Categories

Improve Credit

How to Improve Your Credit Score

Your credit score—a three-digit number lenders use to help them decide how likely it is they'll be repaid on time if they grant you a credit card or loan—is an important factor in your financial life. The higher your scores, the more likely you are to qualify for loans and credit cards at the most favorable terms, which will save you money.

If your credit history is not where you want it to be, you're not alone. Improving your credit scores takes time, but the sooner you address the issues that might be dragging them down, the faster your credit scores will go up. You can increase your scores by taking several steps, like establishing a track record of paying bills on time, paying down debt and taking advantage of tools like Experian Boost, a new product that allows you to add utility and cell phone bills to your credit file.

How Credit Scores Are Calculated

You likely have dozens, if not hundreds, of credit scores. That's because a credit score is calculated by applying a mathematical algorithm to the information in one of your three credit reports, and there is no one uniform algorithm employed by all lenders or other financial companies to compute the scores. (Some credit scoring models are very common, like the FICO® Score*, which ranges from 300 to 850.)

You don't have to get hung up on having multiple scores, though, because the factors that make your scores go up or down in different scoring models are usually similar. "What makes one score go up versus down is always going to be the same—it just depends on the degree," says Barry Paperno, a consumer credit expert.

Most scoring models take into account your payment history on loans and credit cards, how much revolving credit you regularly use, how long you've had accounts open, the types of accounts you have and how often you apply for new credit.

Steps to Improve Your Credit Scores

To improve your scores, start by checking your credit scores online. When you get your scores, you will also get information about which factors are affecting your scores the most. These risk factors will help you understand the changes you can make to start improving your scores. You will need to allow some time for any changes you make to be reported by your creditors and subsequently reflected in your credit scores.

Of course, certain credit score factors are typically more important than others. Payment history and credit utilization ratios are among the most important in many critical credit scoring models, and together they can represent up to 70% of a credit score, which means they're hugely influential.

Focusing on the following actions will help your credit scores improve over time. A credit score reflects credit payment patterns over time, with more emphasis on recent information.

1. Pay Your Bills on Time

When lenders review your credit report and request a credit score for you, 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 positively influence this credit scoring factor by paying all your bills on time as agreed every month. Paying late or settling an account for less than what you originally agreed to pay can negatively affect credit scores.

You'll want to pay all bills on time—not just credit card bills or any loans you may have, such as auto loans or student loans, but also your rent, utilities, phone bill and so on. It's also a good idea to use resources and tools available to you, such as automatic payments or calendar reminders, to help ensure you pay on time every month.

If you're behind on any payments, bring them current as soon as possible. Although late or missed payments appear as negative information on your credit report for seven years, their impact on your credit score declines over time: Older late payments have less effect than more recent ones.

2. Get Credit for Making Utility and Cell Phone Payments on Time

If you've been making utility and cell phone payments on time, there is a way for you to improve your credit score by factoring in those payments through a new, free product called Experian Boost.

Through this new opt-in product, consumers can allow Experian to connect to their bank accounts to identify utility and telecom payment history. After a consumer verifies the data and confirms they want it added to their Experian credit file, an updated FICO® Score will be delivered in real time.

Visit experian.com/boost now to register. By signing up for a free Experian membership, you will receive a free credit report and FICO® Score immediately.

3. Pay off Debt and Keep Balances Low on Credit Cards and Other Revolving Credit

The credit utilization ratio is another important number in credit score calculations. It is 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%.

To figure out your average credit utilization ratio, look at all your credit card statements from the last 12 months. Add the statement balances for each month across all your cards and divide by 12. That's how much credit you use on average each month.

Lenders typically like to see low ratios of 30% or less, and people with the best credit scores often have very low credit utilization ratios. A low credit utilization ratio tells lenders you haven't maxed out your credit cards and likely know how to manage credit well. You can positively influence your credit utilization ratio by:

  • Paying off debt and keeping credit card balances low.
  • Becoming an authorized user on another person's account (as long as they use credit responsibly).

4. Apply for and Open New Credit Accounts Only as Needed

Don't open accounts just to have a better credit mix—it probably won't improve your credit score.

Unnecessary credit can harm your credit score in multiple ways, from creating too many hard inquiries on your credit report to tempting you to overspend and accumulate debt.

5. 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 scores.

