6 Min Read | Updated: October 31, 2023

Originally Published: December 21, 2022

6 Ways to Help Build Your Credit

Learn about the credit-building benefits of reviewing and ‘cleaning’ errors on your credit report, managing credit utilization, and removing late payments.

This article contains general information and is not intended to provide information that is specific to American Express products and services. Similar products and services offered by different companies will have different features and you should always read about product details before acquiring any financial product.

At-A-Glance

Building good credit takes time, but the right moves can get your credit-building timeline started.

Some of the best ways to build credit include fixing errors on your credit report, aggressively paying down balances, and managing your credit utilization.


You’ve set your sights on some rest and relaxation in Hawaii and need to build your credit to make it happen. Or maybe it’s a new car you covet. What do you do?

 

Building credit, by its nature, takes time. Time to take action that has impact, and time for creditors to report that impact. That said, there are some best practices that can help you build your credit. Acting strategically, you can shave months off the credit-building process.

best ways to build credit

1. Research, to Know Where You Stand

If someone asked for driving directions but couldn’t tell you where he was starting or where he was headed, could you help? Of course not. And yet many consumers don’t know what credit score they need to get a loan, or even where their credit score currently stands. For example, the average credit score to get a new car loan is usually higher than for a used car—and your score affects not only whether you get the loan but what interest rate you pay. Do your research. Then find out what your credit looks like now.

 

There are three major credit reporting companies – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion – and you’re entitled to a free report from each once a year. You can request a report from the FTC-approved AnnualCreditReport.com. 

 

You can also monitor your credit with American Express® MyCredit Guide. MyCredit Guide is a free service that allows you to view your FICO® Score and Experian® credit report. (FICO is a registered trademark of Fair Isaac Corporation in the U.S. and other countries.) Once you enroll with MyCredit Guide, your credit score and credit report will be available for free to view at any time. You’ll also have access to tools like FICO® Score Simulator and FICO® Score Planner to help you build positive credit habits that support a healthy credit score.

2. Clean Up Your Credit Report

Next, review your credit report. Carefully. Credit reports are not infallible, so look for debts that are not yours, outstanding balances that you believe were paid, and other errors. You can dispute anything that you believe is incorrect. But be aware that open (unresolved) disputes can work against you when applying for a mortgage.

3. Aggressively Pay Balances

About 30% of your FICO score is based on your amounts owed.1 That portion of the score considers two things: The total you owe and the portion of your available credit that is used. Paying down balances takes action on both. 

 

A key best practice for building credit is to go beyond just making the minimum payment. It’s better to pay as much as you can, as often as you can. If raising your credit score is your top priority, you may wish to consider a second job or side gigs to give you more income. The faster you can get to zero balances the better. 

 

But if you pay for everything with a credit card and get close to, or hit, your limit before paying off the full card balance each month – as people who use rewards cards sometimes do – consider paying twice a month instead of once. Otherwise, your credit report may consistently show you at your credit limit, which impacts your score.

4. Manage Your Credit Utilization

That “portion” of your available credit that’s used up is called your “credit utilization rate.” This directly contributes to your amounts owed, mentioned above. According to FICO, maintaining a low credit utilization ratio can positively affect your credit. One way to do this is by using a low percentage of your available credit limit on revolving accounts, like credit cards. Or, you can focus on paying your balances more often than once a month.

5. Consider Resolving Accounts in Collection

When a bill is 120 days past due, the creditor can turn it over to a collection agency or debt collector. Collections almost always negatively affect your credit score, and they remain on your credit report for seven years. The good news is that your FICO score weighs collections by how recent they are; the older the collection, the less it will hurt your score. 

 

According to FICO, whether to pay off collections is a personal decision that could cause your credit score to increase, decrease, or have no affect – it depends on the individual.2 However, paying off collections can improve creditworthiness if you’re trying to get a loan or other credit product. Therefore, it’s often a good idea to pay off a collection account even if it won’t have much of an effect on your credit score.

6. Get Credit for More of What You’re Paying

Until recently, only borrowing (and repaying) could really help your credit. But now some services will give you credit for other bills you pay. With some caveats, for example, Experian promises an “instant” boost to your score by reporting payments to your utilities and phone company that you may not otherwise get credit for.3 Other services similarly report rent payments.


The Takeaway

Good credit is like trust: It takes a long time to establish and the blink of an eye to destroy. But you can make a long credit-building process shorter by developing a strategic plan and sticking to it. If you’re ready to build your credit score now, act on these six best ways to build your credit—and sit back and watch it climb!


Allan Halcrow

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. 

Related Articles

What is a Credit Report and Why is it Important?

 

Understanding what a credit report is could be confusing. Learn what information a credit report contains and how to get your credit report for free.

 

Tell me more

How Often Does a Credit Score Update?

 

Find out how often a credit score updates – is it a day, or does it take a month to see changes in your credit report?

 

Tell me more

How to Build Your Credit from Scratch - Credit Cards Can Help

 

So, you have no credit history? Find the best credit card to help build your credit by following these expert tips.

 

Tell me more

The material made available for you on this website, Credit Intel, is for informational purposes only and intended for U.S. residents 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.