10 Ways to Raise Your Credit Score Fast

You can take steps to immediately begin turning a poor credit score into a stellar one.

When I was in my early 20s, I was not what you’d call an informed consumer. Not by a long shot. I remember thinking, when I felt far too busy to worry about paying a bill on time, “It won’t matter. It’s not like they’re not going to get their money.”

What I didn’t understand is that payment history, including late or skipped payments, makes up 35 percent of your FICO credit scores.

Why is this important? Your score determines the interest rates you pay on loans. A low score could easily cost you an extra $50,000 in mortgage payments. Credit scores also affect insurance premiums. Landlords look at them when deciding whether to rent you an apartment. Employers may check your FICO score when you apply for a job.

I’ve wised up since then to what a powerful role credit scores play as a gatekeeper to opportunity in our lives.

Polish your score

There are several types of credit scores, but we’re talking here about your FICO scores, the ones used most widely. FICO scores range from 300 (the basement) to 850 (stellar). You can do plenty to improve your scores. In this video, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson tells how to get the fastest results for your efforts. After that, read on for more ways to boost your numbers.

1. Order your credit reports

Begin raising your credit scores by checking your credit history. Records on your use of credit are kept by three major credit bureaus — Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. The reports can differ a bit, so it’s a good idea to get all three, especially since each company is required by law to give you one free report annually.

Here’s the lowdown on how to access credit reports. In brief, go to AnnualCreditReport.com and click “Request your free credit reports” (a red button) at the bottom of the page. Here’s what you’ll need to give: name, address, birth date and Social Security number, driver’s license number and phone number.

2. Correct errors

Your credit score from each bureau is based on the information in your report, so comb them for mistakes. Pay special attention to any incorrectly reported late payments. Also, check that the balance owed on each open account is correct. 

Personal finance expert Liz Weston says don’t worry about misspellings of your name, whether a closed account is listed as open, the use of old or wrong addresses, or an old employer who’s listed as current. Focus on these important errors instead, Weston says:

  • Late payments, charge-offs, collections or other negative items that aren’t yours.

  • Credit limits reported as lower than they actually are.

  • Accounts listed as “settled,” “paid derogatory,” “paid charge-off” or anything other than “current” or “paid as agreed” if you paid on time and in full.

  • Accounts that are still listed as unpaid that were included in a bankruptcy.

  • Negative items older than seven years (10 in the case of bankruptcy) that should have automatically fallen off your reports.

There are two ways to dispute and correct mistakes: through the merchant or lender who made the error or through the credit reporting agency whose report contains the error. The Federal Trade Commission explains in detail how to dispute errors and offers this sample letter.

3. Negotiate to erase negatives

Also go after the negatives on your reports that reflect for-real problems, not errors.

You can’t dispute these, but you can ask creditors to erase a charge-off (an uncollected debt) or an account that went to collection. Before paying off the balances on these accounts, try negotiating. Write a letter to the creditor offering to pay the balance in full if they’ll call the account “paid as agreed” on your report, or remove it entirely. Tip: Get the agreement in writing before you pay off the balance.

Here’s a sample letter to use when asking creditors to make a “pay to delete” agreement with you and another for requesting a “good-will adjustment,” where you ask a creditor to remove the record of one or two late payments.

Most negatives, if accurate, can’t be erased. The further they recede in time, though, the less impact they’ll have on your scores. Eventually, they’ll drop off your record. But bankruptcy, foreclosure and delinquent accounts stay on your credit history for seven to 10 years.

4. Know the score

To know how much you’ve raised your FICO score, you’ll need to know what the score is now. The free credit reports you’ve ordered won’t include it. To get your FICO scores, you’ll usually need to pay — up to $19.95. Even then, the score you get won’t necessarily be the one lenders see.

Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson says that’s outrageous. But so far, efforts to make FICO scores more widely available at no cost haven’t succeeded.

If you do buy your FICO score, don’t pay for additional services, like credit monitoring. You can do that yourself by regularly checking your credit reports.

