How can I improve my credit score?

Your credit score can have a large impact on your life. Getting a loan for a house, car, or a credit card is really important. Having a low credit score can mean that you have more trouble getting approved for loans or a higher interest rate. Higher interest rates can cost you thousands of dollars when buying a house. This is why it is important to monitor and try and improve your score.

Improving your credit score is not an overnight process. It can often take 6 to 12 months to see a large improvement. Recovering from delinquent accounts, late payments, etc. can take a long time. Even though it can take a while, that doesn't mean it is impossible! Instead, think of credit as a marathon versus a sprint. You will need to consistently do the right things to raise your score and keep it at a high level. 

Quick wins in raising your credit

Even though it can take a while, there are a few "quick wins" if you are trying to get a smaller boost in the mean time. You can expect these wins to raise your score a decent amount, but to get to the 750+ level it will require a longer time. If you are looking for a smaller bump, here are some ways to get an increase in a shorter period of time.

Reduce your credit card balance

If you currently hold a high balance on your credit card(s), the first thing you should try to do is reduce your balance. The lower the utilization, the better. The rule of thumb is having under 10% is what you should be shooting for. Here is the formula to figure out your utilization:

(Total credit card balances / Total credit card limit) X 100 = utilization percentage

To specify, you need to add up all of your balances and all of the limits on your cards. To showcase that let's run through a quick example. Let's assume our example person has the following:

  • Credit card 1 with $1,000 balance and $5,000 limit
  • Credit card 2 with $2,500 balance and $3,000 limit
  • Credit card 3 with $500 balance and $750 limit

Let's see what their utilization looks like. Lets use our formula to figure it out. First lets add up the balances and limits:

  • Total balance of $4,000
  • Total limit of $8,750

Then plug it into our formula:

($4000 / $8750) * 100 =  45.7%

Our example person's utilization is a bit high. They would have to reduce their current balances to $875 or less to get under the 10% mark.

Get Credit for your on time Cell Phone and Utility Payments

If you have been paying cell phone and utility bills on time, you can factor in the payments of those bills through Experian Boost. This free tool can help you improve your credit scores.

You can connect Experian to your bank account to identify your payment history. You need to verify and confirm that you allow Experian to access your information. The tool will add your payments to your credit file. Once you do this, credit rating agencies receive your updated FICO score in real time.

It should be noted that this is not a guaranteed way to boost your score, but could help. For most people in credit repair mode, it's probably worth a try. Read through the Experian Boost site and see for yourself.

Ask for derogatory marks to get taken off of your account

If you have had payment problems in the past, you may have some derogatory marks associated with your name. Some of these marks include:

  • 30 day late payment notice
  • 60 day late payment notice
  • 90 day late payment notice
  • Other delinquencies on payment

If any of these apply to you, there may be a way to get some of these removed from your account. Getting a derogatory mark can help your score immensely as creditors will no longer see it on your credit report when they pull it.

These marks stay on your credit report for up to 7 years. If you want to remove them earlier you can send what is called a "goodwill letter". A goodwill letter is a letter (or email) you send to a creditor asking them to remove a derogatory mark from your report. In it you should highlight why they should remove it. Some examples of why they should remove it:

  • You rectified the situation right away
  • You have been a long time customer of the company and have a long record of paying on time, other than this one mishap
  • It has been a while since this happened
  • You have kept all of your account current with them for X amount of time

This strategy is a bit harder to do if you have multiple delinquencies with the same company. They company might also say no. It's still worth a shot as you never know if they will help you out or not.

To write your letter, try finding an email of someone high up at the company. Craft a thoughtful and professional email and send it in. Hopefully you receive a positive response. If not, you can try again or wait the time period until it falls off your report or no longer affects your score.

Credit Card

Long term ways to improve your credit score

Sometimes, there isn't a short term trick to raising your credit. It can be incredibly frustrating, but sometimes you have to just put in the time. As I mentioned before, it can take 7 years of time for derogatory marks to fall of your report. Fear not, as many of those marks stop affecting your score after 2 years as long as you stay current and on top of your credit. Here are some longer term ways to improve your credit score to eclipse the 750+ mark.

Pay on time, all of the time

This is one of the most important step that demonstrate your credit worthiness. Lenders want to know that you are reliable and able to pay back your debts in a timely manner. The rule is simple in premise and harder in practice. You need to pay at least the minimum balance on time to not have your bill counted late. Hopefully you are paying the entire balance so you don't accrue interest. If you are struggling with a lot of debt, pay as much as you can as long as it's larger than the balance and it's on time.

This is an easy way to start raising your credit score. If your credit score report shows that you‘re a late payer your score is going to suffer. A late payment blemish can stay on your report for 7 years, so it is important to have as few of them as possible.

We suggest using automatic payment reminders or a calendar reminder to help you make sure you don’t miss any payments. This is an easy way to remind yourself that the bill is due and it needs to be paid.

Don't keep applying for credit

If you are familiar with how credit works, you likely know that you score drops a bit each time that you apply for credit cards. What you don’t know is that this inquiry can lower your credit scores temporarily. When you apply for credit it signals that you need more credit for one reason or another. If you keep applying for various credit cards, loans, etc. it can send a bad message to creditors that you are always in need of credit.

The only time I can see a benefit getting new credit card when trying to boost your score is if you are carrying balances and are applying for 0% balance transfer card. Getting a card that can help you out of your debt is a way of leveraging credit to dig yourself out of a hole. Anything else is likely going to hurt your score for no reason.

If you continue to build solid credit history, your score is bound to rise. Keeping your credit score in good standing is always a good idea. Even if you don't need the credit right now, you never know when you may need to use it to get a lower APR or a rewards credit card for your next trip. Credit worthiness is one of the core pillars to financial success. Keeping everything in good standing will help you sleep soundly and build a foundation for financial freedom.