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Building and maintaining a respectable credit score is one of the hallmarks of entering financial adulthood.

With a good credit score, you can qualify for the best loans at the lowest rates.

But how do you actually earn a great score? If you don’t know what to do, it’s easier to end up with a poor credit score than a good one. If you’ve experienced this first hand, you might be wondering how to improve your credit score.

There are plenty of places that offer to improve your credit score for you, but you can increase it all on your own. In fact, a DIY credit repair approach is a great learning opportunity. The core principles behind a good credit score are also good money management principles in general.

What is a Credit Score?

Your credit score measures how responsible you are as a borrower and how good you are at paying off debt. It takes into account things like payment history and how much of your available credit you use. Lenders use your score to judge their risk in loaning you money.

Building a good credit score can take time, but the process is fairly simple.

7 Ways to Improve Your Credit Score

Ready to learn how to improve your credit score? Most of this advice boils down to good financial management skills.

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1. Monitor Your Credit Score

According to an FTC survey, 25% of Americans had an error on their credit report. Even worse, 20% of those people had an error that could hurt their ability to get a loan.

That’s why it’s a good idea to always keep an eye on your credit. There are many paid credit monitoring services out there, but you can do the job yourself for free by checking your credit report at regular intervals.

You’re allowed one free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus every year. Your report is accessible via AnnualCreditReport.com. If you stagger these check-ins throughout the year and mark it on your calendar — once every four months — you can watch closely for any errors. You can also use Chase Credit Journey or Credit Sesame to notify you when there are changes to your credit report.

2. Pay Bills On Time

The best thing you can do to help your credit score is to avoid late payments. That’s because a full 35% of your credit score is determined by your payment history — more than any other factor.

Even one payment that’s just 30 days late can drop your credit score by up to 100 points or more, according to FICO. Worse still, late payments stay on your credit report for a full seven years.

In order to avoid making a late payment, you can:

  • Set your bills to autopay
  • Write the due date on your calendar
  • Save up one month’s worth of expenses, so you’ll always have enough to pay

 

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3. Dispute Previous Negative Remarks and Incorrect Late Payments

If you do find an error on your credit report, don’t freak out. You can actually dispute the error with each of the credit bureaus.

Once you dispute a mark on your credit report, they’re legally obligated to investigate and remove the mark if it’s found to be invalid. You can contact each of the three credit bureaus here:

4. Lower Your Credit Utilization

“Credit utilization” refers to the percentage of available credit you’re using. For example, if you have two credit cards with a total limit of $10,000 and a balance of $500 on each card, then your credit utilization ratio is 10%.

The lower your credit utilization ratio, the better. Many credit experts recommend keeping it at under 30%.

You can improve your credit score by lowering your credit utilization ratio since 30% of your score is determined by that factor alone. This is one of the easiest ways to increase your credit score. You may even see a boost as soon as you pay down your debt.

5. Know When to Apply for More Credit

Your “credit mix,” or the types of credit you have, makes up 10% of your overall score. This isn’t the largest contributing factor, but you can boost your credit score further by carrying a mix of different types of credit.

Having revolving accounts (e.g. credit cards) and installment accounts (e.g. student loans or mortgages) can increase your credit score. Likewise, having multiple accounts of each type can increase your credit score, although the “perfect” number will differ for everybody depending on their overall credit picture.

6. Reconsider Closing Old Credit Cards

Your credit history, or how long your accounts have been open, makes up an additional 15% of your credit score. With installment loans like auto or personal accounts, your loan will have a set lifespan. Credit cards, on the other hand, are revolving accounts, which means you can keep them open indefinitely so long as your account is in good standing.

That’s why it’s a good idea to reconsider closing any old credit cards you’re no longer using. As soon as you close them, your credit history will shorten and your credit score may see a dip. As long as your card doesn’t come with an annual fee, consider keeping it open and using it every so often to keep the account active.

7. Keep Hard Inquiries to a Minimum

If you need to take out a loan, you can often check your rate with different lenders for free. This generally results in a “soft credit check” or a “soft credit pull,” where the lender gets access to a limited version of your credit report. These don’t harm your credit score.

Once you’re ready to apply for a loan, the lender may require a “hard credit check” or a “hard credit pull.” In this case, the lender gets full access to your credit report, and it will be recorded on your credit score.

The downside here is that your credit score drops a bit with each hard inquiry, so it’s a good idea to wait until you really need credit to apply with a lender.

If you’re shopping for an auto loan or a mortgage specifically, you can check your rate via hard inquiry with multiple lenders and not be penalized, as long as you do all your rate shopping within a 30-day period. In this case, all the separate inquiries will be treated as a single inquiry on your credit report.

Why You Want to Improve Your Credit Score

Some popular financial gurus say that you shouldn’t worry about having a good credit score. They say that you should just avoid debt in the first place, which makes a credit score irrelevant.

But your credit score can affect all facets of your financial life.

Future Credit

You may not need credit now. However, you may at some point in the future, like if you want to buy a house or take out a loan for an emergency. When that time comes, it’s better to have a good credit score so you can qualify for the best loans.

If you have a low credit score, you may be declined for those same offers. Poor credit is one reason why many people resort to alternatives like payday loans. These often coincide with predatory lending practices and can do even further damage to your credit if you aren’t able to repay the high interest fees.

Car Insurance

Car insurance companies also use your credit score when determining your auto insurance rates. According to Taylor & Francis Group, customers with higher credit scores are statistically less likely to involve themselves in auto accidents, so companies charge accordingly.

Renting

Even though you might not be buying a home, you still need a place to live. If you’re renting, having a good credit score is important because many landlords will check it during the application process. If you have a bad credit score, you could be denied an apartment or have to pay a larger security deposit.

Interest Rates

Aside from being approved for loans in the first place, it’s better to be approved for loans at the lowest interest rates. The difference of a few percentage points may not seem like much, but consider something like a mortgage.

Let’s look at a 30-year, $500,000 home loan. If your interest rate is a relatively low 4.5% interest rate, you’ll pay $412,033.56 in interest by the time you pay off the loan. If you have a poor credit score and a 7.5% interest rate, you’ll end up paying $758,586.12 in interest over the life of the loan.

That’s $346,552.56 more with a difference of just 3%.

Getting a Job

Some jobs may require a credit check. These mostly include positions in the government, financial, and law enforcement sectors. Most jobs don’t require a credit check, but it’s a good idea to have a solid credit score in case you apply for a job that does.

You Can Improve Your Credit Score Yourself

Just like more money means more options, a good credit score means more opportunities. While obtaining a good credit score can seem complicated and confusing at first, it is absolutely possible to do it yourself.

Even better, the things you do to set yourself up for a healthy credit score will also set you up for a healthy financial life. By paying your bills on time, maintaining low balances on your credit cards, and keeping an eye on your credit score, you’ll be well on your way to a brighter financial future.

Author

Lindsay is a personal finance expert and writer based in Washington state. After graduating with two degrees in Wildlife Biology and Conservation, Lindsay found herself underemployed and $100,000 in debt. She has since learned how to manage money wisely and uses her experience to help others make smart financial decisions. Today, her work appears on sites like Credit Karma, Magnify Money, Wisebread, Centsai, Discover, and Chime Bank. In her spare time, Lindsay enjoys hiking, reading, homebrewing, travel hacking, and sharing her personal experience on her own blog, GoScienceFinance.com.

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