Many financial experts like to say there’s no guarantee you can significantly change a credit score in a mere six months.
However, those same experts have an entire arsenal of actionable tips designed to help you make significant progress (which we’ve shared below) if your mission is to not only get your credit score on the right track, but to do so quickly.
Some of the tips may be slightly obvious, such as paying monthly bills on time and reducing overall debt, while others are not likely approaches most people have considered.
The good news is that while the science behind credit scores may seem like a mystery, there are plenty of people who have made significant progress on their scores in a mere six months. And you can too.
Pay Your Credit Card Bill On Time
Let’s get the most basic step out of the way first. Paying your bills on time is key to any attempt to improve a credit score.
“You don’t need to pay the bill off, but you do need to make at least the minimum payment,” says Lee Gimpel, co-creator of The Good Credit Game, a curriculum for financial educators who teach about credit reports, credit scores and credit cards. “After all, the biggest component of a FICO credit score is your credit history – whether you pay on time – and that’s 35% of the score. Even one late payment can really affect your credit score; a pattern of doing it over years can be quite long-lasting.”
Balance Your Credit Portfolio
Yet another way to inch your credit score higher is by thoughtfully managing the type of accounts you have open, including limiting consumer credit accounts (credit cards, store cards, store lines of credit), says Jill Emanuel, a financial coach with Fiscal Fitness Phoenix.
“The credit bureaus look for a nicely balanced credit portfolio of things like a mortgage, car loan, student loan, and consumer debt,” explains Emanuel. “One of the places people hurt themselves is by having a large number of consumer accounts open. If there are accounts that aren’t being used – close them.”
Review Credit History Length
The length of time you’ve had accounts open is another important factor to review and consider taking action on.
Credit agencies like to see accounts that have been open for a longer period of time and managed responsibly since inception.
You can easily see how long you’ve had accounts open by obtaining a copy of your credit report. And then you can help improve your score by eliminating some of the more recent accounts.
“Before closing accounts, double check how long they have been open. Accounts that have a more than 10-year credit history are actually helping your score,” advises Emanuel. “Close accounts that have only been open a few years and keep open the accounts with the longest history.”
Minimize Hard Inquiries
Every time you apply for a new line of credit, your credit report is pulled. This is called a hard inquiry. And it hurts your credit.
If your goal is to see progress in your credit score quickly, it’s time to minimize (or eliminate) the habit of applying for new credit cards.
“The less this happens the better, so stop applying for store cards and lines of credit,” cautions Emanuel. “Each time you do, it’s a hit on your credit score…”
Improve Your Debt Ratio
Credit agencies prefer to see consumers with a credit utilization ratio of less than 30 percent.
Your credit utilization ratio is the total of your outstanding debt as a percent of all of your credit limits combined.
“A great, fast way to raise your credit score is to keep your credit utilization low,” says from Natasha Rachel Smith, Personal Finance Expert at TopCashBack.com. “To boost your credit score in under six months, pay off all of your credit card debt.”
When Paying Off Credit Cards – Consider Doing So in Two Steps
Jason Fox, a mortgage lender with Peoples Home Equity, works with clients nearly every day to improve their credit scores.
He suggests when it comes to paying off credit cards, do it strategically in order to achieve a quicker improvement.
“Pay down all credit cards first to a low balance, perhaps $100. Then, the next month, pay them off in full,” explains Fox. “The reason to do it this way is most credit card companies won’t reflect a paid off account for a few months. So, just pay it down first and they will report your account with a low balance, which will increase your scores. And then pay it off entirely.”
Improve Utilization Ratio By Asking for Credit Limit Increases
If you don’t have the financial ability to pay off your credit cards in order to get them below a 30% utilization ratio, all is not lost.
“Another strategy is to ask for credit limit increases, which gives you more available credit and therefore boosts your score,” says David Bakke, a finance expert at Money Crashers.
In other words, call up your credit card companies and make this request. They are often happy to work with you. The key here is to be responsible with the limit increase and not start spending more.
Associate with Someone Who Has Excellent Credit
This does not mean simply spending time in the company of those who have great credit scores. (Although that’s not certainly a bad idea.)
Kyle Winkfield, managing partner of OWRS Firm, in Washington, D.C., suggests one of the best measures to see quick improvement in your credit score is to ask a family member or very close friend, who has impeccable credit and a lengthier credit history, to add you as an authorized user on their lines of credit.
“This person doesn’t need to give you a credit card to use, however simply just associating you with their good credit will improve your score and they will not be impacted by the association,” says Winkfield.
Translation – it won’t mean a free shopping spree for you. And it won’t threaten the credit score of the person agreeing to this arrangement.
Pick One Card and Use It Responsibly Each Month
This tried and true method has been used by consumers far and wide. Select one credit card and use it every month for expenses that you would normally pay for with a debit card or cash. And then, be sure to pay this card in full every month.
“To improve your score, you actually want something being reported every month and this happens any time you have a balance on your account,” explains Emanuel. “I recommend my clients find a bill that they can charge to their credit card each month. Once the statement posts, pay it in full. That way every single month something is being reported to the credit bureaus.”
Not only is something being reported to the credit bureaus. The bureaus are seeing that you are paying a bill in its entirety, consistently.
You can find out how your debt is impacting your credit scores, and learn how making more than the minimum payment can help you save money and affect your credit by setting up your own free account at Credit.com. From there, you can also create a personalized action plan to get where you want to be.
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