Your credit score plays a critical role in your overall financial life, and has a direct impact on whether or not you'll be a approved for a credit card, a car loan, a mortgage or any other type of financing -- and at what interest rate and terms. It also influences your home and auto insurance premiums and whether not you'll have to pay a deposit on an apartment rental and utilities such as electric, water, cable, Internet and phone.
The fact is, a poor credit score can end up costing you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in interest and other costs throughout your lifetime -- and that's assuming you're able to qualify for financing at all. If you're suffering from a poor credit score, there are steps can take to improve your credit score, so that you can start taking advantage of all the benefits that having great credit affords.
If you're looking to improve your credit score, you must first identify what's holding your score down so that you can address the problem and focus your efforts where they'll have the greatest impact. Here are four steps that'll get you started:
Your credit score is solely based on the information reported in your credit report. If the information in your credit report is inaccurate, so too will be your credit score. For this reason, you'll want to make sure you check all three of your credit reports for errors. If you find errors, be sure to dispute the items directly with the credit reporting agencies to you have them corrected. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you're entitled to one free credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies once every 12 months. Learn how to claim your free annual credit reports.
After you've verified that the information in your credit reports is accurate, it's time to find out where your credit score currently stands. Unlike credit reports, your credit score is not included in the annual freebie so you'll need to either pay for access, or use a free credit score resource, such as Credit.com's free Credit Report Card.
Credit scoring models are designed to include "score factors" or "reason codes" that explain where you lost the most points in your credit score calculation. These factors are specific to your individual credit history and will vary from person to person. There is no "one size fits all" credit improvement plan, but with the help of your score factors, you'll be able to outline your very own credit score improvement plan that's specific to your credit DNA.
Now that you've identified the causes of your low score, it's time to put a plan in place and stick with it. Generally, there are three main causes for low credit scores --- too much credit card debt, negative information caused by poor credit management, or a combination of the two.
If your credit score is low because of too much credit card debt, fortunately, you're looking at a quick and easy fix --- provided you have enough cash on hand to pay down the debt. A large percentage of your credit score --- 30% --- is based on your revolving utilization, or the proportion of your balances in relation to your credit limits on your credit card accounts. By simply paying down your credit card balances you can see your credit score improve almost overnight. As soon as your credit card issuer reports the update to the credit reporting agencies, your credit score will reflect the change.
If your credit score is low as a result of negative information, unfortunately, it's going to take time and consistent changes in the way you manage your credit obligations. You'll first need to address any outstanding collections or unpaid debts, and from there, you'll want to begin adding new positive credit information to your credit reports to help offset the damage. The key here is to be realistic about the time it will take to improve your credit score. If you've suffered from past credit problems, the fastest, most effective way to begin rebuilding your credit and improving your credit score starts with adding positive credit information and managing the accounts impeccably this time around. That means making all of your payments on time, and making sure you keep your credit card balances low.