"5 Tips To Improve Your Personal Credit"
"5 Tips To Improve Your Personal Credit"
As you begin the process of improving your credit score, keep in mind that it’s a marathon and not a sprint, but improving your score is worth the effort. A poor credit score can potentially cost you tens of thousands of dollars over the course of a lifetime. It can also become a source of serious stress, making you feel like you just can’t leave the mistakes of the past behind and move on. Luckily, you’re not alone. Plenty of people struggle to improve their credit scores, and there are numerous ways to build good credit — and reap the rewards that come with having a good credit score.
If you find that you aren’t getting approved for credit cards or loans, or aren’t getting favorable rates for financing, then you might need to make some improvements to your credit score. Building credit isn’t a particularly quick or simple process, but I have some tips that can help you along the way.
Here are 5 tips to help you improve your personal credit:
1. Make Sure Your Credit Reports Are Accurate.
The first step to improving your credit score is checking your credit reports. Everyone has three credit reports — one from each of the 3 major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Credit reports can, and often do, have mistakes on them.
A 2012 study from the Federal Trade Commission found that 1 in 5 consumers had an error on at least one of their credit reports, and a follow-up study in 2015 found that those who reported an unresolved error on one of their reports believe that at least one piece of disputed information is still inaccurate.
Since your credit scores are based on the data in your credit reports, it’s incredibly important to make sure that all of that information is accurate. If you have a mistake or discrepancy on your credit report, your credit score will reflect that mistake.
It’s easy to check your credit reports from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. You’re entitled to a free copy, once a year, of all three of your credit reports under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. These free credit reports can be accessed via AnnualCreditReport.com, the government-mandated site run by the major bureaus. (You can also view a free credit report snapshot on Credit.com.)
Most credit scores – including the FICO score – operate within the range of 300 to 850. The credit tiers generally look like this:
- Excellent Credit: 750+
- Good Credit: 700-749
- Fair Credit: 650-699
- Poor Credit: 600-649
- Bad Credit: below 600
Once you have your three credit reports in hand, here’s a quick checklist of questions to ask yourself to help you spot potential errors:
- Is all of your personal information accurate? (That can include your Social Security number, birth date, full name and address.)
- Are all of your credit accounts being reported?
- Are there any late or missed payments listed that you remember making on time?
- Are there any accounts or applications for credit you don’t recognize?
- Are there any items from decades ago still appearing on your report?
It helps to go through your credit reports with a highlighter and pick out any and all inconsistencies. Keep in mind that a credit report from one credit bureau may have an error, while another may not. That’s why it’s so important to check all three of your credit reports from all three credit reporting agencies for inaccuracies on each. You may find none, a few, or perhaps many errors on your reports. That’s where the next step to improving your credit comes in.
If you find an error on all three credit reports, you’ll have to dispute it separately with each credit bureau, as they’re run separately from one another. You’ll also have to file a separate dispute for each error you find. (Here’s more on dealing with multiple errors on credit reports.) You can dispute these errors on your own for free, or you could consider hiring a reputable credit repair company or credit counselor to help.
2. Pinpoint What You Need to Improve.
Simply having an error on your credit report doesn’t necessarily mean it’s causing you to have bad credit. For example, if a misspelled version of your name appears in the personal information section of your credit report, that error probably isn’t causing your credit score to dip.
Other errors, like those listed in the previous section, could be to blame — and there are a number of possible reasons why those errors are there.
Here are a few examples:
- Your identity has been stolen, and a thief is abusing your credit.
- A collection account from years ago is still being reported, even though it’s past the statute of limitations in your state.
- A bill your ex was supposed to pay (per your divorce) has gone unpaid for a while, and now you’re suffering the consequences.
- You defaulted on one loan, and now it’s showing up as multiple defaults on your credit report because it’s been sold to debt collectors.
- Your credit information has been mixed with that of someone else who has a similar name.