5. Pay off debt

The more unused available credit you have, the shinier your FICO score is. About 30 percent of your score is determined by the percentage of your credit limits you are using. (All components of a FICO score are listed in this article.)

This is your credit utilization ratio. Example: If your Visa card has a credit limit of $2,000 and your balance is $1,500, you’re using 75 percent of your available credit – way too much. Use no more than 30 percent and preferably less of your available credit.

For a quick boost to your scores, pay off a card or two with low balances. Then work on blitzing the rest of your debts.

6. Raise your credit limits

Pump up your credit utilization ratio by asking your creditors to raise your limit on their accounts.

This strategy isn’t for everyone: Don’t raise your credit limits if the increased credit will tempt you to charge more.

7. Get a credit card

If you don’t already have a credit card, get one or two and then manage them responsibly — paying bills on time and not letting balances accumulate.

If you don’t qualify for a standard credit card, you can build credit with a secured card. Be sure to find a secured card that reports your payment record to all three credit bureaus.

8. Don’t cancel cards

You don’t want to cancel any credit cards because that would cause your available credit to decline. In order to keep cards active and not closed by the issuer for inactivity, put a recurring charge on them, like your Netflix subscription, and then pay them off in full each month so balances do not accumulate.

9. Add variety

You may be able to raise your scores a small amount by adding a different type of credit to your mix. For instance, buy an appliance or piece of furniture on installment, being careful to avoid even one late payment.

“Applying for and getting an installment loan can help your scores if you don’t have any installment accounts or you’re trying to recover from a credit disaster such as bankruptcy,” Weston wrote.

Another possibility is a small personal loan. A credit union is a good place to borrow as they typically offer lower interest rates.

10. Never be late again

If late or skipped payments have lowered your FICO scores, one of the most powerful things you can do to cure your scores is to make every payment on time. Your payment history is the single biggest piece of your FICO scores.

The no-fail cure to late payments is to automate them, as long as you keep sufficient funds in your bank account. (See: “8 Shortcuts to Getting Richer.”)

We’d love to hear your tips for boosting credit scores. Tell us what’s worked for you in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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  • NL1975

    raising a credit score takes years (literally)… Most derogatory items stay on your credit report for 7 years (plus 180 days) and bankruptcies for longer…… Major derogatories like chargeoffs or a judgement can really shut someone out of renting an aparment, getting a mortgage, getting a car loan (except at those buy here/pay here 21% APR car dealers), getting a cell phone or cable TV,,,, such items stay on your report for the full seven years (even if you pay them) and its easy to get sucked into a devasting cycle where your credit gets destroyed if you lose your job or have have some financial disaster where you don’t have income

  • Cheryl

    All my life I worked hard to build and maintain a near perfect credit score. Then I retired. Then 2008 happened – the year big oil speculation and a series of other nastiness by a certain political party destroyed the fabric of American life. Forced me into bankruptcy. Don’t know what my credit score is now, don’t care. I did everything right and now it’s all gone.

    • Jason

      How did the recession in 2008 cause you to go bankrupt if you were already retired?

      • Cheryl

        Recession? What happened in 2008 was speculation in oil suddenly became the fun game of the century. Gas prices doubled pretty much overnight, that meant every other thing we buy doubled, tripled, quadrupled, again pretty much overnight. Forced to spend savings, cut back in many areas that really I shouldn’t have had to cut back except I had to eat. When savings were gone, started using credit card to survive. Shouldn’t be too hard to figure that one out.

        • Jason

          In 2008 the national average for gasoline in the US started at $3.16 and peaked at $4.16 in July. That is a 32% increase over 7 months. Prices then crashed to $1.71 after the collapse of demand triggered by a world wide recession.

          I’m sorry things went badly for you but my experience in 2008 does not match yours. Nothing I bought “doubled, tripled, quadrupled” in price. I was expecting you to say all of your investments crashed during the panic not that you were bankrupted by hyper inflation.

