You probably already know that your credit score can impact your life in a lot of ways.
While a good credit score can help you qualify for lower interest rates on your credit cards, mortgage, private student loans, and auto loans (amongst a range of other benefits), a bad credit score often translates into higher interest rates and more expensive debt.
If you’ve got a less-than-stellar credit score, you might find yourself wondering if there are any ways to raise your score fast. While it isn’t easy, it is possible to quickly improve your credit score in as little as a few months.
Below we explore what credit is, what factors influence your score, and outline some steps that you can take to fix your credit score as quickly as possible.
Your credit score is a three-digit number that lenders use to determine how risky you would be as a borrower.
Fairly or not, your credit score is often viewed as representative of your financial health. The higher your credit score, the less risky you are seen to be and the more likely you are to be approved for a loan or to be charged a lower interest rate. The lower your credit score, the riskier you are seen to be, and the less likely you are to be approved for a loan. For loans that you are approved for, you can typically expect to pay a higher interest rate compared to those with higher credit scores.
Each of the three major credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) uses its own proprietary formula to calculate an individual’s credit score, but some of the most important factors include:
Your track record for paying your bills on time, your payment history accounts for roughly 35 percent of your total credit score, making it one of the most important factors.
This refers to how much of your available credit you have used, and it accounts for 30 percent of your score. The credit bureaus factor in your total utilization ratio, as well as the utilization ratios on individual credit cards.
The average age of all of the accounts in your credit report, this accounts for 15 percent of your credit score.
The specific mix of debt types that you carry (installment debt like student loans vs. revolving credit like credit cards) accounts for 10 percent of your score.
Whether or not you have recently applied for a line of credit (or multiple lines of credit) within a short window of time accounts for the final 10 percent of your credit score.
There are many things that can cause your credit score to drop. If you’ve been under the impression that your credit score was fine, and then you check it and see that it is lower than you expected, consider the following possibilities:
You missed a payment or paid a bill late.
You made a big purchase with your credit card, driving up your utilization rate.
You’ve undergone bankruptcy, foreclosure, or delinquency on one of your debts.
You’ve closed a credit card account.
You’ve recently applied for multiple new lines of credit.
As discussed above, a poor credit score can have serious repercussions on your financial wellbeing. A desire to avoid those repercussions is typically enough reason for an individual to work to improve and fix their score.
There are, though, a number of reasons that someone might wish to raise their credit score as quickly as possible. While not an exhaustive list, some of those reasons might include:
You are about to apply for a mortgage, car loan, credit card, or other credit line. And you want to a.) increase your chances of being approved, and b.) qualify for lower interest rates.
You want to refinance an existing mortgage, student loan, or other type of debt. And you want to improve your score so you can qualify for a new, lower interest rate.
You have already applied for, and been denied, a line of credit. And you want to improve your credit scores in order to increase your chances of being approved in the future.
You simply want the psychological boost that can come with raising your credit score from Poor to Fair to Good or higher.
The surest way to improve your credit score is by using credit responsibly and managing your debt and obligations appropriately over the long term. By taking steps like never maxing out your credit cards, making your payments on time every time, and preserving your oldest accounts and credit lines, you will, slowly but surely, improve your credit score over a number of months and years.
That being said, if you’ve got a deadline you’re trying to meet and want to raise your score as quickly as possible, there are some steps you can take to do just that.
If you want to improve your credit score, it’s smart to start by understanding what is in your credit reports.
Under law, you’re entitled to a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus once every 12 months. (You can request your free credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com, in addition to checking sites like CreditKarma and CreditSesame.) Because the information found in each of these reports may be different, it makes sense to request a report from each of them—not just one.
If you spot any errors in your reports while you are reviewing them, you can dispute them and request that the errors be removed from your report. Because credit bureaus are required to respond to any dispute within 30 days, the positive impact that comes with fixing any errors can be felt pretty quickly. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), roughly one in ten consumers who corrected an error on their credit report saw some kind of change in their credit score, with a small percentage seeing changes of more than 100 points.
After you’ve resolved any errors on your credit report(s), be sure to check each of your reports on a yearly basis to identify and prevent other errors in the future. How common are errors on credit reports? The same FTC report estimates that up to 5 percent of all credit reports have errors that are serious enough to cause real financial damage.
Your payment history accounts for a higher percentage of your credit score than any other single factor. Missed payments typically stay on your credit report for seven years, meaning they can have a lasting impact on your credit score. That’s why it is so important that you stay on top of your payments and never miss a payment or pay late.
