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How to Improve Your Credit Score

Earning a top credit score takes time. Learn the different factors that affect your score and four strategies that may help to improve it.

By Allan Halcrow | American Express Credit Intel Freelance Contributor

6 Min Read | July 31, 2020 in Credit

 

At-A-Glance

There is no magic formula for boosting your credit score by 100 points, or within 30 days.

Earning a top credit score takes time. But a thoughtful strategy focused on using credit responsibly over the long term usually leads to good results.

Identify your opportunities for improvement, develop a strategy, and stick to it.

How can you improve your credit score? In a single word, strategically. I’ll unpack that word throughout this article, but simply stated you’re more likely to see the credit score improvement you seek if you do four key things:

  • Learn all you can about what affects your credit score.
  • Analyze your unique credit profile against what you learned.
  • Identify the responsible behaviors that improve your score.
  • Follow a strategic plan to hit your target credit score improvement goals. 

Experts encourage you to be realistic. As Fair Isaac Corp. – inventor of the industry-leading FICO credit score – says, “raising your credit score is a bit like losing weight.”1 In other words, meaningful and sustainable improvement takes time – and there is no quick fix. People often ask, “How can I raise my credit score in 30 days?” or “How can I raise my score by 100 (or 200) points?” But, according to Fair Isaac, “The best advice is to manage your credit responsibly over time.”

 

Your own actions, though, are what determines your score – and there are ways that you can have a real impact. And if you need to raise your credit score by as much as 200 points, there’s probably some room to change your credit-related behavior in a way that demonstrates increased responsibility.

 

 

How to Raise Your Credit Score, Strategically

Experts point to some principles to consider as you shape your plan. Effective strategies typically depend on first getting your credit reports from the three major credit bureaus.2 Without the reports, you won’t have a clear picture of the problems you’re trying to solve or the areas that represent the best opportunities for improvement. 

 

Next, you’re more likely to see a big jump in your credit score (such as 100 points) and to see it more quickly if you’re starting with a low score. That’s because you have more room for improvement, and small changes can have greater impact.3 Remember, don’t get discouraged if you don’t see all the improvement you’re hoping for right away – improving your credit score is a long game. That said, some strategies definitely impact your score more quickly than others, so read on.

 

Steps to Begin Improving Your Credit Score

1. Clear up errors on your credit report: If anything on your credit report isn’t correct, dispute it with the credit bureaus. Getting it removed or corrected can improve your score.4 Research has shown that 21% of people who reviewed their credit report found errors that resulted in changes to their report.5 For more, read “How to Dispute Your Credit Report at All 3 Bureaus.” 

 

2. Pay down your balances: Experts note that slashing your credit utilization rate – the percentage of available credit that you’ve used – is one of the few things you can do to quickly boost your score.6 Utilization is 30% of your FICO score, second only to the longer-term strategy of always paying your bills on time,7 and is the most influential factor in the VantageScore model.8 Because creditors are reporting your activity at least monthly, you don’t have to wait long to see the benefits. The potential here is so great that some experts suggest you pay your card bill twice a month or even more often – called micropayments – to increase the likelihood that your balance will be lower whenever it gets reported. However often you pay, your credit score will get the greatest lift if you keep your utilization to 30% or less – and the lower the better. 

 

I saw this in action using the credit score simulator that’s available through MyCredit Guide from American Express. Paying down balances to push me below the 30% threshold helped improve my credit score about 1%, but paying them off in full boosted my score by more than 8%, according to the simulator. 

 

3. Resolve collection accounts: Since payment history is 35% of your FICO score, any payment 30 days late or longer hurts your credit score. It hurts a lot more when an account is sent to collection, so getting those removed from your credit report can help you. One way to do that is to seek a “pay for delete,” a creditor’s agreement to remove the account from your credit report in exchange for payment in full. Not all creditors or collectors are willing to do that, but experts suggest you first pay those that are. You’ll ultimately need to pay everything, but it won’t help your credit score to pay off a collection account that continues to appear on your report.

 

4. Open a secured credit card: If you’re struggling with a low score, experts say that opening a secured credit card can be an effective way to increase your score. To get such a card, you deposit funds and the bank issues a card with a credit limit that’s typically the same as your deposit. If you default, the bank keeps your money. To get the boost to your credit, you’ll need to charge against your deposit and then make your payments on time, to demonstrate responsible credit use. You may get a similar lift by becoming an additional card member on someone else’s account, provided that person has maintained a good payment history.10

 

Longer-Term Credit Score Improvement Strategies

If you follow the strategies outlined above, experts say you should see some improvement to your score within a month or two. After that, greater – and more sustained – improvement will take more time. Here are some longer-term strategies:

  • Always pay your bills on time.
  • Limit your inquiries and applications for additional credit. Using the simulator, I saw each one caused a measurable ding to my credit score.
  • Maintain a mix of credit. A blend of revolving credit – which is mostly credit cards – and installment loans is the healthiest blend.
  • Build your credit history. Unlike removing accounts in collection, closing an account in good standing can hurt your score, so you may wish to keep them open even if you don’t use them.

 

 

The Takeaway

You have control of your credit score, and if you focus your efforts on the actions that have the greatest impact you can boost your score. Substantial improvement – such as moving from the poor range to excellent – will take a while. But if you chart a strategic plan to manage your credit responsibly – and stick to it – you can meet your credit score improvement goal and sustain your new score for the long term.

Megan Doyle

Allan Halcrow is a freelance writer concentrating in business, human resources, and diversity and inclusion. He is also the author of four books on management

 

All Credit Intel content is written by freelance authors and commissioned and paid for by American Express. 

The material made available for you on this website, Credit Intel, is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax or financial advice. If you have questions, please consult your own professional legal, tax and financial advisors.