          • Cheryl

            Really Jason? How very nice for you. Apparently we didn’t live in the same city or have the same expenses. If I thought it was any of your business, I’d be happy to show you all my records, but then I suspect you’d have a nice spin to put on that too.. Ask any senior who isn’t a billionaire what life is like for them since gas prices exploded and NEVER went back down with the exception of VERY BRIEF dips which did not affect the price of groceries or anything else. I think reality might be difficult for you to swallow. I’m telling you what happened to me, I don’t really give a damn if you BELIEVE it or not. That’s your problem, not mine. I suspect you’re a republicon.

          • Jason

            Not sure why it matters but I’m not a Republican. The last Republican I voted for was John McCain in the 2000 primary.

            My parents retired in 2009. They lived their entire lives as lower middle class workers. They are not billionaires or even millionaires. They haven’t gone bankrupt.

            I lost my job in October 2008 when my company went bankrupt. I was unemployed until July of 2009. I didn’t go bankrupt.

            Some unsolicited advice that you most likely will ignore. If you went bankrupt in 2008 due to the increase in consumer prices you didn’t “do everything right”. You may want to look at what went wrong, correct those things, and move on with life.

          • Ruby

            Filing for bankruptcy is appropriate when you owe more than you are worth, I have to wonder Cheryl how much debt did you have to start with? Fifteen years ago I was unable to work for almost 2 years, lived with my mom (Thank God for mothers) but by the time I returned to work I owed 20K in credit card debt. It was then I added up the various credit card bills and interest I was paying and was appalled. I started tracking my spending based on want and need and stopped putting the “wants” on credit. I have to agree with Jason. I am in no way rich. I live below my means and with the previous above experience still fresh in my head I still live on a budget, and still track my spending.
            My understanding of what happened in 2008 is that the overinflated prices of housing dropped when people could not make their payments. Banks had been giving credit to people who they knew did not have the money and people were borrowing not thinking about whether they could sustain these large payments over a long period of time. These payments had been wrapped in bundled investments that the banks had sold to individuals, company 401ks, pensions, overseas banks and to domestic banks hence why the banks were deemed too big to fail. So if you had HELOC it was suddenly gone, decreased or payment due now.
            Republicans were blamed mainly because of their advocacy of deregulation of the banks in the early 2000s.
            The best thing everyone can do for themselves is track your spending and actually add up how much you are spending on the different things. Remember it is “borrowed” money until you pay it unless you are using a debit card.

          • Jason

            I agree there is no shame in bankruptcy if events beyond one’s control cause it. It is a legal option and one that banks and businesses take advantage of all the time. Likewise I see no problem with people turning over their keys to the bank when the value of their house drops massively like in the housing crash. The bank agreed to take the house in lieu of payment and they would not hesitate to do the same if the tables were turned.

            I also live on a budget, track my spending, and have a well stocked emergency fund. My wake-up call came in when I was 24. My wife and I graduated from college and I got my first job. Everything was great for 18 months and we quickly borrowed 2.5X my salary buying a house, cars, etc. I thought everything was fine as long as I could make the monthly payments. Then a recession hit and my company started laying people off. I did a quick calculation of how long I could make payments if I lost my job. It was 3 weeks! That is when we got really serious about living on a budget and paying off debt.

            We did a very strict budget and cut back to just $20 a month each of spending money and aggressively paid off our debt. It took about 5 years to get to a place where we were comfortable with our financial situation. We also found out that one doesn’t have to spend a lot of money to have fun. Instead of movies, dinners out, and bad shows on cable we read books, went hiking, visited national / state parks, etc. Instead of going out for lunch with the guys at work, I packed a lunch and went for a run instead.

            That experience 10 years ago is why we got through my unemployment without an issue in 2008.

