Having a great credit score will not only save you thousands of dollars on interest over time, but it also gives you the flexibility to be creative on how you achieve your financial goals. The great news about credit is that anything you do can be undone over time, you just have to commit the time and energy to fix it. If you have gotten into trouble with credit or you are still working on building your credit profile, here are the top ten ways to improve your credit score.
1) Pay your bills on time
This sounds like a really basic tip; however, it’s one of the most important you can follow to maintain a strong credit score. On time payments is one of the first things lenders look at when determining if they should lend you more money. If your record shows that you are good at making payments, then lenders are more likely to lend you more. Delinquent payments and collections have a negative impact on your credit score.
2) Keep an eye on your credit utilization
Credit utilization is the amount of debt you have on your card over your available credit for the card. If you have a card with a $1,000 credit limit, and you have $300 on the card, then your utilization rate is 30%. It is tempting to spend all of the credit you are allowed; however, just because a lender says you can borrow up to $1,000, does not mean that they actually want you to do that. You should keep your utilization rates between 30% and 50%.
3) Apply for more credit
Lenders are like lemmings in that if one jumps in and lends to you, others are more likely to jump in and lend to you as well. If you have a number of lenders willing to offer you credit, then you look like a good bet for other lenders. Even if you don’t need the credit, it will help your score and help your overall utilization rate since other cards will increase your total credit available.
4) Diversify your types of credit
I met with a client recently who had no debt, no car payment, and no mortgage and when we pulled her credit score, we were shocked that it was not higher. This client was penalized for only having one source of credit, which were her credit cards. Mortgages, car loans or home equity loans could help you diversify your types of credit.
5) Keep cards open
It is tempting to close cards that you are not using; however, those cards are actually quietly helping you improve your credit. If you are not using the card, then your utilization will be 0%, which is a great number. In addition, the card helps maintain your credit history, which is another component of your credit score. I had a client recently close an old account of hers and her score dropped over 50 points because her credit history was shortened based on the closing of the older account.
6) Check your score frequently
You can get your full credit report every year for free; however, there are other free sites you can check to get a good indication of your score, including outstanding accounts throughout the year. I like using Credit Karma, but there is also Credit Sesame or Credit.com that also provide free tools. When you monitor your score, you want to make sure that you are familiar with all of the accounts that are listed under your social security number. This is especially important for student loan monitoring as you can have more than 10 loans reported under your social security number, and if you lost track of any of those and missed payments, that would have a dramatic impact on your score.
7) Avoid store cards if possible
I think that store credit cards like those for Macys or J.Crew or Kohls are some of the worst cards you can apply for. They typically do not offer high credit limits which don’t help your overall credit available, but more importantly, it tells a lender that you like to shop because the only location you can utilize the card is in the retail store. You can’t use the card for food or fuel. The cards also entice you to overspend because they typically offer 10% off all the time which makes you feel as though you are getting a deal, but you should probably not spend the money anyway, which now makes the purchase 90% expensive.
8) Consider a secured card
If you have had credit troubles in the past and need to rebuild your credit, a secured credit card is a great way to get back on track, especially if the card provider allows you to convert to an unsecured card after a period of time. I consider the secured card like the learner’s permit of the credit card world. If you can prove that you are responsible and follow the rules of proper credit management, then one day you will be allowed to manage your account on your own without a cash secured safety net.
9) Apply for credit as soon as possible
Your credit history is an important part of your overall credit score so the sooner you apply for cards the better. I opened my first card when I was a freshman in college, so lenders can see that I have been a responsible user for almost two decades now. The sooner you start your history, the faster your credit score will improve.
10) Hide your card
At the end of the day, if you’re struggling with maintaining good credit practices, don’t be afraid to hide your credit card and pretend as though it doesn’t exist. This will prevent you from increasing your credit utilization, and it will force you to focus on your spending as you will have to convert to a cash diet. When I see clients start to get into credit card troubles, we discuss implementing this strategy. Sometimes the best bet to improve your credit is to not use it at all.