The Secrets of Raising Your Credit Score

Why is it important to learn the secrets of raising your credit score? Because your score helps determine whether you'll be able to get credit and the interest rate you'll qualify for. If you are planning on making any major purchases within the next few years (such as a home or car), you should start working on improving your credit score now. 

The first place to start is by knowing what your credit score is right now. Most services charge for access to your credit score, but Credit Karma isn't one of them. They believe your credit score should be free.

Since credit scores fluctuate over time, the steps you take now will reflect positively in the future. Credit scores place the most emphasis on information that is reported within the last 24 months, so the actions you take now can really help. This means that even if you currently have a bad credit score, it won't haunt you forever if you work on improving it. Below are the main areas to work on when trying to build up your credit score.

Correct errors on your credit report

One of the first places to begin improving your credit score is by checking your credit report for errors. This includes such things as accounts that don't belong to you, or paid accounts that are still showing a balance. Having inaccurate information removed from your credit file can really make a difference on your score, so it's worth the effort. To correct any errors, you will need to contact all three credit bureaus to dispute the information. You can find a more detailed description of correcting inaccurate information in our article on disputing credit report mistakes.

Build a Solid Payment History

Since your payment history accounts for 35% of your credit score, you need to make sure that all your accounts are up to date and don't show late payments. Pay off past due accounts, and then concentrate on paying your bills consistently before the due date. If you tend to forget to mail your payment in on time, consider automatic bill payment options (either through your bank or online).

You may be wondering how liens, judgments, collections, and bankruptcy will affect your credit score. I won't lie to you. These bad marks will seriously lower your credit score, but not indefinitely. Since this information may only be reported for 7 to 10 years, it will eventually drop off your record. And, if you can consistently pay your bills on time for two or three years, the impact of these negative items will not be as great.

Lower Your Debt Ratio

If you've extended your credit to the limit, it will have a negative effect on your credit score. By keeping your credit card balances low (less than 20% to 30% of the available credit), you'll not only be in better financial shape, but you'll also bring your score up.

It's common to carry a large balance on one card and have another card that you either don't use, or pay off in full every month. If you will be applying for a loan in the near future, you might consider transferring some of the balance to the other card to even out the percentage of available credit on each card.

The next thing that you want to concentrate on is paying off your existing balances. Try paying more than the minimum amount due on your accounts, and if possible, pay the balance in full. Once you pay off an account, don't close it because it will elevate your debt ratio due to the fact that you will have less available credit.

Another way to temporarily build up your credit score is to not use your credit cards for a few months before you apply for a loan. Because creditors provide a monthly statement to the credit bureaus (which may occur before your payment is received), your account may show a balance, even if your pay your statement in full every month. By paying with cash for a month or two before you apply for a loan, these accounts will show either a lower balance, or not balance at all. The end result is that your debt ratio will be lower, which will move your score upwards.

Your Length of Credit History Matters

If you've been thinking about closing those old cards that you don't use any more, don't do it until after you've qualified for a loan. Closing old accounts can lower your credit score it because it decreases the length of your credit history. You want to keep long-standing accounts open because it shows a longer history of established credit. If you are determined to close out accounts, make sure that you keep the oldest one open (it doesn't matter what the interest rate is if the balance is paid off).

If you don't currently have any credit accounts showing on your credit report, opening a low balance credit card can actually lift your credit score. Also, if your credit history is less than three years old, work on establishing a good payment history by paying your bills consistently on time.

Limit New Credit Accounts and Inquiries

Every time someone looks at your credit report, it shows up as an inquiry. There are two types of inquiries, soft and hard. If you order your credit report, it is counted as a soft inquiry, and won't affect your credit score. Other types of soft inquiries include inquiries for promotional offers (such as credit cards or insurance), account reviews by your current creditors, and internal inquiries by the credit bureaus.

Hard credit inquiries occur when you authorize a company to review your credit report. This happens when you apply for a bank loan, credit card, lease, or cell phone. Hard inquiries may also appear if the IRS is auditing you or if a collection agency is trying to collect a bad debt.

Hard inquiries deduct from your credit score, so you want to keep them to a minimum. If you will be shopping around for the best rate on a loan, do it within a short period of time. Inquiries made within a few days of each other will generally be counted as one inquiry.

Diversify the Types of Credit In Use

This area accounts for 10% of your credit score, and the different types of credit will affect your score differently. Having a credit card that you consistently pay on time (with a low balance) will help your score. Installment loans, such as a mortgage or car payment, can also help your rating if your payment record is good and you have paid the balance down. Cash loans and finance company credit may deduct from your score because it appears that you might be a high risk and can't qualify for mainstream financing. The best mix is to have one or two major bank credit cards and one or two installment loans.

How long does it take to build up your credit score?

This is not an easy question to answer because it depends on how you handle all aspects of your credit. Generally, there's not a lot of fluctuation during a short period because your score is mainly based on information reported within the last two years. By consistently paying your bills on time, you can see an difference in your score within 6 to 9 months.

But don't get discouraged. It is worth the effort to work on improving your credit score, because a few points can mean the difference between the best rates and a sub-prime loan. Therefore, try to have no late payments or derogatory items on your credit report for at least 12 months (preferably 24 months). Also work on paying down your outstanding balances and don't apply for new loans.

Following the secrets of raising your credit score will benefit you in many ways. Not only will your credit score reflect your efforts, your financial life will be much easier as a result, helping you qualify for the best credit, jobs, insurance, and more.

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