If you want to show lenders that you are financially responsible, a high credit score is your best bet. Your credit score is essentially a measure of how consistent you are in managing your bill and credit payments. In fancier terms, it measures your “creditworthiness.”
So, if you are looking to become more creditworthy, here’s our advice:
Review your credit report and score.
You first want to see where you are with your credit score. Fortunately, you can get a free credit report from AnnualCreditreport.com right now, which will give you reports from the three main credit bureaus in the U.S.: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
Because of the coronavirus, these bureaus will be giving users a free report each week until April 2021.
Credit bureaus are companies that receive your payment data from banks, and compile them to produce reports. These reports can later be bought by banks or anyone else issuing you a payment on credit that wants to check your creditworthiness.
Your credit report will give you a summary on how you have been keeping up with your credit payments. The higher your score, the better credit you have.
Pay your bills on time.
Your payment history is one of the main factors impacting your credit score. In total, your payment history and utilization rate (how much you owe divided by your credit limit) make up between 60-70% of your overall credit score, according to CNBC.
For that reason, you’ll want to start paying off any bills that you might have and develop a system to remain consistent with them. This includes your credit card bills, phone bills, rent and utilities. After all, one missed payment may hurt you temporarily, but a series of late payments will put a severe dent in your credit score.
According to Investopedia, some helpful habits to get into are setting alerts on your calendar or phone for whenever bills are due, and putting as many of your monthly payments on your credit card as possible. You can also automate bill payments from your bank account.
Manage your credit balance.
As mentioned earlier, credit utilization is how much of your credit limit you’re using at a particular time. If you want to calculate this yourself, record the balances for your credit card at the end of each month for the past 12 months, then add them up and divide by 12. This gives you how an idea of how much credit you use on average each month.
While, ideally, you’ll want to have a balance of zero at the end of each month, that isn’t always possible. So the best rule of thumb to follow is keeping your total balance at 30% or less to maintain a balance that won’t hurt your credit score too much. If you can stay under 10%, that’s even better.
A helpful tip is seeing if you can request for a credit-limit increase, but only do so if you haven’t made a similar request in a while.
Pay off debt.
If you have any overhanging debt, make sure you’re working to pay that off. A lender wants to see that you’re making concerted efforts to take away any lingering payments like student loans or a mortgage. Again, debts that last will only damage your credit score. Even if you can’t pay off your debt immediately, it’s at least best to show that you are making active progress in getting rid of it.
Apply for new accounts, with caution.
You may have heard that picking up a credit card account will boost your overall credit score. This is partially true.
In the credit world, there are two types of inquiries: soft and hard. Soft inquiries are actions which that don’t impact your credit score, like if you, your employer or some financial institution wanted to check your credit.
Hard inquiries are actions that may impact your credit score, like applying for a new credit card, mortgage, or auto loan.
Applying for a new credit card account is a hard inquiry. This isn’t bad when it’s in small doses, especially if you have the ability and the financial history to ensure others that you will pay for it responsibly. Adding more cards can even diversify your types of credits, which will also help boost your score. But if you make too many hard inquiries, your credit score will shoot down and you won’t be seen as reliable to lenders.
In short, applying for a new account can increase your credit score, but only when done sparingly.
Don’t delete old accounts.
If an old account isn’t costing you any monthly fees, don’t get rid of it. Your credit score is also impacted by the age of the credit in question, so if you have another account that will carry with you, you may have another way of ticking up your score. You also run a risk of damaging your score if you try to close a card while trying to pay off a different balance.
This is not an exhaustive list. There’s a wealth of other options for how you can boost your credit score, such as asking to be named an authorized user on someone else’s card.
Those methods, however, aren’t as common as those we have listed above. The key to unlocking a healthy credit score is remaining consistent with your payments and monitoring your credit reports. If you can achieve that, then you won’t have to take any extra measures.