How to Improve Your Credit Score

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Personal Finance Tips & Advice
Want to work to improve your credit score? It's not as difficult as you might think. Use these 6 simple tips to get you started on the right track today.

Last week, we talked about why your credit score is important, and what it can do for you. This week, we’re taking a look at how you can improve your score if you’re just now becoming aware of it.

All in all, it’s not a hard or complicated process, but it does take some time to see improvements. Unless you make a few drastic changes, you’re looking at taking a few months to a year to make amazing progress.

That doesn’t mean it’s not worth the investment of time and work, though. Remember, the better your credit score is, the more money you can save. Plus, your credit score is a constant in your life. Your credit history spans years. It’s not as though it’ll ever completely go away, so you might as well work on it!

Here are a few tips on how you can improve your credit score, month by month.

1. Pay Down Your Debt

This one may seem obvious, but let’s explain the reason why. If you recall from the last post, your credit score takes your total amount owed into consideration. Therefore, having both a high debt-to-income ratio, and having a high credit utilization, aren’t recommended.

The easiest way to lower both of these is to simply get serious about paying off your debt. While it has numerous benefits, it’s the easiest thing you can take action on right away. You’ll be able to see a noticeable improvement in your score as well.

A lot of people think keeping a balance on their credit cards helps their score because it lets credit bureaus know they’re using their card(s). This is a myth. Not carrying a balance at all is your best bet, and you won’t have to pay any interest on your charges.

Sure, it helps to have accounts open and a strong credit history, but there’s truly no upside to being in debt.

2. Look Through Your Credit Report

We also spoke about this briefly in the last post. You can order your free credit report from www.annualcreditreport.com. It’s super simple and you’ll be able to download a PDF of your report immediately.

What are you looking for, exactly? Any discrepancies. Believe it or not, the credit bureaus, or credit companies, do make mistakes. An incorrect amount could have been reported. Or perhaps a credit line you never opened is being reported on there. Even worse, a late payment that was paid on time could be on there. Mix-ups occur, and it’s best to take care of them right away.

Besides that, you can look for any cases of fraud as well. Obviously, if someone is opening accounts in your name, that’s going to negatively affect your score!

This is yet another simple and quick solution to getting your credit score back on track. Hopefully there aren’t any discrepancies on your report, but you’re better off checking just in case.

Also, check all three of your reports throughout the year to keep tabs on things. You don’t want any surprises occurring.

3. Open New Accounts

Before we go on – if you’re shopping around for a loan (buying a house or a car, for example), it’s not advisable to open new credit accounts. Ideally, you should be looking to improve your score before such purchases, but it’s okay if things didn’t work out that way.

New accounts only make up 10% of your credit score, and if you have a thin history or don’t have any credit at all, opening a new account will help build it up.

We’re not saying to go crazy and apply for 5 new credit cards! But if you don’t have one, then applying for one won’t hurt.

Just make sure to use it responsibly. If you’ve abstained from using credit for a reason, continue on. You know yourself best.

4. Don’t Close Old Accounts

On the flip side, if you have a decent credit history, and have had lines of credit open for several years, don’t close them! Even if you don’t use them very often, it’s more beneficial to have the proof there that you’ve been able to use your credit well.

What should you do? You can always use an older credit card once a month or so to keep it active. This shows the credit bureaus the lines are still in use. Again, it’s not necessary to carry a balance.

If you have multiple cards, keep track of which ones you’re using this way. You don’t want to accidentally forget about a charge and get reported for paying late! Speaking of…

5. Pay Everything On Time

We’re not just talking credit card bills or other debt here, either. Pay every single bill you get on time. Your phone bill, utility bills, car insurance bill, and rent all count.

This shows that you’re a responsible consumer and will definitely help boost your score.

Late payments on your credit report are the worst. Why? Well, they can stay there for up to 7 years. That’s a really long time for a silly mistake to haunt you.

Besides, late payments mean possible fees, your interest rates going up, and ultimately, paying more. It’s not worth it.

Put what you can on auto payment, and set reminders for when bills are due. Double check your various accounts to make sure your email is up-to-date in case you’re enrolled in paperless programs.

Already guilty of a late payment? If it happened recently, don’t be shy about asking your creditor to take it off. In general, most businesses will wait 30 days to report late payments to the bureaus.

If you’re within that window, pay your bill completely, and then ask them if it’s possible to waive any fees you might have incurred, as well as remove the lateness from your report. If you’ve paid on time in the past, or have an extensive history with the company, bring that up. Do whatever you can do to make yourself look better, and be polite!

6. Get Current With Any Accounts That Are Past Due

If you haven’t been able to make timely payments, then your best course of action is to work on getting your accounts current. That means trying to make extra payments on them to get yourself back on track.

Struggling with paying your bills? It’s worth talking to each of your creditors to see if something can be worked out. Sometimes, they might be willing to work with you, especially if you’re in the midst of financial hardship. Explain your situation to them (as soon as possible!) and see if they can put you on a different repayment plan.

This is especially true for those with student loan payments they’re having trouble making. Lenders will often work with you, but you need to take the initiative. Do it, sooner than later!

Improve Your Credit Score Today

There you have it – 6 simple ways you can improve your credit score. Start forming a plan of action to take today, and get working on it! Review your reports, create a plan to pay off any debt you might have, or get current on your payments, and ask for different repayment terms. Improving your credit score is something you don’t want to procrastinate on.

Have you ever had to improve your credit score or bolster your history? How did you do it?

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