6. Don't Apply for Too Much New Credit, Resulting in Multiple Inquiries

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 negatively impact your credit score, though this effect will fade over time. Hard inquiries remain on your credit report for two years.

7. Dispute Any Inaccuracies on Your Credit Reports

You should check your credit reports at all three credit reporting bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian, the publisher of this piece) for any inaccuracies. Incorrect information on your credit reports could drag your 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.

How Long Does It Take to Rebuild a Credit Score?

If you have negative information on your credit report, such as late payments, a public record item (e.g., bankruptcy) or too many inquiries, you should pay your bills and wait. Time is your ally in improving your credit scores. There is no quick fix for bad credit scores.

The length of time it takes to rebuild your credit history after a negative change depends on the reasons behind the change. Most negative changes in credit scores are due to the addition of a negative element to your credit report, such as a delinquency or collection account. These new elements will continue to affect your credit scores until they reach a certain age.

  • Delinquencies remain on your credit report for seven years.
  • Most public record items remain on your credit report for seven years, although some bankruptcies may remain for 10 years.
  • Inquiries remain on your report for two years.

Rebuilding your credit and improving your credit scores takes time; there are no shortcuts. Start improving your credit by checking your FICO® Score from Experian data and reviewing the individual factors that are affecting your credit scores. Then, learn more about how to build credit to improve your scores. And if you need help with credit mistakes from your past, you can learn more about credit repair and how to fix your credit.

Establishing or Building Your Credit Scores

If you simply don't have a credit score because you have little experience or history with credit, you likely have a thin credit file. That means you have few (if any) credit accounts listed on your credit reports, typically one to four. Generally, a thin file means a bank or lender is unable to calculate a credit score because there is not enough information in a user's credit history to do so.

There are things you can do to fatten up your thin credit file, such as applying for a secured credit card, becoming an authorized user on someone else's credit card or taking out a credit builder loan.

Check out more tips on how to build credit here.

How Changes Affect Scores

One common question involves understanding how specific actions will affect a credit score. For example, will closing two of your revolving accounts improve your credit score? While this question may seem easy to answer, there are many factors to consider.

  • Credit scores are based entirely on the information found on an individual's credit report.
  • Any change to the credit report could affect the individual's credit score.

Simply closing two accounts not only lowers the number of open revolving accounts, but it also decreases the total amount of available credit. That results in a higher utilization rate, also called the balance-to-limit ratio (which generally lowers scores).

One change can affect many items on a credit report. It is impossible to provide a completely accurate assessment of how one specific action will affect a person's credit score. This is why the credit risk factors provided with your score are important. They identify what elements from your credit history are having the greatest impact so that you can take appropriate action.

What You Might Not Know About Credit Scores

Credit scoring involves complex calculations, and the more you know about how credit reports and credit scores work, the more you can take control of your own credit. In addition to knowing the most important factors considered in credit scoring, it can be helpful to know a few other facts about credit reports and credit scores. These components tend to be the most important:

  • Negative information on your credit report can lower your credit scores. That information remains on your credit report for a set period of time. For example, late payments appear for seven years from the date you first missed a payment. Paying off a collection account won't immediately remove it from your credit report. Bankruptcies can remain on your report for seven to ten years, depending on the type of bankruptcy. The good news is, all negative information will eventually cycle off your credit report. Until it does, focus on the things you can positively influence, including paying all your bills on time.
  • You don't need to carry a monthly credit card balance to build your credit history. You can pay off your credit card bills every month and positively affect your credit standing.
  • Settling accounts for less than the full amount you owe can harm your credit scores. Any time you fail to repay a debt as you originally agreed, it can negatively affect your credit. That said, the negative impact of settlement is still less than the negative effect of not paying a debt at all or declaring bankruptcy.

A good credit score can open doors for you. From helping you qualify for the best interest rates and terms when you borrow money to influencing how much you pay for life insurance, some might be doors you never even dreamed existed. Landlords will consider your credit scores when you apply to rent, and even telecom companies might look at your scores before you lease your next smartphone.

Considering how important credit scores are to your overall financial well-being, it's wise to do everything you can to ensure yours are as good as possible. Regularly checking your credit report and credit scores are the critical first step. When you check your credit score from Experian, you'll see a list of specific factors affecting it. Focusing on those factors first is the best way to start improving your credit scores.


Want to instantly increase your credit score? Experian Boost helps by giving you credit for the utility and mobile phone bills you're already paying. Until now, those payments did not positively impact your score.

