Five Tips to Improve Your Credit Score

In our previous blog, we discussed the importance of your credit score, and how it helps determine whether you are qualified for a home loan, the interest rate on that loan, and how much you’ll need to raise for a down payment.

If your score isn’t where you’d like it to be, there are steps you can take to improve it. Some are quick and easy, others may take a little longer to achieve, but all of them will make a difference.

Try these five tips for improving your credit score.

1. Review Your Current Credit Report

If you’re lucky, there may be errors that can be challenged and corrected. It happens more often than you might think, because of identity theft or simple creditor mistakes. Make sure to order copies of your credit report from all three major credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You can’t be sure which one a lender will use to determine your credit status.

2. Don’t Open New Credit Card Accounts – But Keep the Ones You Have

When you open a credit card account, the assumption among lenders is you need money and may be in a difficult financial position. That may not be your situation, but what is important here is how it may be perceived. Having few or no recently opened accounts indicates financial stability, which can boost your credit score.

As for your current credit cards – keep them, as long as the total amounts owed are not too severe. While it might seem like a good idea to pay one off, that will likely not have a positive impact on your credit score. Having open credit accounts that show a history of on-time monthly payments is more important.

3. Avoid New Credit Card Purchases

Whether it’s picking up the restaurant tab at a lunch with friends or buying a new refrigerator, every credit card purchase you make raises your credit utilization rate, and that rate makes up 30% of your credit score. The higher the rate, the more likely it will reflect badly on your credit report. Experts recommend keeping that rate at 30%, which means using only 30% or less of the credit available to you. For instance, if you have a credit card with a credit limit of $5,000, try to keep the balance you owe at $1,500 or less.

4. Pay Off Past-Due Balances

If you are late on any bill payments, catching up should be your top priority. Whether it’s a car payment, credit card, or some other ongoing debt, there are few things that trigger alarm bells for credit bureaus as loudly as a pattern of late payments.

5. Get Help

We know “Pay down debt” and “Start making payments on time,” is much easier said than done for many people, especially after a year of COVID amidst lost jobs and income. If your financial situation is challenging right now, there are organizations that can help you by putting together a repayment plan that could also lower the amount you owe. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling is one of several sources for this type of assistance.

Once you begin the process of lowering debt, paying bills on time and maintaining a low credit utilization rate, your credit should start to improve in as little as 1-3 months.