Just like improving your health or relationships with loved ones, you can always work at improving (or maintaining) your credit score. And doing so isn’t as hard as you might think. Learn a few simple tips to help boost your score, and you could see some nice growth in your finances.
Improving your credit score takes time
Good things take time, and building credit is no exception. Just know that the benefits will be worth the wait, says Vanessa Owens, Community Mortgage Sales Manager at TD: “Normally, it takes between three to six months for your credit score to change.”
Remember to read your credit report
While it may be tempting to shield your eyes when it comes to your credit, knowing where it stands is the first step to improving it. “A lot of people may not be aware that you can get a free credit report at annualcreditreport.com,” explains Owens. And there’s more good news—you’re entitled to one free report from each of the agencies every year, so you have options.
“Make sure there isn’t anything you’re unaware of in your credit profile,” Owens says. Notice errors? Don’t panic. While they can affect your credit score, you can alert the credit reporting company or the financial institution that reported it to have them fixed (phew).
Raise your score by paying on time
Paying your bills on time is the MVP when it comes to your credit score. “It’s one of the biggest things you can do to improve your score, and if there’s anything that you haven’t paid, get caught up because that will definitely impact you,” says Owens. So, keep an eye out for those due dates to stay out of the danger zone.
If bills sometimes slip your mind, sign up for automatic payments or enroll in bill pay services to make all of your payments in one place. That way you can sit back, relax and avoid that “oh no” feeling. Credit card bills piling up? It happens. “Since your revolving credit is something that goes up and down and is constantly moving, it affects your score every month when it’s recalculated, so you’ll want to pay that down first,” says Owens.
Keep old credit card accounts active
Don’t cancel your account and cut up that faded, old card in the back of your wallet just yet—it may come in handy. When it comes to raising your score, “The length of your credit history definitely comes into play, and if you have an old account open, it shows there’s a balance available that you’re not using, which keeps your credit score up,” Owens says.
Understand your utilization
“The amount you use of your credit is your credit utilization,” says Owens. “The lower utilization you have, the higher credit score you will get.” For example, if you have a couple of credit cards with limits that add up to $10,000 and you currently owe $5,000, then your credit utilization is at 50%. You should try to stay at about 30% utilization. Keeping this number low can help improve your credit score and—as an added bonus—keeps your spending in check. (Yay!)
It’s also a good idea to think twice before applying for too much new credit. You don’t want to open an account when you don’t need it, especially since inquiries on your credit report could lower your score. When it comes to credit, balance is key.
Pay off those high balances first (or consider consolidating)
Paying off the highest debt you have can get your credit utilization down fast, making you more eligible to qualify for other types of loans. You can also consolidate (take out a loan to pay off others), which will lower the amount of debt you owe. Just make sure you investigate the total cost to borrow. This includes interest rates and any fees that come with taking out a debt consolidation loan.
Research your resources
Feeling stuck in the mud when it comes to improving or repairing your credit? You don’t have to go it alone. There are some services that may be helpful. Just make sure you know what you’re getting into—and know that fast results might come at a price.
“If you’re trying to boost your score more quickly, you can use rapid scoring to increase your credit score in a more timely manner,” Owens points out. Usually done by a broker or lender, this involves submitting proof of good behavior (that doesn’t appear on your report yet) directly to the credit bureaus. However, this can be a bit expensive, so use this option wisely.
Credit-counseling agencies can also help repair credit. Compare the services, fees and repayment plans between a few different agencies before signing a contract—and definitely steer clear of any that promise a “quick fix” or require upfront payment.
Looking for less costly solutions? Owens explains that there are a few easier options that might produce fast results, like paying existing bills on time or asking for higher credit limits. No matter which route you take, you shouldn’t worry if you don’t see an immediate boost in your score.
On top of these tips, you can’t go wrong by practicing some good ol’ credit basics. Remember, improving your score doesn’t happen overnight, but following these tips can put you on the right track.