As the saying goes, “nothing is certain but death and taxes”, but the same can hold true for your credit score.
Whether you need a car loan, home loan, or more buying power, you need to have a decent credit score to be approved for a loan and get lower interest rates.
I know that it’s often a subject that you don’t want to deal with, but if you take baby steps and don’t avoid your credit score it may be easier to increase it than you think.
Here are 5 ways to get you on your way to a better credit score:
1. Don’t Avoid Your Credit Report – You are entitled to one free credit report per year issued by three national credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Make sure you order your report and check what’s showing up. Oftentimes there may be errors on your report dragging your credit score down. Check to make sure there are no erroneously reported late payments, debts owed, or credit limits. Your credit score is determined by information reported on your credit report and plays an important role in what loans you qualify for and the interest you will pay.
If you’re thinking about making a big purchase, like a home or car, request a copy of your credit report a few months in advance. Also, if you have any small unpaid bills like medical bill co-pays that often pop up on credit reports call the medical service provider or collection agency to pay those off first and ask them to remove them from your credit. You would be amazed at how much a few outstanding $10 co-pays can lower your score.
Aside from obtaining a free credit score from one of the three credit bureaus, you can also gain access to your credit report for free through Mint. Mint’s free credit report and score simply requires you to verify your identity and once verified, you’ll have your free credit report summary within minutes.
2. Pay Down Credit Card Debt – Credit card debt and maxed-out credit cards are one of the major factors that can decrease your credit score. The larger percentage of your revolving credit you’re using the worse it is for your credit score. Try to keep your outstanding balances below 30% of your credit limit and below 10% is even better.
If you have a lot of credit card debt make a list of your outstanding credit card balances and pay off the lowest one first and work your way to the highest. As you pay off the smallest credit card debt, you can take the money you would have paid on the lower balances just paid off and put it towards the next highest balance. This trick, known as the debt snowball method, really works in helping you pay down your debt and increasing your credit score. Once you’ve paid off your credit card debt make sure you don’t close your credit cards since closing them can also lower your credit score.
3. Request Removal of Late Payments – If there is an outstanding debt that was erroneously reported or you really did forget to pay a bill, call the company who reported the late and request removal of the derogatory information. The creditor will request a letter stating why you were late or why there is an error. They will let you know whether or not they will remove the derogatory information.
If your request is approved, always get the approval in writing and keep it for your records. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve helped with their credit who went to buy a home and found an old derogatory that was once removed had reappeared.
4. Don’t Clear Up to Charge Up – Make sure you don’t spend all that time cleaning up your credit and increasing your credit score to get that long-awaited home loan approval and then make a huge purchase on credit.
Lenders make decisions based on your credit score and report at the time of application, but they will run your credit again after you get loan approval, but just prior to your loan closing. If a new purchase pops up it can impact your loan. One of my old clients went out and purchased a new Corvette after I helped him clean up his credit for his home loan. The lender did run his credit right before the loan closed, which changed his debt-to-equity ratio and impacted his loan.
5. Improve Your Payment History – With everything that’s happened this past year you may be having difficulty paying your bills. Don’t hesitate to give your lender or credit card company a call and let them know about any challenges you are facing. Many lenders and credit card companies are working with people who were impacted by COVID or other unexpected events. If you have experienced some difficulty and had missed or late payments. Once you get back on your feet, the best thing you can do is to begin paying your bills on time. The longer you pay your bills on time after being late the more your credit score will increase. Recent good payment patterns will eventually overshadow the bad.
Improving your credit score doesn’t happen overnight, but following these tips will have you on your way to a high credit score giving you lower interest rates and more money in your pocket.
Check out Mint, where you can get your free credit score, credit report summary, and an explanation of how your credit score was calculated.