A good credit score is your ticket to reasonable interest rates and the ability to take on new credit. If your credit score has taken a hit, you know how important it is to raise your score. However, this can take years; in fact, negative information can remain on your report for up to seven years.
Luckily, there are plenty of steps you can take now to fix your credit score. Before you get started, keep in mind that each of the three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) report a different score, but the score most often used by creditors and referred to is the FICO score. If you don't already know your score, you can visit myfico.com and order your score. If you have recently applied for credit, the creditor will also be able to tell you your score.
Your credit score is a number between 300 and 850; the higher, the better. As a general rule, credit scoring is categorized in the following tiers:
- Excellent/Very Good: 750-850
- Good: 700-750
- Average: 650-700
- Poor: Below 650
Top Ways to Fix Your Credit Score
These top ways to fix your score will help you see you credit score raise as fast as possible.
- Do your homework. Your credit score is calculated based on the following factors: payment history (35%), debt load (30%), length of credit history (15%), new credit accounts (10%), and types of credit (10%). Knowing what makes up your credit score, as well as what can hurt it, is crucial when trying to raise your score as quickly as possible.
- Know why your score is low. Your actual credit score itself will not tell you why your score is low. For that, you'll need your detailed credit report. You are entitled to one free credit report each year, which can be ordered online at www.annualcreditreport.com. Once you get your reports, go over them carefully. Look for negative information, including late payments, collection accounts, judgments, or maxed out credit cards that could be hurting your score.
- Dispute negative information. It is entirely possible that your credit report has mistakes in it. If you notice something that doesn't look right, whether it's a late payment you know you paid on time or a collection for an account you don't owe, dispute it immediately. You can do this online or by mail. The dispute process itself takes about 30 days, but removing one negative account can make a huge difference in your credit score.
- Make all payments on time. If you have a number of late payments, you can raise your score by making all your payments on time. As you do this, you'll see a gradual increase in your score. If you are having difficulty making payments, make sure you contact your creditors and set up a payment arrangement or payment plan. Oftentimes, this will keep your account from going into collections and hurting your credit.
- Pay down your credit cards. Too much credit can also hurt your score. If you have a number of credit cards that are at or near their limits, start paying them down as soon as possible. Your credit will start to decrease once your balance exceeds 30% of the available credit limit. So if you have a $1,000 credit card, keep the balance around $300.
- Avoid credit repair scams. Many companies charge you to "clean up your credit", but the truth is, they aren't doing anything you can't do yourself. Further, most of them make impossible claims, such as removing bankruptcies or bad accounts from your report. It's best to steer clear of these companies.
Improving your credit score won't happen overnight, but there are many things you can do today to help raise your score.