If you find that you have missed a payment, there may be steps that you can take to limit (and possibly reverse) the damage, especially if the missed payment is less than 30 days old. Call your creditor directly and arrange to make the payment. If they have already reported your delinquency, while you are on the phone with them you should ask if they will rescind. While some creditors will not rescind delinquency reports once made, some will—especially if this is your first offense or you have a substantial history with the company.
Signing up for autopay wherever possible (mortgage, student loans, utilities) can help you prevent further damage to your score through missed or late payments, though the action itself won’t have a direct impact on your score.
As noted above, your credit utilization—both total utilization and card-by-card utilization—is another very important factor that affects your overall credit score. Generally speaking, it’s advised that you try to keep your credit utilization to 30 percent or less in order to avoid negative effects on your credit score, and you should never max out a card.
If you have a high credit utilization rate, it’s worth putting a plan in place to pay off more of your balances. If you’ve got any extra cash in your budget, using it to pay down your credit card balance(s) can be an incredibly effective way to improve your score. And you’ll likely feel the effects pretty quickly since most credit issuers report to the credit bureaus on a monthly basis. The more you can reduce your credit utilization, the greater the impact you will feel.
If you have multiple credit cards, start by paying down the balance on the card with the highest utilization ratio first (i.e., the card that is closest to hitting its credit limit).
Once you’ve paid off your balances, try not to close your old accounts unless you absolutely have to, because closing old accounts (especially long-lived accounts with consistent on-time payments) can negatively impact your credit score by lowering your average credit history.
Another way that you could lower your credit utilization rate would be to consolidate your credit card debt with a personal loan.
This could benefit your score in two ways. First, it will convert your revolving debt (i.e., your credit card debt) into installment debt, which the credit bureaus rate positively. Second, It would lower your credit utilization on your credit cards. And, as a bonus, many personal loans carry much lower interest rates compared to credit cards, which could help you pay off your debt more easily and quickly over time.
If you can’t pay down your credit card balance and don’t want a personal loan, there is a third way that you can lower your credit utilization: Requesting a credit limit increase.
Because this will raise the amount of credit that you have available while keeping your balance the same, your credit utilization will instantly decrease—so long as you don’t charge more expenses to your card. All you need to do is call your credit card issuer and ask if it is possible to increase your limit. (You may also be able to request a limit increase online through your lender’s portal.)
How much a credit limit increase will affect your credit score will depend on a number of factors, including the size of the increase and the amount of debt you already carry on your card. For example:
If you currently have a credit card with a credit limit of $250, and you carry a $150 balance on it, then you have a credit utilization rate of 60 percent. If your credit card company increases your credit limit by $250, your new credit limit would be $500. This would bring your credit utilization down to 30 percent.
On the other hand, if you currently have a credit card with a credit limit of $10,000, and you carry a $7,000 balance on it, then you have a credit utilization rate of 70 percent. If your credit card company increases your credit limit by $2,500, your new credit limit would be $12,500. This would bring your utilization rate down to 56 percent—which is better than it was, but still higher than the recommended high of 30 percent.
In early 2019, Experian launched a new offering called Experian Boost, designed to provide interested individuals a way to give their credit scores a quick “boost.”
Experian Boost works like this: An individual must opt into the program, at which point they will need to link their checking information to their credit file. This will allow Experian to look back 24 months in order to build a record of your utility payments. (Obviously, this only works if you make your utility payments with your checking account.) Using this data, Experian will provide you with a boost to your credit score. Typically, the more payment history Experian can find through your bank history, the greater your boost will be.
Experian Boost can be particularly helpful for those with little to no credit history, or for those who are close to being in a higher credit tier. You can expect to see your new score immediately after the analysis is complete.
An authorized user is a term that refers to somebody who has been given permission to use someone else’s credit card. Young adults, for example, are often added as authorized users to their parents’ credit cards in order to help them build credit.
Do you know someone who has a stellar credit score, a low credit utilization rate, and who would trust you enough to add you as an authorized user to their accounts? If so, becoming an authorized user on that account can be another great way of raising your credit score relatively quickly. This is because all of the positive credit signals from the other person—particularly their utilization ratio and payment history—will be added to your credit report, where it can help you lower your own total credit utilization rate.
Unfortunately, there are risks involved in becoming an authorized user on someone else’s account. If that person were to ever miss a payment or increase their credit use (and, therefore, their credit utilization), the negative effects would carry over to you as well. That is why it is very important that you consider the pros and cons before tying your own credit score to anyone else.
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