Tips on how to improve your credit score
A credit score is a critical three-digit number in a person’s life that, in a lot of cases, can either make or break you. It helps lenders decide the terms, interest rates and credit-card line amounts and loans you qualify for. And it’s no secret that the higher your credit score, the better off you are.
But what do you do if your credit history leaves much to be desired?
For starters, it helps to know you aren’t alone. Many Americans suffer from subpar credit scores. Thankfully, those scores can change. Achieving your best credit score will take time, but the sooner you address your credit issues and take steps to improve it, the sooner those numbers will start to rise.
The first step to improving your credit score is to check it. There are three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) that offer their own credit report – so you will have three credit scores, not just one. Checking your report will show you where you stand and can help identify errors. Mistakes can occur on a credit report, so it’s a good idea to check your score regularly.
You have the right to one free credit report a year from each of the three major credit bureaus mentioned above. A simple way to do this is by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com, a website sponsored by these credit bureaus and backed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Your report will show you your scores and certain risk factors that might affect them the most. You also can get a report from a free-scoring website, but be aware of their terms of service before signing up.
Once you’ve checked your score, you may find that it needs some work. There are different factors you’ll need to consider before you set out to make improvements, such as:
- Are you making your payments on time?
- How much are you paying each month?
- How much debt have you acquired?
- How many times have you applied for credit in the past?
So, what can you do to reach your best credit score?
Start with taking a good look at your payments. Ensure that you are vigilant in making your payments on time, whether they be credit card, loans, utility or cell phone payments. On-time payments are one of the biggest factors in improving your credit score.
Pay off your debt and keep your balances low on your accounts. If you’re paying the minimum amount every month and are acquiring more debt than you’re paying off, that will negatively affect your credit score. Lenders like to see that you know how to manage your credit, and this is a great way to do it.
Be aware of your opening and closing of credit accounts. Only open new accounts as needed, as unnecessary credit can work against you. Also, don’t close all of your unused or paid-off accounts. As long as they don’t cost annual fees, keep your unused credit cards open. Your credit utilization ratio – or the amount you owe compared to the number of accounts you have – can increase if you close unused accounts.
Finally, if you think there are discrepancies on your credit report, make sure you report them. Inaccuracies on your credit report could lower your score. You can dispute errors online, by phone or by mail with any of the three major credit bureaus:
Revamping your credit score will not happen overnight. The amount of time it takes to increase your score depends on your score itself, as well as the factors we’ve highlighted above that effect it. Be patient, stay vigilant with acceptable credit practices and over time, your credit will improve.
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