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How to Improve Your Credit Score

How To Improve Your Credit Score

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:

1. Check Your Credit Reports for Accuracy

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.

2. Find Out Where Your Credit Score Currently Stands

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’s free Credit Report Card.

3. Find Out Why Your Score is Low

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.

4. Outline Your Plan and Stick to It

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.

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  • Gerri Detweiler

    Have you filed IRS Form 12277?

  • Credit Experts

    That’s hard to say. In the short term, your scores would take a small, temporary drop as a result of the hard inquiry. But longer term, an additional card or two could help, particularly if the new credit lines help you keep your credit utilization (the amount of credit you’re using, as a portion of your credit limit) below 25% (below 10% is even better). But if the dip, as you suspect, is due to your recent credit inquiries, your score is likely to go up on its own. Here’s how to monitor your credit score for free.

  • Neita Shaw

    I am seventy years young. I have a family member that knows my ss number and all my information.She keeps opening charge accounts in my name. I usually dont find about them until they are very late. I end up paying them. This has pulled my credit down to poor. I dont want to have her arrested

    • Credit Experts

      Neita —
      So sorry to hear that you’ve been taken advantage of. You could consider getting a credit freeze. That would make it impossible for anyone to apply for credit without your knowledge or consent. (But it would also delay your being able to access your credit files.)
      You will find more information here:
      What’s a Credit Freeze?

    • Eileen Jones

      I urge you to reconsider. May be the only way she will learn. She gets what she wants and you foot the bill. You are not always going to be there to bail her out. Just a suggestion. It is your decision. Best wishes.

    • Bevon

      Woman! Get that sucker arrested!

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Thanks for the question. We have turned it into a story:

    Can You Get a Perfect Credit Score?

  • Credit Experts
  • Credit Experts

    That seems very likely. Among the factors that affect your score are credit diversity (particularly both installment and revolving [credit card] credit) and debt utilization (card balance as a percentage of credit card limit). So, if by your own choice you are reducing your score on these factors, then yes, your scores could drop. The very most important things to do to keep your scores high is to pay on time. The good news for you is it CAN be done without debt. We wrote about that here: How to Improve Your Credit Score Without Debt

  • Credit Experts

    Mandy —
    Yours is exactly the sort of situation new regulations are designed to address . . . but they are not yet in effect. So, as of now, with most models paying a settlement is not going to help much. That doesn’t mean you can’t improve your score. What you need to do is offset negative information (a collection) with positive information (current payments on your student loan). You could also consider getting a secured card if you can’t qualify for a regular credit card (and keep balances low — less than 10% of your credit limit is ideal, and you should avoid going over 30%). And if you are not already doing so, we recommend monitoring your credit score. Here’s how to monitor your credit score for free. Finally, here are some more tips for rebuilding your credit: How to Rebuild Credit

  • Jan

    I’ve tried to increase my score but, I continue to have bad credit even after having been on there for over 8 to 9 years. How do I get my score increased when they don’t remove anything after that long.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Most negative information can only be reported for seven years. What’s on your credit reports after 8 or 9 years?

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