If your credit report is accurate, but you still have a bad credit score, it’s important to understand why. Here are the major credit scoring factors and how each one can impact your credit score:
- Payment History: If you have a history of making late payments, creditors see you as a bigger risk, and this factor has the greatest effect on your bad credit score.
- Amount of Debt: Debt contributes 30% to a FICO Score’s calculation and can be easier to clean up than payment history, according to FICO’s website. (It weighs heavily on other credit scoring models, too.) That’s because if you currently have five maxed out credit cards, creditors worry whether you’ll be able to take on more credit and whether they’ll get paid back first or if your other creditors will.
- Age of Accounts: If you’re newer to credit and borrowing, there isn’t a whole lot of data to go on. You may need time to see your credit score improve.
- Account Mix: Lenders want to make sure you can handle different types of credit like credit cards and auto loans, for example. If the only credit you have is in the form of credit cards, you may be keeping your score from rising.
- History of Credit Applications: If you applied for a dozen new credit cards this month, creditors wonder why. They may be worried you’re overextended financially.
3. Pay bills on time.
If you’re planning a major purchase (like a home or a car), you might be scrambling to assemble one big chunk of cash.While you’re juggling bills, you don’t want to start paying bills late. Even if you’re sitting on a pile of savings, a drop in your score could scuttle that dream deal. One of the biggest ingredients in a good credit score is simply month after month of plain-vanilla, on-time payments.“Credit scores are determined by what’s in your credit report,” says Linda Sherry, director of national priorities for Consumer Action.
If you’re bad about paying your bills — or paying them on time — it damages your credit and hurts your credit score, she says.That can even extend to items that aren’t normally associated with credit reporting, such as library books, she says. That’s because even if the original “creditor,” such as the library, doesn’t report to the bureaus, they may eventually call in a collections agency for an unpaid bill. That agency could very well list the item on your credit report. Putting cash into a savings account for a major purchase is smart. Just don’t slight the regular bills to do it.
4. Pay off Debt and Keep Balances Low on Credit Cards and Other Revolving Credit.
The credit utilization ratio is another important number in credit score calculations. It is calculated by adding all your credit card balances at any given time and dividing that amount by your total credit limit. For example, if you typically charge about $2,000 each month and your total credit limit across all your cards is $10,000, your utilization ratio is 20%.
To figure out your average credit utilization ratio, look at all your credit card statements from the last 12 months. Add the statement balances for each month across all your cards and divide by 12. That's how much credit you use on average each month.
Lenders typically like to see low ratios of 30% or less, and people with the best credit scores often have very low credit utilization ratios. A low credit utilization ratio tells lenders you haven't maxed out your credit cards and likely know how to manage credit well. You can positively influence your credit utilization ratio by:
- Paying off debt and keeping credit card balances low.
- Becoming an authorized user on another person's account (as long as they use credit responsibly).
5. Limit Credit Applications.
The 10% discount for signing up for a store credit card may seem worth it at the moment, but your credit score will take a hit for applying, whether you get approved or not. A hard inquiry will impact your credit score for a full year, though your score will start improving almost immediately after you apply.
The hit is small (normally around 3 to 5 points) but if you’re on the edge of two credit score tiers or applying for lots of credit offers in a short time span, you can do a lot of damage.
If you find that a hard inquiry was placed on your credit file and you have no knowledge of it, make sure to contact the lender that performed the inquiry to see what it was pertaining to. If it is not accurate or you still have no knowledge of the inquiry, you should expect fraud or identity theft and should promptly alert the credit bureaus of the alleged fraud so that it can be investigated. Doing so may also remove the hard inquiry from your credit report, although it may take some time.
Soft inquiries, on the other hand, do not affect your credit score at all and is typically done when a lender is looking to issue you a higher line of credit or someone checks your credit report as part of a background check. A soft inquiry can happen even without your permission, but they will not affect your credit standing in any way.