From getting approved for a lease to nabbing the best interest rate on a loan, a high credit rating ensures success. Here, seven easy ways to raise your number now — and keep your credit score healthy for years to come.
Clear up errors quickly.
Scan your credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com to find potentially costly errors, like a late payment when you actually paid on time, says certified financial planner Liz Weston, author of five money books including the bestselling Your Credit Score. “During the pandemic, they’ve made it free to check your report weekly until April 20, 2022.”
Check your information.
While you’re looking at your credit report, be sure to look at your personal information, adds personal finance expert and consumer advocate Laura D. Adams, author of Money-Smart Solopreneur and host of the top-rated Money Girl podcast. “I have the same name as my sister-in-law — we’re both Laura Adams — so when I saw an account that wasn’t mine, I knew our information had become mixed up.” It’s easy to clear up mistakes online using the “dispute portal” with the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and Transunion). “The error should be fixed within a month or two.”
Know the magic ratio.
After paying on time, the most important factor is credit utilization, your balance compared to your credit limit. So if your credit limit is $1,000 and your balance is $300, your utilization is 30 percent. As it creeps higher, your credit gets dinged. Says Weston, “To keep utilization low, some people make a payment right before the credit card statement closes, while others make smaller weekly payments.”
If you’re close to someone with great credit, ask about becoming an authorized user on their card, advises Constance Carter, author of Keeping Score and the founder of Catalyst Real Estate Professionals, the largest African American-owned real estate firm in California. “If they have no late payments and a low balance, you’ll instantly get the benefit of their credit because the account will be tacked onto your report.”
Consider this loan.
A credit builder loan with the Self Credit Builder Account lets you borrow money and put it into a CD, reveals Weston. Instead of giving you access to the money you borrow, they’ll keep it in a savings account for you. Once you make 12 on-time repayments, starting at $25 per month, you’ll get the cash back from the CD, minus interest and fees. “This helps you build credit, because every time you make a payment, it gets reported to each of three bureaus,” says Weston. “Plus, the great thing is, it allows you to create an emergency fund!”
Discover the right card.
“A secured credit card works just like a regular card, but you put down a refundable deposit — say, $200, and that gives you $200 to make purchases,” explains Adams. “But not all secured credit cards report to the bureaus, so call and make sure they do before signing up. Within six months, your score should go up.”
Come back strong.
You can overcome almost anything, assures Weston. “With the exception of a tax lien, most collections are erased seven years and 180 days from the time the account went delinquent.” Just don’t be afraid of credit. “Installment debt, like a loan, is only 10 percent of your score, while revolving debt, like a credit card, is 30 percent,” adds Carter. “So keep using your cards responsibly and your score will improve.”
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.