If a low credit score is holding you back from getting approved for loans, credit cards or prime interest rates, you might wonder how to improve your credit score. While building or rebuilding your credit isn’t a quick process, it can be the difference between getting what you want and going without.
If your credit history isn’t reflecting your financial capability in a positive light, there are steps you can take to address the issues dragging down your scores. Keep in mind as you begin the road to credit recovery that this is a marathon—not a sprint. Bumping your bad credit score to a good credit score won’t just happen overnight. But if you keep at your credit repair, the results could surprise you!
1. Check the Accuracy of Your Credit Reports
The first step in improving your credit score is to be aware of what’s on your credit history. There are three major credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax and TransUnion—that each has its own credit report and score for you based on your credit history. That means everyone actually has three credit scores.
It’s not unusual for there to be mistakes on a person’s credit report. Even if you believe your report doesn’t have any problems, it’s a good idea to check it regularly.
Checking your credit reports from each of the three main credit reporting agencies is easy. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you have the right to obtain a free copy of all three credit reports once each year. These free reports can be accessed on the government-mandated site operated by the big three credit bureaus, AnnualCreditReport.com. You can also check your credit through our free credit report card, which provides a snapshot of your credit as well as letting you dig deeper into each factor that drives your score.
If you find an error, you’ll have to file a separate dispute with each credit bureau since they’re run separately from one another. If there are multiple errors on your credit reports, you’ll need to dispute each of those individually. You might consider working with a credit repair company to make things a little easier for yourself.
2. Pinpoint What You Need to Improve
If all of the items on your credit report are correct but you still have a poor credit score, you need to understand why. Here are the major credit scoring factors and how each one can impact your credit score:
- Payment history: A history of overdue payments paints you as a bigger risk to creditors. Thus, this factor has the greatest negative effect on your credit score. This makes up about 35% of your credit score.
- Amount of debt: Debt contributes 30% to a FICO Score’s calculation and also weighs heavily on other credit scoring models.
- Age of accounts: Creditors like to see a proven record of borrowing, utilizing and repaying credit. If you’re newer to credit and borrowing, there isn’t a whole lot of data to go on. This makes up 15% of your score.
- Account mix: Making 10% of your score, lenders want to make sure you can handle both revolving and installment credit. This means credit cards that you continue to use after repaying and loans that are closed upon full repayment.
- History of credit applications: Multiple hard inquiries on your credit may look like you are overextending yourself financially and appear desperate. This will lower your score. Credit inquiries make up 10% of your score.
3. Fix Your Late Payments
Keeping on top of payments and avoiding delinquency is the only way to stop a past due payment from affecting your credit score. Even closing an account won’t make your overdue payments disappear.
The credit reporting agencies don’t remove these items, but you may be able to talk a creditor into doing so. One late payment can be forgiven by creditors if you have a history of on-time payments and you call to discuss it with them. Repeated delinquencies may require a little more effort on your part to have removed.
Often creditors will remove the negative mark from your credit report if you call and work something out with them. You will need to get up to date on your payments and may be required to make a number of on-time payments before the mark is removed, but once it is, it may impact your credit score. And in the future, make sure to pay your bills on time.
4. Get Added as an Authorized User
Getting added as an authorized user on the account of friend or family member with a solid credit history can help raise your credit score. While you don’t actually need to use the other person’s credit or account, their positive credit and payment history are added to your credit reports and make you look better by default.
5. Clear Any Outstanding Collection Accounts
Contacting your creditors about paying off your debt is a great way to raise your credit score. Make sure that they agree to remove the negative hit to your credit report if you repay it in full—and get it in writing.
6. Open a Secured Credit Card
Opening a secured credit card can help raise your credit score. This type of card involves you depositing money into a checking account to secure the line of credit the lender is extending to you. Payments come directly out of this account, so you can’t miss a payment.And because you can’t miss a payment, and make all your payments on time, your credit score could improve over time.
7. Dispute Credit Inquiries
Most credit inquiries are hard inquiries. This means they impact your credit score. In fact, a hard inquiry stays on your credit report for an entire year. While each individual hit is relatively small, it can push you over the edge from one credit score tier to one below it. What’s more, several hard inquiries over a short period of time can drop your score by a lot.
Like any other negative factor on your credit report, you can dispute credit inquiries. If you didn’t approve the inquiry into your credit, you may be able to get it removed. This could easily increase your credit score, but only slightly.
8. Maintain Revolving Balances
If you carry a large amount of debt in relationship to your available credit, your score can suffer. In fact, credit utilization accounts for 30% of your credit score. So, if your total credit card available credit is $10,000 and you’re currently using $8,000 of it, paying down those balances can increase your score.
Keeping your utilization rate at around 30% is recommended. That’s $3,000 in debt on a $10,000 available limit, for example.
9. Increase Your Credit Limits
If staying at a 30% credit utilization ratio mark is difficult for you, there is always the possibility of having your credit limit increased. If you have a good payment history and have improved your credit since opening the account, most creditors will consider increasing your maximum. This quickly improves your credit utilization and can raise your score.
By improving your credit score, you open up a whole new world of purchasing power. You might no longer need to worry about being approved for that home, vehicle or other items that you need to take the next step in your life. Never give up on your credit. By following some of the tips above, you could boost your credit score.