How to Fix Your Credit Score
When it comes to finances, there's something even more important than your income: your credit score. Your credit score is an assessment of your credit worthiness expressed as a number from 300 to 850. It's what banks, stores, and other lenders use to decide whether to give you a car loan, home mortgage, or credit card.
While you may not be turned down for a low score, you will be seen as a greater risk. That means lower credit limits, higher interest rates, and larger security deposits. Over the lifetime of a loan or line of credit, those higher costs can add up.
The good news is that you can improve your credit score.
Improving Your Credit Score Step #1: Review your credit report
Start by getting a copy of your credit report from each of the three main credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and Transunion. By law, you're entitled to one free report from each of them every year. You want all three because they can contain different or conflicting information.
Review the reports by confirming information such as your name, birth date, and address, then check the status of current accounts. Are the balances and payment details correct? Does it include accounts or defaults you don't recognize? Generally, late payments, bankruptcies, collections, or judgments should only remain on your credit report for seven years.
Improving Your Credit Score Step #2: Fix errors on your credit report
You can quickly improve your credit score by removing or correcting inaccurate information on your credit report. Small errors can turn into big credit problems and many people find mistakes or discrepancies on their credit report with a quick look. If you see any errors, fix your credit report by writing to the reporting agency and providing bank statements or other evidence. If you see the same mistake on more than one report, you have to inform each company separately.
Improving Your Credit Score Step #3: Pay your bills on time
Since payment history contributes up to 35% of your credit score, paying your bills on time is the best way to improve your credit score. Setting up automatic payments can take the hassle out of paying your bills and also helps you plan your monthly budget. As time passes and your payment history stabilizes, creditors will begin to see you as a healthy risk, reflected by a growing credit score.
Improving Your Credit Score Step #4: Increase your lines of credit
Your Credit Utilization Rate generates 30% of your credit score. This rate takes the amount of credit you have earned (through loans and credit cards) and divides that by the amount of debt that you currently owe on those lines of credit. For example, if you have a credit limit of $10,000 on a credit card and owe $7,500, your Credit Utilization Rate will be 75%. Credit companies prefer to see rates under 40% — and the lower the rate, the safer risk you are for lenders. If you are working through Step #3 and paying your bills on time, you should be reducing your amount of debt. But you can also increase or maintain the amount of your credit lines by (1) requesting additional maximum credit limits from your cards in good standing and (2) keeping your credit cards open — even if they are paid off. The takeaway: push your limits high, and keep your balances low.
Improving Your Credit Score Step #5: Pay down credit card debt
Really want to fix your credit score? Pay off credit card debt. Compounding interest can make it tough to catch up, so you have to stop using the cards. First, determine which card charges the highest interest. Pay off this card first, since it's the most expensive. Put most of your available payment budget against this card (paying more than the minimum balance if you can) and pay the minimum on your other cards. Once the high-interest card is paid off, roll those same monthly payments into the card with the second-highest interest rate, and so on. As your balances decreases with this snowball approach, your Credit Utilization Rate will go down and your credit score will go up.
Improving Your Credit Score Step #6: Avoid getting new credit cards
At this point, you might think that opening new credit lines to increase your available credit is a good idea. It's not. It's a bad idea. Adding new cards will reduce the average age of your credit accounts, a factor that contributes to 15% of your credit score. In addition, applying for credit triggers a hard credit inquiry on your credit report. Each hard inquiry slightly lowers your score for as long as a year. Creditors don't want to see you opening a lot of accounts. Lenders want to see that you can reliably manage the credit that you already have.
Start fixing your credit score today
Why wait? Get started right now. By taking these practical steps, you can take control of your financial life. As always, it begins by knowing what you're up against and where you stand. Armed with that knowledge, you can plot a course to take you where you want to be financially. And on your terms.