Your credit score impacts everything from loan interest rates to rental housing eligibility and insurance premiums. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to boost your credit score quickly and establish responsible financial habits for life.
Understand How Scoring Works
The FICO Score model used by 90% of lenders ranges from 300 (poor) to 850 (exceptional). In general:
- 650+ = Good
- 700+ = Very good
- 750+ = Excellent credit
Higher scores secure better rates and terms for credit cards, loans and mortgages. Data influencing your score comes from your credit reports at Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. FICO factors include:
- Payment history (35% impact) – Pay all debts on time.
- Credit utilization (30%) – Keep balances low relative to limits.
- Length of credit history (15%) – Maintain older active accounts.
- Credit mix (10%) – Have different types of credit.
- New credit (10%) – Limit applications for new accounts.
Improving areas where you fare poorly will raise your credit score. Monitoring your reports regularly lets you correct any errors right away too.
Pay All Bills on Time
Payment history carries the most weight impacting credit scores. Late or missed payments signal risk and get reported to bureaus, tanking your score. Set up automatic payments so you never miss credit card, loan, utility or other bill deadlines.
Review due dates and set payment reminders. Avoid delays by paying a few days early or enrolling in autopay programs. If funds are tight that month, make minimum payments on time and follow up with the balance when possible. Protecting your on-time payment history should be priority one.
Lower Your Credit Utilization
This measures how much of your total available revolving credit you use. Owing $6,000 on a $10,000 limit card means 60% utilization. High balances hurt scores, so keep usage under 30% per card and overall.
Pay down balances monthly especially before statement closing dates when utilization gets reported. You can request credit line increases to lower utilization. Using one card lightly and others heavily also minimizes aggregate balances.
Pay Down Balances
Carrying long-standing card balances limits available credit for new purchases, ultimately hurting scores. Pay down balances aggressively to free up credit and demonstrate responsible usage. Develop a plan for eliminating debt through strategies like debt snowball, balance transfers or loan consolidation.
Resist running up card balances you can’t quickly pay in full. Rely more on debit cards and cash to avoid overspending. Live below your means to enable focusing funds on debt reduction until balances reach zero.
Mix Up Credit Types
Lenders want to see you can manage different credit accounts responsibly. Having credit cards plus installment loans like mortgages, student loans and car loans improves your credit mix.
To boost scores, apply for a low-limit card you’ll use lightly. If denied, try becoming an authorized user on someone else’s older card temporarily. Unless you’re buying soon, mortgage pre-approvals also show positive credit behavior at no cost until you’re ready to purchase a home.
Lengthen Credit History
FICO scores consider the average age of all your credit accounts. Lengthier history reflects lower risk and improves scores. Keep old credit card accounts open unless they have annual fees.
Become an authorized user on a family member’s older card if permitted. This logs that account history on your credit reports. Be cautious closing newer cards as this lowers your average account age. Longevity takes time but pays off.
Limit New Credit Applications
Each application and hard inquiry makes your score drop a few points until it falls off your report in two years. Going on a credit card application spree ruins your score. Apply strategically only when needed to minimize inquiries.
Research pre-qualified offers which don’t hurt your score unless you proceed with the application. Limit new accounts to one or two yearly at most. New credit also lowers average account age, so apply prudently.
Correct Credit Report Errors
One in five Americans find mistakes on their credit reports that unjustly lower scores. Review reports annually and file disputes immediately if errors get identified. Common mistakes include:
- Incorrect personal information like current address
- Closed accounts listed as open
- Fraudulent accounts you didn’t open
- Late payments from billing disputes or identity theft
- Inaccurate credit limits or balances
Submit dispute letters with supporting documents to get black marks investigated and removed if invalid. This restores points lost unfairly so make sure your reports reflect the truth.
Manage Credit Wisely
Practicing good credit habits daily ensures your scores stay optimal over time:
- Leave small balances on cards to avoid zero balances being reported
- Keep unused cards active by making small purchases every 6-12 months
- Don’t close old accounts unless paying fees
- Ask for credit line increases on old accounts periodically
- Set up autopay and payment reminders to prevent lateness
- Keep utilization low on all cards
- Check credit reports and scores monthly to catch issues
- Avoid applying for financing unless needed
Building responsible credit habits now prevents problems. Monitor your profile to make sure it accurately reflects your financial trustworthiness.
Add Positive Information
Beyond fixing mistakes, also add accounts that benefit your file like utility bill accounts paid on time. Become an authorized user on a partner or parent’s card temporarily. Providing your rent payments to bureaus like TransUnion SmartMove improves rental payment history verification.
Opening a secured card and making monthly payments builds recent positive history. Removing collection accounts and improving your credit mix also boost your score. Keep strengthening your profile.
Deal with Collections
Any unpaid debts in collections severely damage scores. Contact collectors and try negotiating payoff for deletes where they remove the negative status upon payment. Get this promise in writing first.
If the collection results from identity theft or mistaken validity, dispute the account and seek removal. Even paying off legitimate collections won’t remove it from your report but improves the standing. Unpaid medical bills under $500 can get removed if disputed.
Wait for Negative Marks to Fall Off
Most negative credit information gets removed from your reports after 7 years by law. Bankruptcies can take 10 years. Avoid new issues and your score will naturally improve over this period as older marks disappear.
You can also request credit bureaus remove inquiries and late payments if older than 24 months. Keep monitoring your profile so you can dispute outdated items for faster removal upon eligibility. Time diminishes many credit missteps if you avoid repeating them.
Sign Up for Credit Monitoring
Ongoing credit monitoring provides alerts whenever changes occur in your Equifax, Experian and TransUnion profiles. Monitoring services like PrivacyGuard and IdentityForce notify you of new accounts, inquiries, late payments, address changes and other negative reporting so issues get caught early before damage compounds. Expect to pay $10-$30 monthly.
Free monitoring options include sites like Credit Karma which offer VantageScore versions of your reports and ratings. Enrolling in free trials that auto-cancel also works long-term. Monitoring ensures you know your true status.
Avoid Quick Fixes
Some companies wrongly promise fast score improvements through questionable tactics. However, services advocating:
- File segregation to create new credit reports from scratch
- Adding you as an authorized user on a stranger’s account
- Renting a high-score person’s identity to apply for new accounts
- Getting dormant accounts re-aged to look new
- Removing all negative but accurate information
Are unethical or outright scams. They often stop working quickly once discovered, and lenders may shut down your accounts. Stick to legitimate score-building strategies for lasting improvement.
Leverage Secured Credit Cards
Those needing to establish or rebuild credit should apply for secured cards requiring a refundable deposit that becomes your credit line. Make payments on time and keep utilization low to transition the card to an unsecured line in as few as 5 months.
Graduating to unsecured cards plus avoiding late and missing payments demonstrates responsibility. Secured card activity reflects on credit reports just like regular accounts. Used strategically, they offer a powerful rebuilding tool.
Dramatically raising your credit score is doable with diligent effort and prudent financial choices over time. Monitor your detailed reports frequently and address any blemishes or errors promptly to protect your profile.
Building a longer positive history, lowering and paying off balances monthly, and establishing the right credit mix provide a proven path to 850. With responsible habits and some patience for points to accumulate, you can earn and maintain an exceptional credit score long term.