(7 Minute Read) – Love it or hate it, once you’ve established credit you and your credit score are BFF’s for life. And as with any relationship, it takes time and dedication to make things work.
Nurture the relationship and you’ll reap the benefits of having a good credit score: especially if you’re planning to apply for a loan to make a major purchase, such as a new car, home, or rewards credit card. You will also have peace of mind knowing you’re getting the lowest possible interest rate, helping you save money over time.
Neglect the relationship and you’ll experience the dark side of a bad credit score. It will be that much harder to apply for certain consumer goods like a cell phone and any type of major life-changing loan.
Where Does Your Credit Score Stand?
If your credit score is 680 or higher, congratulations as you’ve earned a “Good” credit score. If you’re at 740 or higher, look out because you’re considered the best of the best and should have no problem getting the lowest interest rate on any loan you apply for.
Now, if your credit isn’t something to brag about (679 or lower), or maybe you’re in the process of rebuilding your credit, hang in there because this article is for you. Read on to get the tips that will start you on the path to credit score bliss.
Improve Your Credit Score
Looking back at our last blog, 5 Factors That Decide Your Credit Score, we dived into what makes up your credit score and the criteria that affect it for better or worse. Whether you already have established credit, or are looking to rebuild your credit, let’s focus on a few questions you may be asking yourself, and explore some ways you can start improving your credit score right now.
Let’s get started!
How can I improve my credit score fast?
While there is no single way to improve your credit score overnight, there are things you can do over time to better manage your credit, which in the long run will help improve your credit score.
According to Tatiana Homonoff, Assistant Professor of Economics and Public Service at NYU’s Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service (and publisher of a 2-year study on credit scores), two factors will raise your credit score most quickly and effectively:
1. Paying your bills on time
2. Using your credit cards sensibly
“One common and costly behavior is failing to make minimum payments on time. Past-due accounts can lead to a variety of downstream consequences such as penalty fees, higher interest rates, and lower credit scores.”
Knowing this, try not to focus on making it a sprint to raise your score, but more a marathon, using your credit wisely over time to help improve your credit score.
What helps improve my credit score?
In addition to the two factors listed in the previous question, there are a few other things you can do to raise your credit score. These include:
1. Keep your credit limit small and manageable – Don’t overextend yourself. Having a smaller credit limit will help you stay within your borrowing threshold.
2. Look into a balance transfer – If you currently have multiple credit cards with high interest rates, consider a balance transfer. Balance transfers can help you:
- Save money every month: Say you have a balance of $10,000 on a credit card with 24.99% APR. If you transferred balances to a card with a 12-month 2.99% introductory APR, you could save more than $1,200 in interest in one year!
- Consolidate your payments: If you have multiple credit cards, a balance transfer could save you from having to make multiple payments each month, simplifying your payments and giving you less to keep track of.
- Get better terms: When you transfer balances to a new credit card, your new card could offer you better terms. (Having no annual fee is nice for the wallet and peace of mind, and if you have trouble keeping deadlines, having no penalty rate for late payments can be a lifesaver.
If you’re carrying high-rate credit card debt, contact Unitus about a balance transfer. You’ll find zero balance transfer fees, and depending on your current credit score, we’ll help find a solution for your individual situation. Schedule an appointment today!
3. Don’t close your credit cards – Many people think closing a credit card is a good idea. Wrong! It can actually hurt your credit score in the long run.
You need to have a nice credit utilization rate between your balances and your available credit (30% is best). Closing cards not only reduces the total credit available which increases your utilization percentage, it reduces your credit history, another factor that helps calculate your credit score.
Also, credit card companies that see no usage on a card for months or years at a time may actually close the card due to inactivity. Don’t let that happen.
Instead of closing old cards, use them each month for small purchases (say under $5, like a coffee or snack) just to keep the cards active and to continue building your credit usage and payment history. Then each month be sure to pay off that card in full.
4. Get a secured credit card – Great for building or rebuilding your credit, secured credit cards have small available credit limits so you can’t overspend and dive deeper into credit card debt. They simply help you manage your credit responsibly while helping you improve your credit score.
5. Check your credit report and dispute any errors – This one can be a bit of work, but well worth it in the end. As mentioned in our last blog, 5 Factors That Decide Your Credit Score, you need to be checking your credit score every 4 months using one of the big 3 credit reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. Be sure to alternate between them every time you check.
Just so you don’t forget, set a reminder on your phone to visit annualcreditreport.com to get your FREE report. Checking not only helps ensure your report is accurate and your score is correct, it also shows you exactly why your score is what it is. Having inaccurate information removed can help improve your credit score as well.
Pro Tip: When making your on-time payments, make sure they arrive well before the closing date on your statement. Doing this can potentially help your credit score as the lower balances will get reported to the big 3 credit reporting agencies.
How long does it take to build my credit?
After you start taking the necessary steps to increase your credit score that we discussed earlier, and you begin reviewing your credit report on a regular basis to ensure all of your credit history information is accurate, it can take several months to see a noticeable impact on your credit score.
With fewer negative items on your credit report (late payments, bankruptcies, maxed credit limits, etc.) it will be much easier to start building your credit back up.
How can I monitor my credit score?
A new and free credit tracking service offered by Unitus called “My Credit Score” gives you a detailed analysis of how to improve your credit score, is tailored to your specific score, and takes just a few seconds to access. Plus, it’s updated daily so you always know where your score stands.
To get started, log into digital banking or our mobile app and click “My Credit Score” from the menu.
Additional Credit Building Assistance
If you’d like some additional help along your credit-building journey, please consider speaking to our financial wellness partner GreenPath. As a trusted partner of Unitus, GreenPath offers a variety of services including credit and financial counseling, financial calculators, webinars and more.
The journey to improving your credit score will likely be long and involve a good amount of discipline and effort on your part to make it all happen. Stay focused, because in the end it will be worthwhile.
About the author: Ryan Jones
Ryan has been with Unitus Community Credit Union since 2007. He started his credit union career in California before making his way to Oregon. He manages Unitus’ creative and digital presence including: content development, art direction, website design, SEO, digital advertising, photography, video production, and more.
When he’s not directing and producing creative content for Unitus, you can find him working on his next big home project, playing dad while supporting his kid’s football and dance activities, or relaxing on the backyard deck with his wife and enjoying a nice bottle of local Pinot Noir.