simply don’t make enough money, it can be a challenge. Still, taking several small steps, like making sure you always pay your bills on time, can eventually make a huge difference in your credit score.
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