Your credit score can affect your life in a lot of ways, from whether you are eligible for a loan or credit card, or qualified for a security clearance. If your credit score has fallen or you want to improve your credit score, these tips can get you started.
What is a Credit Score?
A credit score uses historical information about a person’s past use of credit to calculate the likelihood that they will pay back what they owe on time and in full. Credit scores are used to determine qualification for borrowing money as a loan or on a credit card, and they can affect your interest rates, insurance premiums, leases, or eligibility for a job or security clearance.
Ranging from a low of 300 to a high of 850 (sometimes referred to as “perfect credit”), credit scores are calculated based on payment history, amount owed, length of credit history, types of credit used, and new applications for credit.
In general, a score of 660 and above would make a borrower eligible for credit with favorable interest rates. A score below 600 may result in difficulty getting approved for credit and is likely to be subject to high-interest rates.
If you don’t know your credit score, you might be able to find it on your bank or loan statement or credit card bill. You can also purchase your credit score directly from one of the three credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian or Transunion. Fortera members also have instant access to their credit score and credit report. Click here to learn more about accessing your report anytime via our Online and Mobile banking.
5 Tips to Improve Your Credit Score
#1. Get Your Payment in Before the Buzzer
Paying your bills on time is the biggest single factor used to calculate your credit score. Late payments (even a couple of days), past due accounts and accounts in collections, have a negative impact on your credit. Regular, on-time payment of the minimum amount (or greater) will improve your credit score. A positive payment history in the range of 18 months or longer will begin to show results in a growing credit score.
If you are falling behind on your bills, look for ways to get back on track. Use a monthly budget to plan your spending and make sure that your bills are covered. Automated payments can also help you avoid late fees and ensure on-time payment. If you know you will miss a due date, call your credit card company or lender. They may be able to help by moving your due date out.
#2. Pay Off Debt
How much you owe is another big factor in calculating your credit score. If you have a large amount of debt or are carrying balances on credit accounts for long periods of time, it can negatively affect your score. Paying off the debt will help improve your credit score.
Start by prioritizing your budget to pay down your debt. Look for places you can redirect non-essential spending to pay extra on your credit accounts. A credit counselor can walk you through different options for dealing with debt and may be able to help you pay it off more quickly.
#3 All Things in Moderation — Use 30% or Less of Your Credit Limit
The amount of credit you use (also called credit utilization) also affects your score. Our financial counselors suggest using less than 30 to 40% of your available credit. Spending above that threshold, maxing out your credit, or carrying high balances relative to your credit limit will cause your score to fall. However, regularly using small amounts of credit and paying it off will increase your score. Generally speaking, having credit cards or installment loans and paying them on time and in full will improve your credit score over time. People without established credit typically receive lower credit scores.
If you are using more of your credit limit than you would like, take a look at how and why you are using credit can help you make adjustments in your budget and spending choices to reduce your reliance on credit.
#4 Talk to a Credit Counselor
Talking to a credit counselor won’t have a direct effect on your credit score, but it can give you insight and information that you can use to improve your credit. They will work with you to understand your financial situation, explore different options, and make a personalized plan. They can help you review and understand your credit report. If debt is preventing you from making progress, they can help you explore debt management plans and other options that can accelerate your path forward. 93% of people who talk to us leave the conversation with a plan for achieving their goal. Fortera members have access to free financial educational resources through our partner GreenPath.
#5 Stick with It! Credit Building is a Long-Distance Run
A history of credit that you have paid back on time and accounts that you have held for five years or longer have a positive effect on your credit score. Quickly opening multiple accounts, suddenly carrying balances for a sustained period, or even closing unused accounts have a negative effect on your score.
Events like foreclosure and bankruptcy, while they serve a very important purpose for those with severe debt, have a significant and lengthy impact on your credit score. (We are not lawyers, and this is not legal advice. If you are considering one of these options, we encourage you to consult a legal professional and to investigate other alternatives as well.)
Your credit score is based on patterns over time, with an emphasis on more recent information. Improving credit and rebuilding a credit score that has fallen will take some patience, but it can be done! Credit scores can and do change.