Many people want to improve their credit score, especially if they have bad credit. You can improve your credit score in a relatively short time, sometimes less than a year or even just a few months. This article will explain what factors determine your credit score and how you can improve yours.
Many people want to improve their credit score, especially if they have bad credit. You may be wondering what you need to do and how long it will take to improve your credit. Improving your credit means increasing your credit score, which is based on a ranking system that rates your credit from poor to excellent.
It is important to know that you can damage your credit very quickly by something as seemingly insignificant as one missed payment. By comparison, it takes much longer to improve your credit. But you can still improve your credit score in a relatively short time, sometimes less than a year or even just a few months. This article will explain what factors determine your credit score and how you can improve yours.
Credit Score 101
A credit score represents your creditworthiness to lenders. It’s a rating that lenders use to evaluate the credit risk posed by a borrower. It provides lenders with a quick, general snapshot of your credit. The most common credit score used by lenders to make credit decisions is the FICO rating. VantageScore is the second most common score used to make lending decisions. All credit scores are based on information contained in your credit reports.
FICO scores range from 300 to 850 as follows:
A poor credit score is between 300 and 579.
A fair credit score is between 580 and 669.
A good credit score is between 670 and 739.
A very good credit score is between 740 and 799.
An excellent credit score is 800 and above.
A score of 850 is considered a perfect score and the best credit possible.
Credit Score vs. Credit Report
Your credit score is a simple rating like a grade point average, while your credit report is an all-inclusive list, like an academic transcript, that contains a record of all your credit accounts. Extensions of credit like mortgages, credit cards, HELOCs, and other loans appear as separate entries on a credit report. Each entry includes a summary of the payment history for each account, including the number of late payments. Any past bankruptcies or repossessions also appear on a credit report. Credit reports don’t contain your credit score.
A credit bureau is a credit reporting agency that gathers information about your credit usage and history. Three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—compile consumer credit reports in the United States. Credit bureaus do not make lending decisions. The information in your report is available to lenders when you apply for credit like mortgages, credit cards, and car loans. Each credit reporting agency collects and compiles your information differently.
Why Your Score Matters
Your credit score is a key component of your financial profile. A good credit score comes with many benefits that save you money in the long run. This includes access to credit with more favorable terms like a lower interest rate and monthly payment. But your score also matters in other ways.
Some utility companies review your credit report and credit score to determine how likely you are to make timely payments. A strong credit history may allow you to initiate service without making a security deposit. Also, some rental management companies consider potential tenants’ credit scores to evaluate whether they are financially credible. A higher credit score may also help you qualify for automobile insurance at a lower rate.
What Influences Your Score
When a credit bureau provides your credit score, it will list up to five factors that are most heavily influencing your credit rating at the time of the request. Many things can affect a credit score.
FICO uses percentages to indicate the importance of a particular category as follows:
Payment history: 35%
Amounts owed: 30%
Length of credit history: 15%
Credit mix: 10%
New credit: 10%
The biggest factor that can negatively affect your credit score is a missed payment. Even one missed payment can decrease your credit score. This factor is highly important since lenders are most concerned with whether you will repay your debt and if you will repay it on time. Foreclosures, repossessions, judgments, charge-offs, and settled accounts are negative events that can severely hurt your credit for years, even up to a decade in the case of some bankruptcies.
Having a credit utilization rate higher than 30% can lower your score and is also seen negatively by creditors. If you don’t have a very long credit history, this can affect your score as well. Generally, the longer your credit history, the higher your credit score. While it can take time to build your score up to a good rating or higher, lowering your credit score can occur much more quickly.
How to Check Your Credit Score and Credit Report
Under federal law, each consumer has the right to receive a free copy of their credit report every 12 months. During the pandemic, you can receive a free credit report each week from all three national credit bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com. These credit bureaus provide a centralized website, toll-free telephone number, and mailing address to help consumers order their free annual reports from one location. Only AnnualCreditReport.com is authorized to fill orders for the free annual credit report that you are entitled to under the law.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends that consumers do not contact the three national credit bureaus individually to obtain a copy of their free report. Federal law also entitles you to a free report if you are denied an application for credit, insurance, or employment. This denial is known as an adverse action. You must request your free credit report within 60 days of receiving notice of an adverse action.
Credit reports from the three credit bureaus do not usually contain credit scores. But one of your creditors may provide you with a free credit score. If so, details informing you how to access your credit score should appear on your billing statement. Your score may actually appear on your billing statement or it may be accessible online on one of your credit card companies’ websites.
You can also purchase credit scores directly from one of the three major credit bureaus or FICO. You can get a free copy of your credit report and credit score from Experian. There are also credit score services, many available online, that provide scores at no cost. Some companies provide credit scores through paid monthly subscriptions allowing customers to regularly monitor their scores.
How Do Credit Inquiries Influence Your Score?
