There are a variety of reasons why you’d want to improve your credit score. You could be getting ready to make a big purchase such as buying a house, or you may want to make sure your options are open in the case of an financial emergency. In fact, in today’s world, your credit score is a key element to financial freedom. In addition to higher interest rates, low credit scores can affect your life in many other areas as well. Companies run credit checks before employment, and low credit scores can affect your auto insurance rates. All of these are great motivators for making improvements, but there isn’t always a great amount of information on exactly how to improve your score.
To help address these concerns, we’ve compiled a list of five ways you can improve your credit score. Some actions may have an immediate positive result, while others will help improve your score over time. It’s important to remember that there are no fast fixes, however, your efforts will be rewarded with lower interest rates and better credit opportunities. To get started, read on…
1. Keep your credit balance below 30% of your credit limit.
Credit bureaus determine whether you are living within your means by evaluating how much debt you obtain in relation to your credit limit. This is referred to as your utilization rate. The bureaus reward consumers with a rate of 30% or lower. That means if you have a $1,000 credit limit, you will never want your credit balance to exceed $300. In fact, to be safe, it’s better to aim lower than the 30% rate because some credit card companies erroneously report lower credit limits, which would result in a higher utilization rate.
2. Make your monthly payments on time every month.
Your credit history is one of the largest factors in determining your credit score, with your recent activity weighing in considerably. In fact, your payment history makes up roughly a third of your credit score. That’s more than any other factor. If you’re at a loss as to where to start building your credit, creating a good payment history would be the best place to focus.
3. Maintain three to five credit cards and one installment loan.
Credit bureaus need to see credit history to determine whether you are a good investment. To provide this, you need to show credit activity. Having three to five credit cards that never go over the 30% utilization rate and a monthly installment loan that is reported to the credit bureaus each month will help to establish your credit habits. Keep in mind that retail credit cards are NOT a good option. This is due to the fact that they typically have very high interest rates and you are forced to shop at their location to keep the card active. If you do not shop there on a frequent basis, you may find yourself making unneeded purchases to maintain current credit history.
4. Check your credit report for inaccuracies and report them.
Did you know that nearly 80% of all credit reports have errors on them? These errors can negatively affect your score and therefore increase your interest rates resulting in higher payments. As a beginning step to building your credit, you should always get your credit report and check for errors. If you find any, you’ll want to report the credit errors to the appropriate credit bureaus.
5. Don’t close older or unused credit accounts.
Fifteen percent of your credit score is derived from the age of your credit cards, with older credit accounts giving you a better score. If you close these accounts, your average age immediate lowers and can result in a lowered credit score. Instead of closing these accounts, use them to pay small recurring fees such as Netflix or gym memberships. Then set up an auto-payment from your bank to pay the credit card a day afterwards. This way, you never have to actually use the card, however, you still reap the benefits of active payment history and an aged credit card.