Money Health

4 Tips to Improve Your Credit

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If you’re planning to buy a house, take out a loan, or apply for certain jobs, you already know how important your credit score is. Your credit score helps you get access to the cash you need by showing creditors that you are a trustworthy borrower. When you have a high credit score, you are more likely to get approved for a loan with a lower interest rate and better terms.

On the other hand, having a low credit score could make it harder for you to get approved for a loan—and even if you do get approved, you may be stuck with high interest rates. But if your credit has taken a hit, there are ways to recover from bad credit.  Here are four expert tips that could help you improve your credit score.

Check Your Credit Score and Your Credit History

“More and more credit card issuers are giving their customers access to their FICO Scores. It’s a very good idea to use these tools periodically in order to know where your credit score stands,” says financial expert Michael Micheletti. “If you notice your score dropping, be sure to check your credit report to figure out the reasons why and dispute those reasons if they are inaccurate.”    

Getting copies of all three of your credit reports at annualcreditreport.com is a great place to start. You can access these reports once per year, for free. If you find any errors or inaccuracies on these reports, reach out to the lender and credit reporting agency to have the information corrected.

When you look at your credit reports, you will also see reason codes, which help explain why you are scoring the way you are scoring. This can be insightful for you to understand why your score isn’t higher than you would like. You can look up reason codes and learn more about them by visiting reasoncode.org.

Get Current and Stay Current

Once that’s done, it’s crucial to remain in good standing with your creditors. According to Freddie Huynh, who was the architect of FICO Score 8 and FICO Score 9: 

“How someone pays their bills is the most influential component of a FICO Score. In fact, it accounts for 35% of the FICO Score! It’s important to note that the score can penalize any evidence of late payments, but it can also reward evidence of good payment history as well.

How someone pays their bills accounts for 35% of their FICO Score!

“I often say that improving your credit score is like losing weight. There’s no quick fix and it takes time and discipline to lose weight. That pint of Ben & Jerry’s one evening can do a lot more harm to your weight loss goals than that one salad at dinner. However, if you lay off the decadent desserts and combine that with a constant dedication to eating healthy and regular exercise, you will lose weight. The path to improving your credit score is similar.”

Re-establish Credit

For consumers who have been through the proverbial financial ringer, they’ll need to re-establish credit.  This should only be done when they’ve gotten their finances in order. Re-establishing your credit is a challenging and slow process if you’ve had a history of very bad credit. However, Freedom Debt Relief VP of Client Enrollment, Kevin Gallegos, has advice for people with poor credit who are looking to open an account:

“If you’re having trouble getting approved for a card,” say Gallegos, “seek out a secured credit card. These cards work just like any other credit card, but you pay the creditor up front to secure the credit they are extending to you. Continue to use this card and pay back the amount you owe each month to establish better credit.”

Lower Your Credit Card Credit Utilization

If you have established credit and pay on time but your score isn’t as high as you would like, you may want to check your credit card utilization. Credit card utilization is calculated based on the total amount of credit card debt you have versus the total credit lines you’ve been extended. Though all sorts of debt is influential to your credit score, credit card utilization is particularly influential.  It’s ideal to keep your credit card utilization below 30% – lower can be even better.

“Keeping your credit utilization at a manageable level isn’t just good for your credit score—it’s good for your overall financial health,” says Sean Fox, Co-President of Freedom Debt Relief. “As your credit utilization climbs, your score can drop and your minimum payments increase. When you fall into this pattern, it’s easy for your debt to get out of control.”

Lastly, if you find that your credit utilization is getting too high, it might be time to consolidate your debt or start paying it down more aggressively. Just make sure that if you take out a debt consolidation loan, make sure you don’t repeat past mistakes and let your unsecured debt spiral out of control again. 

Improving your credit can be a challenge. There’s no quick fix, but with hard work and consistency you could get your credit back on track!

John Russo is a Creative Manager at Freedom Financial Network. His goal is to make the world of personal finance more accessible so that everyday people can find the right financial solutions for themselves. In his free time, he enjoys hiking, reading pretty much anything, and spending time with his fiancée and two cats.