Some credit inquiries may affect your credit score. A hard inquiry is when a lender reviews your credit profile to determine if you’re creditworthy. A hard inquiry can temporarily lower your score by a few points. There are no negative consequences for soft inquiries, which occur when you check your own credit report and credit score. Since there is no penalty for making a soft inquiry, regularly checking your credit report is an efficient, affordable way to help you find errors or uncover identity theft. Finding and disputing these errors quickly can prevent your credit from dropping unnecessarily. It only takes a few minutes to obtain your credit reports.
Removing Errors From Your Credit Report
The three credit bureaus are far from perfect when it comes to collecting information. After all, they collect information for millions of consumers and greatly depend on lenders to provide accurate information. It’s easy for lenders to make mistakes, especially when some lenders service tens of thousands of accounts. So it’s not as uncommon as you might think for your credit report to contain errors. Since errors are possible, it’s crucial to review your credit report regularly.
Errors in your credit reports can result in a credit score that is lower than it should be. Removing and disputing errors from your credit report is one of the fastest ways to improve your credit. It can also help you find fraud and identity theft before it’s too late and you suffer a significant loss.
Before you review your credit report, gather the information for each of your credit accounts. You should know the balance of each account and if and when you missed any payments. Review each entry on your report and compare it to your payment information for that account to see if it matches. If there is no correlation between the information on the report and your records and you think this is a mistake, contact the credit bureau. Explain why you believe the information on the report is incorrect.
It’s best to dispute errors by writing a letter. The FTC provides a sample letter on its website for this purpose. Each credit reporting bureau is legally required to investigate any error reported by a consumer. It can take anywhere from one to three months to remove errors from your credit report.
Removing Collections Accounts From Your Credit History
Credit reports also contain negative information related to your credit history. A credit report includes entries for accounts that are charged off or in collections. Once you’ve removed errors, you can try to remove these negative entries.
A charge-off is a negative entry on your credit report that indicates a creditor, believing you will no longer make any payments, has closed your account. A charge-off is a serious negative event that can hurt your credit score. Creditors typically charge off accounts after they've been delinquent for six months. Also, at some time after a debt is considered delinquent by a lender, the original creditor may transfer the account to a collections agency or sell it to a debt buyer. Both events are considered negative events for credit reporting purposes.
While a charge-off means the original lender has written the account off as a loss and closed it, a collections account may still be sold to a debt buyer. If you pay the past-due amount to the lender before it is sold, you may prevent a collections account from being reported on your credit report. Negative information like a charge-off or collections account can remain on your credit report for seven years. Note that any information older than seven years may be removed from your credit report.
One option to resolve these accounts is a debt settlement. You might be able to settle the debt for less than what you owe. This may be manageable if you’ve only missed one or two payments. Reaching any type of debt settlement will only work if you can make the payment each month.
Improving Your Credit Utilization Ratio
When you apply for credit, lenders consider your current level of credit utilization, or the extent to which you’re using your available credit. Your credit utilization ratio measures the total amount of revolving credit you’re using divided by the total amount of revolving credit you have available. It's the amount of your total debt divided by your total available credit.
Most financial experts recommend that you have a credit utilization of 30% or less. This means that 70% of your available credit is unused, which shows that you're wisely managing your credit by not overspending. Having a lower rate will increase your credit score in a reasonably short time.
You can decrease your credit utilization ratio by:
Making payments that reduce the balance of a highly utilized card;
Raising the credit limits on other cards; or
Acquiring new credit cards.
If you acquire a new card, make sure that you can make the payments on time and try to pay the account balance down to zero each month.
Taking on New Loans to Improve Your Credit Score
Acquiring new credit can help you repair your credit. It may seem counterintuitive but getting a new loan can help increase your credit score. But you should only consider getting a new loan or raising your credit limit if you know for sure that you’re able to repay it.
A credit limit increase can help improve your credit score by lowering your credit utilization ratio. Acquiring new credit increases the overall credit available to you. Having more credit available decreases your credit utilization rate. Lenders look at your new use of credit more than older credit use since it reflects your current spending patterns. It is a fresher indication of whether you’re a good risk to repay a debt.
If you take out a new loan, start small. One effective way to accomplish this is a small, secured loan on your house or car. Another is a low-limit secured credit card. A credit card with a low credit limit with manageable monthly payments can help you build a good payment history. Paying a credit card debt like this each month by the due date will help you rebuild your credit history in a relatively short amount of time.
You could also acquire a credit card that you never use but keep to maintain a lower overall credit utilization ratio. As newer credit card accounts age, lenders will treat them with more weight and your overall credit score will increase.
You can damage your credit in a short amount of time if you miss a payment. While credit repair can take much longer, you can still improve your credit in just a few months. Reviewing your credit report regularly, keeping your credit utilization at or lower than 30%, removing errors and other negative entries from your credit report, and taking on new credit, can help you improve your credit score in a relatively short amount of time.
Maintaining good credit over a longer period of time requires a lot of effort, but once you achieve a good credit score it is generally easier to maintain.