How to improve your credit score
A large number of US adults are educated to the algebraic level in math but aren’t sure how to increase their credit score. They’d like to boost their credit score but don’t know where to start. This article explains all — how your score works, why it matters, and how best to improve it.
What is a credit score? How does it work?
Before you can figure out how to boost your credit score, you need a solid comprehension of what a credit score is and how it should factor into your spending and saving habits.
A credit score is a three-digit number determined based on your credit history (including your total number of open accounts, credit mix, total debt levels, repayment history, and any recent applications).
Credit scores can be provided by multiple bureaus in the US, with the most prominent three being Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.
Scores at the higher end of the spectrum represent a person with “better” credit — a person considered a more reliable borrower of money.
Banks, card issuers, and creditors look at your credit score when determining your eligibility for certain loans, accounts, etc.
The average credit score in the US currently sits at 698. According to Experian, a “good” credit score is anywhere from 881 to 960, while a “fair” credit score is anywhere from 721 to 880.
This means that many US adults are below the “fair” level and shows that you’ll benefit if you can figure out how to improve your credit score.
How long does it take to improve your credit score?
If you’re trying to find out how to raise your credit score quickly, you’ll soon see that the amount of time it takes to improve depends on your financial situation.
It’s usually relatively easy to take initial steps if your credit score isn’t in the best place, but it gets harder to boost your score once you’re reaching the “fair” and “good” levels, as you’ve followed much of the obvious advice already.
It won’t necessarily be a speedy process to boost your credit score, especially if it requires you to handle existing debts.
Getting your house in order will take discipline and focus and might require you to save more money than you have previously. But in time, it will be worth the effort.
Why? Keep reading...
Why does a credit score matter?
Nobody wants a poor credit score, but it’s not always clear to people just how much of a roadblock to life’s necessities a poor score can be.
In the US, a less-than-perfect credit score can impact:
Buying a home – You’ll find that your score impacts the amount you can borrow and the number of options available. A lower score equals fewer options. Don’t forget that the free scores you can access online won’t always perfectly mirror the credit scores lenders see.
Renting a home – If you’re looking to rent a property, many landlords and management companies will want to review your credit score. If you have a poor score, you may not be approved. Alternatively, you may be asked to pay a larger initial deposit.
Buying a car – If you have a good score, you’ll qualify for the lowest-rate auto loans. You may also be eligible for special financing offers during promo periods. A borrower with a lower credit score might pay over $5,000 more on a five-year $30,000 auto loan.
Buying a cellphone – If you’re planning to buy a phone outright, your credit score won’t impact the purchase. If you’re planning to make a down payment and pay off the remainder over time, a poor score might mean you have to pay a larger deposit.
Finding a job – Some employers want to know you’re financially responsible and may be less willing to hire candidates with substantial debts and poor credit scores. If you’re already employed, a low score could sometimes impact your likelihood of promotion.
Loan and credit card approvals and interest rates – Banks, credit card issuers, and lenders will check your score before approving your application. If you pass this test, your interest rate will be at least partially based on your score — the higher the score, the lower the rate.
Six top tips for improving your credit score
1. Prove your location – Proving where you live is one of the simplest, fastest ways to boost your credit score. Companies like Experian only hold financial information for six years. If you order a report, you should see your entire address history for that period.
2. Keep your credit utilization as low as possible – This is the percentage you use of your credit limit, and should ideally be 30 per cent or lower. For example, if you have an overdraft of $2,000 and you’ve used $1,000, your credit utilization is 50 per cent.
3. Pay ALL bills on time – Paying your bills on time with consistency is arguably one of the most important aspects of improving your score. If you can prove to lenders that you’re a reliable borrower capable of handling credit responsibly, your score should reflect this.
4. Report any errors – While this seems simple, it’s imperative. Even small mistakes like a mistyped address can impact your score enough for a lender to refuse your application. Check, check again, and act if you need to.
5. End financial associations with others – If you have a joint bank account or are in any joint financial agreement with another person, their credit could impact yours. If their score is worse than yours, consider ending the agreement to preserve your higher score.
6. Consolidate your debts – If you have debts, getting organized is a must. Debt spread all over the place is worse for your score than debt consolidated to one card that’s being regularly paid off. Track your progress, pay off as much as you can, and watch your score improve.
Credit score DOs and DON’Ts
DO use the correct name when applying for credit
DO be wary of anyone claiming to “fix” your credit
DO communicate with your lenders, especially if difficulties arise
DO ask questions if you don’t understand something regarding your finances or credit
DO set a budget and stick to it
DON’T feel pressure to get a credit card
DON’T spend more than you can afford
DON’T reach your credit limit
DON’T apply for lots of credit cards
DON’T give out your credit card number too early, before payments have started
Kate has written for leading publications and blue chip companies over the last 20 years.