This service is completely free and can boost your credit score fast by using your own positive payment history. It can also help those with poor or limited credit situations. Other services such as credit repair may cost you up to thousands and only help remove inaccuracies from your credit report.


Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer or other company, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. All information, including rates and fees, are accurate as of the date of publication.

This article was originally published on December 18, 2018, and has been updated.

*Credit score calculated based on FICO® Score 8 model. Your lender or insurer may use a different FICO® Score than FICO® Score 8, or another type of credit score altogether. Learn more.

†Results may vary. Some may not see improved scores or approval odds. Not all lenders use Experian credit files, and not all lenders use scores impacted by Experian Boost.

How Good Is Your Credit Score?

300 credit score301 credit score302 credit score303 credit score304 credit score305 credit score306 credit score307 credit score308 credit score309 credit score310 credit score311 credit score312 credit score313 credit score314 credit score315 credit score316 credit score317 credit score318 credit score319 credit score320 credit score321 credit score322 credit score323 credit score324 credit score325 credit score326 credit score327 credit score328 credit score329 credit score330 credit score331 credit score332 credit score333 credit score334 credit score335 credit score336 credit score337 credit score338 credit score339 credit score340 credit score341 credit score342 credit score343 credit score344 credit score345 credit score346 credit score347 credit score348 credit score349 credit score350 credit score351 credit score352 credit score353 credit score354 credit score355 credit score356 credit score357 credit score358 credit score359 credit score360 credit score361 credit score362 credit score363 credit score364 credit score365 credit score366 credit score367 credit score368 credit score369 credit score370 credit score371 credit score372 credit score373 credit score374 credit score375 credit score376 credit score377 credit score378 credit score379 credit score380 credit score381 credit score382 credit score383 credit score384 credit score385 credit score386 credit score387 credit score388 credit score389 credit score390 credit score391 credit score392 credit score393 credit score394 credit score395 credit score396 credit score397 credit score398 credit score399 credit score400 credit score401 credit score402 credit score403 credit score404 credit score405 credit score406 credit score407 credit score408 credit score409 credit score410 credit score411 credit score412 credit score413 credit score414 credit score415 credit score416 credit score417 credit score418 credit score419 credit score420 credit score421 credit score422 credit score423 credit score424 credit score425 credit score426 credit score427 credit score428 credit score429 credit score430 credit score431 credit score432 credit score433 credit score434 credit score435 credit score436 credit score437 credit score438 credit score439 credit score440 credit score441 credit score442 credit score443 credit score444 credit score445 credit score446 credit score447 credit score448 credit score449 credit score450 credit score451 credit score452 credit score453 credit score454 credit score455 credit score456 credit score457 credit score458 credit score459 credit score460 credit score461 credit score462 credit score463 credit score464 credit score465 credit score466 credit score467 credit score468 credit score469 credit score470 credit score471 credit score472 credit score473 credit score474 credit score475 credit score476 credit score477 credit score478 credit score479 credit score480 credit score481 credit score482 credit score483 credit score484 credit score485 credit score486 credit score487 credit score488 credit score489 credit score490 credit score491 credit score492 credit score493 credit score494 credit score495 credit score496 credit score497 credit score498 credit score499 credit score500 credit score501 credit score502 credit score503 credit score504 credit score505 credit score506 credit score507 credit score508 credit score509 credit score510 credit score511 credit score512 credit score513 credit score514 credit score515 credit score516 credit score517 credit score518 credit score519 credit score520 credit score521 credit score522 credit score523 credit score524 credit score525 credit score526 credit score527 credit score528 credit score529 credit score530 credit score531 credit score532 credit score533 credit score534 credit score535 credit score536 credit score537 credit score538 credit score539 credit score540 credit score541 credit score542 credit score543 credit score544 credit score545 credit score546 credit score547 credit score548 credit score549 credit score550 credit score551 credit score552 credit score553 credit score554 credit score555 credit score556 credit score557 credit score558 credit score559 credit score560 credit score561 credit score562 credit score563 credit score564 credit score565 credit score566 credit score567 credit score568 credit score569 credit score570 credit score571 credit score572 credit score573 credit score574 credit score575 credit score576 credit score577 credit score578 credit score579 credit score
Resources
Sign up for helpful tips, special offers and more!
You're signed up!
Our system is undergoing maintenance and will be available again soon.