If your credit score is low, don’t despair – there are plenty of things you can do to raise it.
While you might not be able to raise your score 100 points overnight, with a little dedication and effort you can certainly see a significant improvement in a relatively short period of time. Here are some tips to get you started:
How To Improve Your Credit Score
- Understanding Your Credit Score
- Identify inaccurate items on your report
- Get a Secured Credit Card
- Increase Credit Limit
- Decrease/Limit Hard Inquiries for a Period
- Work with a credit repair agency
1. Understanding Your Credit Score
Your credit score is a number that reflects the information in your credit report. Lenders use this number to assess your creditworthiness – in other words, how likely you are to repay a loan on time. The higher your score, the more attractive you are to lenders and the better your chances of being approved for loans and credit cards with favorable terms.
Check Your Credit Score
Most people don’t know their credit score until the time comes when they need it.
Don’t be one of these people!
Good credit scores are your passport to competitive interest rates for mortgages, cars, credit card offers, insurance premiums, and more. Maintaining a high credit score is worth it because it will save you from the money you’d pay in higher interest rates.
Luckily, it’s simple to learn your credit score. I recommend the following companies:
Learn more about each of these companies:
What Affects Your Credit Score?
There are a number of different factors that go into your credit score, but the two most important are payment history and credit utilization. Payment history refers to your track record of paying back loans and other debts on time. Credit utilization is a measure of how much of your available credit you are using – the lower the better.
The best way to improve your credit score is to review your credit report. The score itself is not personal, every American falls within the same range. However, the credit report is your unique financial history.
A credit report breaks down the following by weighted importance:
- Payment History (30%)
- Paying your credit card, student loan bills, etc. on time?
- Credit Utilization (30%)
- The ratio between credit available to you and how much of it you use
- Credit Age (15%)
- How long have credit lines been opened? Mortgage, credit cards, etc.
- Account Mix (10%)
- Credit Inquiries (10%)
- Too many hard inquiries don’t look good, i.e., applying for a bunch of credit cards at once
Where you get your credit report matters, which is why I strongly recommend Experian. You’re not only getting it directly from the source (Experian is one of the three credit reporting companies in America), but it’s free when you create an account!
We’ll discuss credit reports more in-depth later on, but for now, let’s move on to some other things you can do to raise your credit score.
2. Identify Inaccurate Items on Your Reports
One of the best ways to raise your credit score is to identify and dispute any inaccuracies on your credit reports. If there are any errors, outdated information, or incorrect account balances, get in touch with the credit bureau and have them corrected. This can take some time and effort, but it’s worth it in the long run.
According to CNBC 1/3 of Americans have errors on their credit report, so you’re certainly not alone. And the most common error? Outdated information.
That’s why checking your credit report often is key to a good credit score. You can get a free copy of your report from each of the major credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion – once per year at AnnualCreditReport.com.
I recently requested my credit report and it took less than 10 minutes to receive it. You will need to provide some basic information such as your name, address, Social Security number, and date of birth.
It’s a simple 3 step process and well worth your time. Once you receive your credit report, comb through it carefully and look for any inaccuracies. If you find anything that looks incorrect, raise a dispute with the credit bureau.
3. Get a Secured Credit Card
If you have bad credit, one of the best ways to raise your score is to get a secured credit card. This type of card requires you to put down a deposit that serves as collateral, but it can help you rebuild your credit by reporting your positive payment history to the credit bureaus.
Just make sure to use your card responsibly by only charging what you can afford to pay off in full each month, and try to keep your balance below 30% of your credit limit. Otherwise, you could end up doing more harm than good.
There are a few different secured cards to choose from, so compare your options and find one that best suits your needs.
A former intern of mine, Kevin, was able to increase his credit score 100 points using a secured credit card. Here’s his story:
Kevin’s 100-Point Credit Score Increase Story
As a junior and senior in college, I was always told that applying for a credit card could be my first step in the wrong direction.
With a credit card in hand, my parents worried I would spend money I couldn’t pay off and build a lifestyle I couldn’t really afford, rather than learning to save money.
While these are legitimate concerns, I had to let them know I felt as if I had some control over my spending. My response was always the same: “How would I know until I was able to try for myself?”
What I Learned from Being Denied Credit Cards
When I was finally prepared to get a credit card on my own, none of the banks I applied to would give me a chance.
It went like this: “I am unemployed, have no credit history, and have a couple of thousand dollars in college debt that I will have to start paying on in the next year or two.”
Not exactly a winning pitch to convince someone to give you a line of credit! Two banks denied me, but one banker was kind and shared some info that has helped me raise my credit score over 100 points in the past five months.
First, I should stop trying to apply for credit cards that would get denied. His reasoning was simple: when you apply, they do a hard credit check which, in turn, can lower your credit score even more.
His second piece of advice was to get a secured credit card.
How a Secured Credit Card Works
He told me that no major bank was going to accept my credit application, but there was actually an alternative option available – one which was especially perfect for those in my exact situation: to sign up for what is called a secured credit card.
While the terms for these are horribly one-sided in favor of the lender, I assure you it is a small price to pay for the result you receive after only a few months.
With secured credit cards, you give the lender a cash deposit upfront, and that cash deposit is typically equal to your credit limit.
This process truly confused me at first, since I thought the deposit was money I could actually spend. What I learned, however, is that the deposit is there in case I default.
I couldn’t spend the deposit itself, but I would get it back if I kept my account in good standing until I closed the card.
After you make your deposit, secured cards are also treated just like traditional credit cards. Your secured card will typically look and act just like a regular credit card, so no one will know it is secured.
There is also an annual fee associated with most secured credit cards, but I felt it was a small price to pay for the opportunity to build some credit history.
