Do you know where your credit score stands? If you don’t, it’s important to get up-to-speed. Your credit score has a huge impact on your ability to make major purchases, including financing your home or car. Lending companies will use this score to determine if you’re a good candidate for a loan, since it’s based on the amount of debt you carry and your payment history. A higher credit score can lead to lower interest rates, higher credit limits, and more buying power. Inversely, a lower credit score can do the opposite. While there’s not a magic wand that can fix your credit score on a whim, there are some ways to raise your score over time so that you’re ready when the time comes for a big purchase.
Here are 10 ways you can improve your credit score:
1. Pay your bills when they’re due.
Paying your bills on time is one of the biggest contributors to your overall credit score, so you'll want to make sure you prioritize paying all of your bills on time, all of the time. If you find that due dates slip your mind, set up calendar reminders, alerts, or automatics drafts to ensure your bills get paid in full by their date.
2. Keep credit card balances low.
If you’re close to maxing out your credit limit on any account, it will negatively impact your credit score. A good rule of thumb is to keep your credit utilization ratio below 30%. If you find yourself in a situation where you have higher balances, make a plan to pay your balances down.
3. Check for errors.
You may see inaccurate information on your credit report, but that can be fixed. Contact the creditor and credit bureau to have inaccuracies removed. To dispute errors on your credit report, you'll provide the credit bureau a detailed report of the errors and include supporting documentation. It typically takes the bureaus 30 to 45 days to investigate and respond.
4. Make a plan to pay down debt.
Moving around your debt across accounts won’t help you improve your score. Your best course of action is to create a realistic plan to pay down your credit card debt. One best practice is to use the "snowball" method. With the snowball method, you put as much money as you possibly can to pay down your credit card with the highest interest rate, while paying minimum balances on the rest. Once that first card is paid off, you apply those previously dedicated funds to the card with the next highest interest rate, so on and so forth.
5. Keep using your credit (responsibly.)
Having and using credit is generally a good thing, as long as you’re making payments on time and spending responsibly. You may think that leaving an account unused or not having credit cards in the first place is best, but someone who responsibly uses credit may actually have a higher credit score.
6. Don’t open multiple credit accounts in a short period of time.
If you take on a lot of potential debt at once, your credit will look risky to lenders. Plus, the average age of your accounts will be considerably young, which can also negatively impact your credit score.
7. Don’t close credit card accounts.
You may think that if you pay off or have a zero balance on a credit account, it's best to close the account altogether, but that can actually hurt your score. Even if you close an account, it will still appear on your credit report, and will lower your balance to limit ratios, lowering your overall credit score.
8. Shop for a loan within a focused period of time.
Credit scores distinguish between a search for a single loan and a search for many new credit lines, based, in part, on the length of time over which recent requests for credit occur.
9. Be selective about the number of credit accounts you open.
Be smart about opening accounts, otherwise you may end up with more than you can manage and your score will take the hit.
10. Consult a credit counselor.
If you need additional help with getting your finances and credit score under control, don't be afraid to seek the help of a professional. Credit counselors and financial advisors can help you set short- and long-term goals that are manageable and can help you get back on track.
These tips may not improve your credit score overnight, but with discipline and patience, you can see a lift in your credit score over time, giving you more financial freedom.