Tip number one: clean up your credit history. Credit scores are drawn from information in your credit history, so anything that’s wrong there will show up here. Go to annualcreditreport.com and pull a free copy of your credit history. Carefully comb through it and check it for mistakes and do what’s possible to make it look its best.
Tip number two: lower your utilization ratio. Visit this page of FICO’s website and you can learn all about how credit scores are calculated. One of factors you’ll see there is called “Amounts Owed”, which comprises about 30% of your credit score. And one of the components of this factor is how much you owe on credit cards vs. your available credit. That’s the utilization ratio. As I explained in the video above, you want to keep your utilization ratio below 30%. So if your credit limit is $1,000 on one card, you don’t want to owe more than $300 on that card.
Knowing this opens the door to several potential strategies.
- You could lower your utilization ratio by paying down your credit cards: that’s the ideal scenario.
- If money’s tight, then you could at least shuffle your balances between cards. For example, if you’ve got one card maxed out and two with small balances, move part of the big balance to each of the other two cards so all three show less than a 30% utilization ratio.
- Lower your utilization ratio by raising your credit limits. In other words, if you owe $1,000 on a card with a $1,000 credit limit, raising that credit limit to $3,000 will bring your utilization ratio back down to 30%. A simple call to the bank might be all you need.
Tip number three: dust off an old card. If you have an account that you’ve had for ages but haven’t used for ages – and is still open – use it. While still technically open, the card company may no longer be reporting the account to the credit bureaus. Using the card will increase the amount of available credit you show – good for your utilization ratio. More important, the length of your credit history makes up 15% of your credit score. So bringing a very old account back to life could help.
But here are two things not to do. Don’t open a new account – that definitely will lower your credit score, at least short-term. And don’t close any accounts, since that would negatively impact your utilization ratio.
These are the fast ways to improve your credit score – at least if you consider “fast” to be 60 – 90 days. The simplest and best way to improve your credit score, however, is the slowest: paying your bills on time and allowing any negatives like late payments to gradually fade away over time. At 35%, payment history is the biggest component in your credit score.