When your credit score is low, you may wish you could wave a magic wand to increase it. No one has overnight or superquick fixes, but you can take action to improve your credit score in 30 days. These six steps can result in a major move in the right direction.
The three major credit bureaus update your credit reports about once a month, and your scores will adjust according to your most recent activity. The next time they recalculate your scores, you will want the information on your reports to be improved. Ready? On your mark, get set, go!
1. Check Your Credit Reports and Credit Scores
The first step is to know what is being reported about you. If you’re going to improve your credit score in 30 days, you need to change what appears in your credit files.
You can check your credit report from each U.S. credit bureau — TransUnion, Equifax and Experian — for free weekly through 2022 at AnnualCreditReport.com.
Next, get your credit scores. Your bank, credit card company or lender may offer free access, or you can buy scores from the credit bureaus or a credit score service.
FICO scores are most commonly used, but VantageScores are also popular. For both, the numerical range is 300 to 850, with higher scores indicating lower lending risk. In general, the most important factors of your credit scores are your payment history and how much debt you carry.
2. Correct Mistakes in Your Credit Reports
Once you have your credit reports, read them carefully. You certainly don’t want to be penalized for something you didn’t do.
A 2021 Consumer Reports investigation found that 34% of consumers discovered mistakes in their reports. Most were personal identification errors, such as a wrong name or address, but 11% were account information errors, such as an account you don’t recognize.
Inspect your reports for current accounts that show up as delinquent, unusually high balances, debt you paid off long ago and mysterious collection accounts. Check for evidence of fraud, such as loans and credit cards you never opened.
Also, look for accurate but old information that should no longer appear on your credit reports. Most negative marks, including late payments, charge-offs, collection accounts and Chapter 13 bankruptcies, can stay on your credit report for seven years, according to the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Chapter 7 bankruptcies can be listed on your credit report for up to 10 years from the filing date.
Boot bad data from your reports by filing a free dispute online with each credit bureau. You can also dispute a credit report error by phone or mail.
The credit bureaus will have 30 days to investigate. You will also need to dispute each error with the business that supplied the information to the credit bureau. The business will investigate and tell the credit bureau whether to update or delete the information in your report.
If your credit reports contain mistakes that are bringing down your scores, they will get a bump when that information is removed. Monitor your reports to confirm that the bureaus remove the inaccuracies. If they continue to be reported, make sure they are marked as disputed.
3. Avoid Late Payments
Payment history is the weightiest factor for both FICO and VantageScores. If you’ve skipped entire payment cycles, the credit issuer will notify the credit reporting agencies. The longer your account goes delinquent, the worse for your scores.
Although you can’t purge evidence of delinquencies, you can improve your score by paying all of your accounts on time. Once those payments post to your credit report, they will be factored into your scores.
The improvement may not be huge at first because payment problems take time to heal, but every additional point counts.
“Increasing your credit scores by even just 20 points can put you into a lower interest rate category for credit cards and loans,” says Ray Smith, credit expert and president of Trycera Financial, Newport Beach, California.
4. Pay Down Debt
If your credit card balances are close to their limits, your credit scores may be suffering. Credit utilization is the second most important factor of your FICO credit score. FICO considers the amount you owe on each account as well as in aggregate.
“Bring your debt down to under 30% of the limit for an almost immediate scoring boost,” says Jennifer Streaks, personal finance journalist and author of “Thrive! … Affordably.” “When you lower the balance and open up your credit lines, your scores should elevate.”
If you don’t have the cash to pay off your debt, you have a number of options:
— Apply for a balance transfer credit card. Consider moving your old debt to a new balance transfer credit card. “If your card has a $4,000 limit and you owe $3,000, that’s too high a percentage,” Streaks says. “But if you were to transfer it to a card with a $10,000 limit, it would automatically clear the debt from the first card, and you would only be using a third of the new card’s limit. It’s a win-win.”
— Request a credit line increase. Another way to quickly expand your credit ratio is to increase your credit line. “If you’ve been paying on time and have a great relationship with them, ask for it,” Streaks says. “The credit line increase will have the same effect on your utilization ratio as paying the debt off.” Before you call, though, ask if it will result in a hard credit inquiry, which can deduct points from your score.
— Consider a debt consolidation loan. By consolidating your revolving debt into a loan, you will eliminate your credit card balances and free up those lines. Also, an installment loan isn’t factored into your credit utilization ratio because it isn’t revolving debt.
5. Add Positive Credit History
If information on your credit reports is food for your credit scores, make sure it’s plentiful and healthy.
This may be the time to get a credit account if you don’t have one. Credit cards are available even to people with low scores. Once you have a card, you can start to charge and repay in a positive way.
“For individuals with very few trade lines on their credit reports, we suggest to immediately apply for a secured credit card,” Smith says. “Newly established trade lines will show up on your credit report within 30 days and will immediately boost your credit scores.”
Other moves to improve your credit health:
Try Experian Boost. It’s free and can add on-time utility, phone and streaming service payments to your Experian credit report, which can improve your Experian credit score.
Get credit for paying rent. See if you can sign up for a rent reporting service on your own or with help from your landlord. Expect to pay a fee for many services, such as Rent Reporters and Rental Kharma.
[Read: Best Secured Credit Cards.]
6. Keep Great Credit Habits
All of the above steps can result in an improved credit score in as little as a month. If your credit scores are in the midrange, you will probably see the biggest spike.
“Small actions will have the greatest gains for you because there is a lot of room for growth,” Streaks says. “If your scores are already high because your reports are filled with great information, there’s not much more you can do. And if yours are very low, it will take longer to drive them up.”
Wherever you are today and in 30 days, focus on maintaining good credit habits to continue increasing your credit scores. The points you added to your scores with a few powerful actions are just the beginning.
“It’s very important to consistently monitor and work to improve your credit scores,” Smith says. “Aim to keep them at a minimum of 670. The next important tier for credit scores with most lenders is 740, which generally enables you to get the best interest rates. The top tier threshold for credit rating is 800 and above.”
The sooner you start, the faster your scores will escalate — without ever needing a magic wand.
More from U.S. News