Like it or not, your credit score dictates everything from whether you’re approved for a credit card to what rate you’re offered on a mortgage.
If you’re among the 56 percent of Americans with a subprime credit score, it’s time to give that baby a boost. Here are seven of the fastest ways to increase your credit score.
1. Clean up your credit report
Before you do anything else, go to AnnualCreditReport.com and request a free credit report from each of the big three credit reporting companies:
By law, you’re entitled to one free report each year, no matter what. When you request them, be ready to print or save them to your computer.
Once you have the reports, examine everything. In particular, look for any accounts that show late payments or unpaid bills. If that information is inaccurate, the report should tell you where to send a dispute.
Keeping a clean credit report isn’t only important for your credit score; it can also make or break your job prospects. Employers can and do pull credit reports before making hiring decisions.
2. Pay down your balance
According to myFICO, the company that calculates one of the most widely used credit scores, 30 percent of your score is based on the amount you owe.
However, it’s not simply how much you owe that’s important. It’s how much you owe compared with how much credit you have, a ratio known as your credit utilization. For example, if you have a $10,000 credit limit and a $5,000 balance, your credit utilization is 50 percent. If you’ve maxed out that $10,000 limit, your utilization is 100 percent.
There are many theories on what is the best credit utilization level, but on its website, Experian suggests it’s best to have a rate of no more than 30 percent. In other words, you should never have more than $3,000 charged at any time if you have a $10,000 limit.
If you’re above that amount, paying down your balances is a quick way to boost your score. Live lean for a few months, hold a garage sale or pick up a temporary second job to find the cash needed to drop your credit card balances.
3. Pay twice a month
You might think you’re doing great because you pay off your card every month, even if it’s maxed out. The problem is that your creditors are only reporting balances to the credit bureaus once a month. If you run up a big balance each month, it could look like you’re overusing your credit.
For example, assume you have a credit card with a $1,000 limit. It’s a rewards card, so you use it for everything. In fact, every month, you hit your limit. The statement arrives, you owe $1,000, and you send in a check to pay it off. The problem is the credit card company is likely reporting the statement balance each month. So it looks like you have a $1,000 limit and a $1,000 balance. That’s a 100 percent credit utilization rate, and not a good thing as far as your score is concerned.
You can help alleviate the problem by breaking up your credit card payments. Go ahead and charge everything to get the rewards, but send in payments at least twice a month to keep your running balance lower. In addition, if you make a large purchase on your card and have the cash handy, pay it off immediately.
4. Increase your credit limit
Maybe you’re not in a position to pay down your balances. You could take a different approach to improving your credit utilization rate: Call your creditor and ask for a credit limit increase.
If you’ve maxed out your $1,000 card and get a limit increase to $2,000, you’ve instantly cut your credit utilization rate in half. The key is to not spend any of your new credit. It defeats the purpose of getting a limit increase if you immediately charge the card up to $2,000.