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Because a number of different factors affect your credit score, the best thing to do to improve it is, well, everything you can. Even if you decrease your credit card debt by just 10%, you will likely see an improvement in your scores by the next month.
Having a proven path forward that is the challenge for most people, so I’d like to share with you 7 ways to get better credit:
1) Check your credit report for errors. Depending on which study or article you read, 50-80% of credit reports contain an error. A single error can lower your score anywhere from 550 points. Yikes.
I had a delinquent mark on my credit report because we made a late payment on an Old Navy credit card. We thought we had paid the balance in full and canceled the card, and the card issuer never mailed us a statement. I didn’t find out about an outstanding $47 charge until I opened the Credit Karma iPhone app one day.
I called the issuer of our Old Navy card twice, and both times the service rep assured me that they would have the derogatory mark removed. They didn’t follow through.
About a year later, I got fed up. I logged into my TransUnion account, filed a dispute, and told my side of the story. Within a couple of days, they had removed that account entirely from my file. Awesome.
My ontime payments went from 99% to 100%, and that 1% boosted my credit score.
Check your credit report for errors, and see that mistakes and inaccuracies are removed. You’ll be glad you did.
Action #1 »> Start by obtaining a copy of your credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com. The three major reporting agencies—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—will give you a free report once a year.
Action #2 »> Strangely enough, credit reports do not include your credit score. But you can get your TransUnion and Equifax scores for free at creditkarma.com. Many credit cards, including those issued by American Express, Barclay, Discover, or Citibank credit card, will show your FICO score for free.
2) Tell your side of the story. Let’s say you that you deserve the derogatory marks on your credit report. You lost your job, ran out of money, and stopped paying the minimum on your credit card.
Go ahead and write the creditor. Ask for a goodwill adjustment. Be honest. Cite the extenuating circumstances and explain that you were a decent customer before you lost your job. A goodwill adjustment will, in effect, erase those debts or any account sent to a collection agency, and the associated mark on your report.
If your debt is still outstanding, and you’re now in a position to pay it, write the creditor a letter and agree to pay your balance if the creditor will report the account as “paid as agreed.” Be sure to ask for any such agreements in writing.
3) Keep your oldest cards open. The first thing that some people do when they want to get a handle on their finances is consolidate and simplify. They start canceling accounts left and right: “See… we’re cleaning up the house. Aren’t we doing good?”
Oops. You just threw out the baby with the bathwater.
Age is an important factor in your credit score. Keeping old accounts open, especially if they don’t carry an annual fee, increases the average age of each account. When card issuers review my credit history, they see 100% in ontime payments (thanks to the technique above), stretching back to 2002. I seem very creditworthy.
My old Bank of America credit card from college never makes it into my wallet, but when you put it in a bucket full of accounts, many of which have been active less than a year, it raises the average age. And every once in awhile, I’ll use it to buy a coffee or a tank of gas and keep the account active.
Action »> Keep your older accounts open. Only younger accounts that you no longer want or use. If you do have an older account that carries a fee, call the reconsideration line, and ask the rep to please downgrade your account to a free one. That way, you can keep the account’s age, and bypass the fee.
4) Become an authorized user. If you’ve got crappy credit, then ask a relative or friend to add you as an authorize user on her account.
By hitching your wagon to a Clydesdale, you can improve your score faster. If your friend is worried about how your, ahem, previously bad habits will affect her balance and credit, then offer to put some safeguards in place. For example, maybe she never gives you the card. Or maybe the two of you write out an agreement that limits your activity on the card.
Word to the wise: Never put your friend in the position where she foots your bill. The whole point of this arrangement is for you to improve your score while using credit responsibly, not to exploit someone else.
Action »> Ask around and identify a friend with excellent, longstanding credit. Swallow your pride. Pop the question. Return the favor by being respectful and responsible. And a gift card wouldn’t hurt.
5) Increase your credit limit. Take a look at the credit cards you already have. Which one has the longest and “cleanest” history? Call the number on the back of the card. Get an account rep on the line. Ask for a credit line increase. Explain that you really appreciate the bank’s excellent products, and you’ve been a customer in good standing for X number of years. You have used credit responsibly, and you’d appreciate a credit line increase.
By increasing your total available credit, you can decrease your credit utilization rate. Lowering your credit utilization will raise your score.
A word of caution: a credit line increase can add a new hard inquiry to your credit report.
You’ll have to ask the rep you get on the line. That being said, the longterm benefit to your credit utilization rate may outweigh a shortterm dip in your credit score.
Action »> Make the call. And remember to check your credit report to ensure that the increase shows up. Card issuers sometimes forget to report a bumpedup credit limit.
6) Open a new credit card. I already mentioned one factor that credit bureaus use to calculate your score: your credit utilization rate. Opening a new card can raise your score because it increases your total available credit, and as a result, lowers your overall utilization.
Each application will, of course, add a new hard inquiry to your file. Go for a great sign- up bonus rather than a low interest rate. Why? You’re going to pay your balance in full, right? Right. You are not going to carry a balance, rack up insane interest charges, and end up paying $20 for every $5 latte.
No, you’re a responsible adult using credit responsibly to get adult Cracker Jack prizes.
End of story.
Action »> Pick the card that’s right for you, which may in fact be none right now.
onus: Check out this post on the best credit card for travel, and this one on how to find the best credit card offers. 7) Use your credit card – Regular, responsible use of your card helps your credit
score. Spend less than you earn. Pay off your balance monthly—or better, weekly. And reap the benefits, such as cashback, points for every dollar you spend, and free primary insurance on car rentals (Chase Shappire Preferred).
If you don’t trust yourself with a credit card, then use it only one day or one week per month. You can even give your cards to a friend for safekeeping the rest of the time.
Action »> Use your credit cards for regular expenses. Get the free stuff: points, miles, cashback. And pay down your balance once a week. Just remember to set calendar reminders so that you don’t forget. Hopefully, these better credit tips have instilled some hope. You can take action, and you can improve your credit score.
For more tips, check out Better Credit in 30 Days. The guide contains 64 better credit tips, as well as a stepbystep process for boosting your credit score.
Put it to use, and you can save thousands over the coming months and years.
If you want to go ahead and get started now, grab a copy of Better Credit in 30 Days. The guide gives you a step-by-step process for boosting your credit score with the help of 64 better credit tips.
Better credit can save thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) on things that you were going to buy anyway. What’s not to love?