Plan on applying for a home mortgage, car loan or new credit card? Lenders will be looking at your credit score to determine if you’re a responsible borrower. The higher your credit score, the more likely a lender will qualify you and offer the best terms.
Although boosting your score requires time and discipline, here are five simple steps to take:
1. Pay Bills on Time
When lenders review your credit report, they’re very interested in how reliably you pay your bills. That’s because past payment performance is usually considered a good predictor of future performance.
You can help this credit-scoring factor by paying all your bills on time. That includes not just credit card and loan bills, but also bills for rent, utilities, cellphones and so on. Similarly, paying late or less than the minimum amount can hurt your score. Use automatic payments or calendar reminders to help ensure you pay on time every month.
If you’re behind on payments, bring them current ASAP. Although late or missed payments appear as negative information on your credit report for seven years, their impact on your score declines over time: Older late payments have less effect than recent ones.
2. Pay Off Debt
The credit utilization ratio is another important number in credit score calculations. It’s calculated by adding all your credit card balances at any given time and dividing that amount by your total credit limit. For example, if you typically charge about $2,000 each month and your total credit limit across all your cards is $10,000, your utilization ratio is 20 percent.
Lenders prefer ratios of 30 percent or less, and people with the best credit scores often have very low ratios. A low ratio shows lenders you haven’t maxed out your credit cards and can manage credit well. You can improve your ratio by paying off debt and keeping credit card balances low.
3. Don’t Close Unused Credit Cards
Keeping unused credit cards open—as long as they’re not costing you money in annual fees—is a smart strategy, because closing an account may increase your credit utilization ratio. Owing the same amount but having fewer open accounts may lower your credit score.
4. Don’t Apply for Too Much New Credit
Opening a new credit card can increase your overall credit limit, but the act of applying for credit creates a hard inquiry on your credit report. Too many hard inquiries can hurt your credit score, though this effect will fade over time. (Hard inquiries remain on credit reports for two years.) Unnecessary credit can also tempt you to overspend and accumulate debt, so apply for new credit accounts only as needed.
5. Dispute Credit Report Inaccuracies
You should check your credit reports at all three major reporting bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax and Experian) for any inaccuracies. Incorrect information on credit reports could drag scores down. Verify that the accounts listed on your reports are correct. If you see errors, dispute the information and get it corrected right away.