          • N_Jessen

            I see these things as typically a confluence of events as well. You have the economic upset and it’s lingering effects (due partly to corporate and national policy), and you have the individual circumstances going into it. The result can be affected by anything from one’s health to education, spending habits, length of unemployment, and whether you have someone who can help buffer the situation. And the older you are the more daunting the prospect of rebuilding can be (also why it’s better to learn financial lessons early). But at some point, the blame (of self and/or others) must take a back seat to doing what one can to make some headway.

    • Alicia Whitehead

      Cheryl, its unfortunate that sometimes bankruptcy happens to people… however, it is in some cases more quickly recovered after bankruptcy than to settle or incur charge offs. Everyone’s credit and situation is different. I see clients come to me for reasons outside of bankruptcy or charge offs for financial situations from 2008… i see people who have incurred debt from a health situation, divorce, loss of children/spouse, sometimes paralyzing events can cause these things happen to our finances. Bankruptcy does not mean your credit is gone… if you filed in 2008 or 2009 or even 2010, your score is likely not bad…. like I said some cases bankruptcy is sometimes better than paying everything off and starting fresh… its just depending on what is reporting, how it is reporting, and what you have done to build new credit and a new positive credit history to show your creditworthiness. Bankruptcy does not equal failure. If you have any questions, you can certainly email me at [email protected]
      Best of luck to you and anyone who is grieving their credit, or just appauled at the “The big 3″…. My best advice to anyone is to quickly opt-out of the bureaus… this opts you out of your information from being sold to third parties like insurance and credit card offers and it also keeps old debts from being resurfaced.

      • Cheryl

        Thank you Alicia. It does seem unfair that my excellent record for decades can be destroyed by something over which I had very little control. I’m not sure how to go about opting out of the bureaus though…and I have been receiving lots of insurance and credit card offers. Don’t really have any old debts.

        • Alicia Whitehead

          888-5-OPT OUT this will opt you out of the bureaus for 5 years.

          • Alicia, while I appreciate your input, this site is not a place to solicit business. Any comment with a link, email address or phone number to a commercial company will be instantly deleted.

          • Alicia Whitehead

            Thank you Stacy!

  • Ken

    I have several credit cards I used to use alternatively. I have always paid them in full each and every month. By doing so, I thought my Fico scores would improve. To me, they were disappointing. I discovered a ‘trick’. I now use my favorite rewards credit card ONLY for ALL purchases. My balance can be anywhere between $2,000 and $3,000 per month, respectively. Instead of waiting for my statement to arrive which reports my accumulated balance for that particular month to the ‘Big 3′ reporting agencies, I would make a payment equivalent to 90% of my balance before the monthly end closing date. Therefore, that payment reduces my overall balance. My new balance as the statement becomes due shows I only owe between $100 and $200 which I will pay in full. My Fico scores have increased tremendously as it appears my utilization ratio is less than 1% of all my cards’ limits. It took me several years to reach this point where I am able to pay my bill in this fashion. I have recently read that some credit cards will impose a fee for making more than one payment per month. So check your terms and conditions before applying this method. Good luck!

    • Alicia Whitehead

      Great advice Ken! I work with credit repair and I always tell me clients to utilize 20-30% max of their credit card each month because this is the max credit card utilization rate that has a positive impact on your score. By not utilizing your scores you are actually impacted negatively… however, the balances vs. credit limits each month can impact your score.

      Your score is re-calculated each month based on the information reporting… I am very happy to hear that everything is working best you!

      • Ken

        Thank you, Alicia. For too many years I have struggled with finances, ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’. While raising four children, there never seemed to be enough money. So credit cards were used. At one point I had maxed them all out. I paid alot of interest carrying those balances. Once I paid them off I swore I would never, ever carry a balance again. My question to you is, you say you advise your clients to utilize 20-30% of their available credit to positively impact their credit scores. Is this so that the information is reported to the credit bureaus? Are they carrying a balance or paying the monthly statement in full to avoid interest charges?

  • chiluvr1228

    I don’t understand why consumers have to pay to get their own credit score. Plus having available credit but only using 30% of it is nuts but I was told the same thing recently.

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