It’s possible to improve your Credit Score by following a few simple steps, including opening accounts that report to the credit bureaus, maintaining low balances, and paying your bills on time. However, it can be difficult to know where to start. Then, you can dive into more detailed guides based on your situation.
Steps to Improve Your Credit Score
1. Build Your Credit File
You can’t start laying down a good track record as a borrower until there are accounts in your name, so having at least several open and active credit accounts can be helpful.
These could include credit-builder loans or secured cards if you’re starting out or have a low score—or a great rewards credit card with no annual fee if you’re trying to improve an established good Credit Score.
2. Don’t Miss Payments
Your payment history is one of the most important factors in determining your Credit Score, and having a long history of on-time payments can help you achieve excellent credit scores. To do this, you’ll need to make sure you don’t miss loan or credit card payments by more than 29 days—payments that are at least 30 days late can be reported to the credit bureaus and hurt your Credit Score.
Setting up automatic payments for the minimum amount due can help you avoid missing a payment (as long as you’re careful not to overdraft your bank account). If you’re having trouble affording a bill, reach out to your credit card issuer right away to try and discuss hardship options.
Staying on top of accounts that don’t generally appear on your credit reports (gym memberships and subscription services, for instance) can also be important. The on-time payments might not help your credit, but the account being sent to collections could still cause your scores to dip.
3. Catch Up On Past-Due Accounts
If you’re behind on your bills, bringing them current could help. While a late payment can remain on your credit report for up to seven years, having all your accounts current can be good for your scores. Additionally, it stops further late payments from being added to your credit history as well as additional late fees.
For those having trouble with credit card debt, talking to a Credit Score counselor and getting on a debt management plan (DMP) could be a good option. The counselor may be able to negotiate lower payments and interest rates and get card issuers to bring your accounts current.
4. Pay Down Revolving Account Balances
Even if you’re not behind on your bills, having a high balance on revolving Credit Score accounts can lead to a high credit utilization rate and hurt your scores. Revolving accounts include credit cards and lines of credit, and maintaining a low balance on them relative to their credit limits can help you improve your scores. Those with the highest credit scores tend to keep their credit utilization ratio in the low single digits.
5. Limit How Often You Apply for New Accounts
While you may need to open accounts to build your Credit Score file, you generally want to limit how often you submit credit applications. Each application can lead to a hard inquiry, which may hurt your scores a little, but inquiries can add up and have a compounding effect on your credit scores. Opening a new account will also decrease your average age of accounts, and that could also hurt your scores.
Inquiries and the average age of your accounts are minor scoring factors, but you still want to be cautious about how many applications you submit. One exception is when you’re rate shopping for certain types of loans, such as an auto loan or mortgage. Credit scoring models recognize that rate shopping isn’t risky behavior and may ignore some inquiries if they occur within the span of a couple of weeks.
How Long Does It Take to Rebuild a Credit Score?
There’s no set timeline for rebuilding your credit. How long it takes to increase your Credit Score depends on what’s hurting your credit and the steps you’re taking to rebuild it.
For instance, if your score takes a hit after a single missed payment, it might not take too long to rebuild it by bringing your account current and continuing to make on-time payments. However, if you miss payments on multiple accounts and you fall over 90 days behind before catching up, it will likely take longer to recover. This effect can be even more exaggerated if your late payments result in repossession or foreclosure.
In either case, the impact of negative marks will diminish over time. Most negative marks will also fall off your credit reports after seven years and stop impacting your scores at that point if not sooner. Chapter 7 bankruptcies can stay for up to 10 years, however.
In addition to letting time help you rebuild your scores, you can follow the steps above to proactively add positive information to your credit reports.
You may also hear about credit repair companies that offer to repair or “fix” your credit—for a price. It might seem tempting, but credit repair companies can’t do anything that you can’t do on your own for free. Similarly, you should be wary of so-called debt settlement companies that may encourage you to stop making payments in an attempt to try to “settle” the debt for less than you owe. Their plan can result in major credit score harm and may not even ultimately work to reduce your debt obligation.
Establishing or Building Your Credit Score
Depending on your experience with credit, you might not have a credit report at all. Or, your credit report might not have enough information that credit scoring models are able to assign you a Credit Score
With FICO® Scores☉ , you need to have at least one account that’s six months old or older, and credit activity during the past six months. With VantageScore, a score may be calculated as soon as an account appears on your report.
When you don’t meet the criteria, the scoring model can’t score your credit report—in other words, you’re “credit invisible.” As a result, creditors won’t be able to check your Credit Score, which could make it difficult to open new credit accounts.
Some people may be in a situation where they’ve only opened accounts with creditors that report to only one bureau. When this happens, they may only be scorable if a creditor requests a credit report and score from that bureau.
If you’re brand new to credit, or reestablishing your credit, revisit step one above.
How Credit Scores Are Calculated
Scoring models (and there are many) may use different factors, or the same factors weighted differently, to determine a particular score. However, consumer credit scores generally share a few similarities:
- Scores are calculated based on the information in one of your credit reports.
- Scoring models try to predict the likelihood that a borrower will be 90 days late on a bill in the next 24 months.
- A higher score indicates a person is less likely to fall behind on a bill, and vice versa.
The vast majority of lenders use credit scores calculated by FICO and VantageScore® scoring models. FICO also creates industry-specific scoring models for auto lenders and card issuers that range from 250 to 900).
Considering how different credit scores use the same underlying information to try and predict the same outcome, it might not be surprising that the steps you take to try to improve one score can help increase all your Credit Score.
For example, making on-time payments can help all your credit scores, while missing a payment will likely hurt all your scores. There are several factors that can affect your Credit Score. Here, we’ll focus on the actions you can take to help improve your Credit Score.