Having good credit is essential to getting the best interest rates and terms and hearing “yes” more often from lenders.
So, what if your credit score isn’t stellar?
Credit scores change over time, which means you can boost a less-than-perfect or even poor credit score through strategic financial moves. First, you need to know how credit scores are calculated and how to find your credit history. Armed with knowledge and your score, the tactics below may help improve your credit score fast.
How credit scores work
The Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO) pioneered the concept of credit scoring in the 1950s. Since then, it has become a vital tool for lenders to accurately assess a borrower’s level of risk. There is also a second credit scoring system called the VantageScore.
Both assess how you use money and debt. The scores evaluate your payment history, credit utilization, number and type of credit accounts, and other factors.
Here’s how these two credit scoring models work.
The FICO score has long been the gold standard of metrics lenders pull when assessing your creditworthiness. The numerical range for FICO runs from 300 to 850. It is determined by a comprehensive analysis of five significant factors listed on your personal credit report. These elements are weighted based on their importance to produce the final result. In FICO:
- Payment history: 35%.
- Credit utilization ratio (or the amount of credit used versus your total available credit limit): 30%.
- Length of credit history: 15%.
- New credit: 10%.
- Credit mix: 10%.
In 2006, the three main credit reporting bureaus – TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian – developed the VantageScore 4.0 model to rate borrowers from 300-850 points based on their creditworthiness and probability of settling debts. The basic set of criteria is similar to FICO, but there are differences. It refers to some elements as “influential” in your scores and weights factors differently.
- Payment history: 40%
- Credit history (what it calls “depth of credit”): 20%
- Credit utilization rate: 20%
- Recent credit applications: 11%
- Balances: 6%
- Available credit (your total credit limit across accounts): 2%
How to find your credit history
Now that you understand your borrowing history creates your score, it’s time to pull your credit report.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) allows you to get one free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus annually through AnnualCreditReport.com. In addition, some companies, provide free credit scores weekly or monthly to their customers.
Your credit report shows you essential information relevant to boosting a bad credit score, such as:
- Mistakes in reporting
- Potential identity theft
- The average age of your credit accounts
- Your reported credit mix
- Missed payments history
Boosting your credit score
What steps to take may vary from person to person. For instance, if you make on-time monthly payments, a high debt balance could be hurting your credit score.
Keep in mind: Enhancing your credit score requires dedication and perseverance. No magic remedy will miraculously improve your credit rating in a single day. But specific steps can move that number upward.
Fix credit reporting errors and check for ID theft
Identity theft was up 3.3% nationwide in 2021. That figure brought the number of victims to 1.43 million each year. In fact, credit card fraud was the second-most common identity fraud in 2021. A fraudster can steal your vital information to open credit cards and bank accounts in your name before you realize it.
Checking your credit report from all three major credit reporting bureaus is well worth the time. You can spot if someone has stolen your identity, and reporting errors can happen. Mistakes here can impact your score’s accuracy, so you’ll want to address those first by filing a dispute with the credit bureau.
Establish a good payment history
If you have late payments or debt collections on your credit report, make sure you are current and remain that way. Both scores give significant weight to your payment history, so the best thing to do is make your debt payments and other obligations on time.
- Set up auto-reminders in your calendar.
- Set up auto-draft or autopay to ensure no payments are missed.
- If you are late due to financial hardship, call your credit card issuer or lender. There may be special programs that can help out without impacting your credit score.
Resolve debt collections
Lenders see collection accounts as a risk. Take action to pay off the collections account. While paying it won’t remove the blemish from your credit report, newer FICO models and VantageScore ignore paid-off collections.
Establish a credit history
What if you have an on-time payment track record but lack a credit history? That can be the case if you’re renting or are younger without an established history.
While the average age of your accounts can’t be helped if you’re a young professional, don’t wait to build credit. Starting can be as easy as setting up automatic payments of your student loans or applying for a new credit card. Even a small-limit card adds to your credit mix and increases your credit limit.
And you can establish a VantageScore by opening a credit account and letting it be active for one month. A FICO score takes up to six months to show up with the credit agencies.
But what if your age or lack of credit history limits your ability to be approved for a personal loan or credit card? One tactic is to become an authorized user on a family member’s card. This doesn’t mean you get your own credit limit, but rather that the primary cardholder adds you to their positive history. This “piggybacking” strategy adds the account to your credit report, establishing a credit history.
The credit bureaus are responding to this issue by creating programs that show you are a responsible borrower. Experian Boost, for instance, allows you to link your bank accounts to show that you make timely rent, utility, and telecom payments.
Ask to bump your credit limit
One fast and easy way to gain some scoring points is by asking your credit card companies to up the limit on your revolving credit accounts. A credit limit increase drops your debt-to-credit ratio, which is a key factor in the FICO and VantageScore models. Just don’t run out and add to your debt because you have a higher limit.
Keep your balances low
High balances can reduce a credit score because of the utilization rate — the percentage of available debt you have used on your credit cards or other lines of credit. The target is 30% or lower for the best results.
The most effective way to maintain low credit balances over time is by paying more than the minimum balance due each month. You can break this up throughout the month, making smaller payments as your budget allows, or make sure it’s paid down by the time your billing cycle ends.
Pay off high balances
But what if you already have high balances and a poor credit utilization ratio? If you’re trying to lower those debts fast, making the minimum payments isn’t going to cut it.
The two most common strategies financial experts advise for paying down debt are:
- Snowball method. Start with the smallest remaining balance first, and then make minimum payments on all other debt while focusing any extra cash on paying off that one. Once you get that balance paid off, take that amount you were paying and start paying off the next smallest balance.
- Avalanche method. Start by paying down the highest-interest-rate debt first, then work your way down.
Avoid hard inquiries
A hard inquiry is a request for your credit report when you apply for a loan or credit card. It may ding your score by a few points, so use it sparingly. When applying for a major purchase, like a mortgage or auto loan, the credit bureaus allow a window where multiple inquiries will count as one.
This way, you can shop around to find the best loan terms without negatively impacting your score. However, the windows are different for both scoring models and as short as 14 days on your VantageScore, so shop around quickly.
Do not open too many accounts in a short time
Opening multiple new accounts in a short period counts against you because it could appear as if you are desperate for credit. You may be tempted to open an account as a way to decrease your credit utilization, but this tactic may not be the best for your personal financial situation.
If you need to add to your credit mix and are exploring a credit card as a way to do so, apply for new cards over time rather than all at once.
Don’t close old accounts
Closing an account you no longer use may seem like a good idea to avoid fees, but it could actually have the opposite effect. Closing old accounts can reduce your total credit limit, raising your utilization rate and hurting your score.
Develop responsible budgeting habits
Creating a budget and sticking to it is paramount. A budget helps ensure you don’t get into debt again and will help keep your utilization rate low by showing how much extra cash there is to pay down debt.
Once you start your budget, look for ways to save money and put extra cash towards a savings account or pay off debt.
How long will it take to change my score?
The amount of time depends on your debt, the mix of credit products in your portfolio, and other factors. But it’s often only a few months before you start to see results.
At the end of the day, a good credit score is created by your financial behavior and habits over time. It is possible to improve your credit score no matter your credit situation by being disciplined and taking the right steps.
The opinions expressed in this article are for general informational purposes only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual or on any specific security or investment product. The views reflected in the commentary are subject to change at any time without notice. View Arrived’s disclaimers.