How To Maximize the Benefits of Your Secured Credit Card
When I first checked my credit score with MyFICO in March of 2011, it was sitting at 621.
I set up my new secured credit card with a credit limit of $1,100. The credit limit should be a function of what cash you have, and also what you plan on using the credit card for.
According to many bankers and friends I talked to, you should try to run a 75% utilization rate on your credit card to maximize your potential to raise your credit score.
So, if you only spend around $300 a month, you should give your secured credit card a $500 down payment so that you are utilizing your credit rather than having a $1,000 dollar limit and only spending $300.
My expenditures were approximately $700 dollars a month so the $1,100 dollar limit fit my needs.
Why You Should Let Your Kids Get a Secured Credit Card
To all of the parents out there who worry about letting their college kid apply for a credit card, I can tell you it worked for me in five months and will change my financial future for many years to come.
Secured credit cards offer a foolproof way to raise your credit score when it is not possible through a regular bank credit card.
It’s a safe way to earn credit if you do not trust your kid to spend responsibly.
The worst that can happen with a secured card is that you cannot pay your bill, your company closes out the account, and they pay off your credit with the money you already have on deposit.
My secured card worked perfectly for me and I have now been accepted for a credit card with a major bank.
How I Raised My Credit Score Over 100 Points
Raising my credit score with a secured card took some disciplined, conscientious spending.
Here are the rules I followed to maximize the benefits of my secured credit card.
- Spend what you have: After I received my secured card and started spending, I made sure that I would only spend money I already had or would receive, before the next pay period.
- Pay often: I ended up paying off my credit card roughly four times a month to ensure I never carried a balance from one month to the next.
- Know your limits: I would never let my credit limit exceed $800, and I would never pay it off if the card balance was under $300 unless the pay period was coming to an end.
- Make purchases: I would put every penny of my spending on the credit card – from the smallest expenses such as a drink from the gas station to major purchases such as airline tickets or hotel rooms.
- Be consistent: I repeated this process for 5 months to establish a credit history of regular use and always pay on time.
What My Improved Credit Score Allowed Me To Do
In August of 2011, I had to purchase a car so I could switch jobs.
When I filled out the credit application to see if I qualified for lower financing rates, my credit score came back as 731.
In other words, I raised my credit score from 621 to 731 in just five months!
This is a very big deal because, at 621, I would have been denied a loan for the car, or would have had an interest rate that exceeded 9% on the auto loan.
Since I chose to get a secured credit card, I was able to take the car loan on my own and qualify for the low rate of 3.99% financing.
The difference in the loan between the two interest rates would be $750 over the life of the loan, far surpassing the card’s annual fee, and the opportunity cost of my secured credit card holding my $1,100 for five months.
4. Increase Credit Limit
One factor that is used to calculate your credit score is credit utilization, which is the amount of credit you’re using compared to your credit limit. In general, it’s best to keep your credit utilization below 30%. So, if you have a credit card with a $1,000 limit, you should try to keep your balance below $300.
If you have a good payment history and credit utilization is the only thing holding your score back, you may be able to get your credit limit increased. This will lower your credit utilization ratio and, in turn, raise your credit score.
To get started, call your credit card issuer and ask if they’re willing to raise your limit. It’s always best to start with a soft inquiry, which won’t impact your credit score. But if they say no, you can always try again in a few months.
Here’s a credit utilization example :
If you have a credit card with a $1,000 limit and a balance of $500, your credit utilization ratio is 50%. But if you raise your credit limit to $2,000 and keep your balance at $500, your credit utilization drops to 25%. This can have a positive impact on your credit score.
5. Decrease/Limit Hard Inquiries for a Period
Every time you apply for a new credit card or loan, the lender will do a hard inquiry on your credit report. This can temporarily lower your credit score by a few points. And if you have several inquiries in a short period of time, it can look like you’re desperate for credit, which can further hurt your score.
To avoid this, it’s best to limit the number of hard inquiries you have in a 12-month period. And if you’re planning on applying for a major loan, like a mortgage, it’s best to do all of your shopping within a 30-day period. This way, the inquiries will only count as one on your report.
We’ve been using the same credit cards for several years so there haven’t been many hard inquiries on my credit. I did recently sign up for a crypto credit card I haven’t used, so that did show up when I ran my credit report.
6. Work with a Credit Repair Agency
If you’re not able to raise your credit score on your own, you may want to consider working with a credit repair agency like Credit Saint or Lexington Law. These companies can help you dispute errors on your credit report, negotiate with creditors to remove negative items and develop a plan to improve your credit.
Just be sure to do your research before choosing a credit repair agency. There are a lot of scams out there, so you want to make sure you’re working with a reputable company. You can check out the Better Business Bureau website to see if there have been any complaints filed against the company.
How Long Does it Take to Fix Your Credit Score?
The length of time it takes to raise your credit score depends on a few factors, including the items on your credit report, your current credit score, and your credit history.
If you have negative items on your credit report, it will take time to improve your score. The good news is that these items will eventually fall off your report. For example, bankruptcies stay on your report for seven to 10 years, while late payments remain for seven years.
If you don’t have any negative items on your credit report, you may be able to raise your score quite a bit in a shorter period of time. For example, if you have a good payment history and you increase your credit limit, you could see a significant rise in your score within a few months.
In general, it takes time to improve your credit score. But if you’re patient and follow the steps outlined in this article, you can raise your score significantly over time.
The Bottom Line
While Kevin’s story is amazing, it isn’t all that unique. In the real world, secured credit cards are a valuable tool that can be used to build your credit when you otherwise couldn’t. And for someone like Kevin that doesn’t have any credit history, raising your credit score 100 points isn’t far-fetched.
Whether you like it or not, your credit score is important.