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A healthy credit score (700 or above on a scale of 300 to 850)1 helps consumers get credit at favorable interest rates, making it easier for them to handle large expenses with a credit card, get a mortgage on their dream home, or take out a loan to fund their education. Lower scores, on the other hand, can make it more difficult to get credit or loans, which can affect consumers' life plans and financial goals.
It's possible to increase your credit score and keep it high by focusing on the five credit score factors:
Credit Score Factors
- Making on-time payments (35%)
- Keeping a low balance (30%)
- A long credit history (15%)
- New credit (10%)
- Credit mix (10%)2
Here's what to do.
Pay on time, every time
Your FICO Score, the number used by 90% of top lenders to determine whether you're a reasonable credit risk,3 is most affected4 by whether you make your payments on time. And that's not just your credit card payments, but also payments on your mortgage, utilities, and other bills.
If you struggle to meet your bills' due dates, find a system to help you keep track: write due dates on your calendar, set a reminder on your smartphone, or use an app to send you alerts by email. For bills with the same amount due each month, set up automatic payments through your lender or your bank. Whatever process works for you, don't ignore this step — it's the most important one of all.
Less (money owed) is more (credit health)
The less you owe on your credit card, the better off your score will probably be. Try to keep the amount you owe to no more than 30% of your total available credit.5 For example, if you have three credit cards with a total credit limit of $10,000, you'd want your combined balance to be $3,000 or less.
But don't make the mistake of never using your credit cards. You want to show the credit reporting bureaus that you can handle your debt responsibly. Therefore, use your credit cards, but don't keep large balances on them. If the balance keeps creeping up, you can contact a credit counselor to help you successfully pay down your debt.6
Choose your credit applications carefully
When you apply for several new credit cards in a short period, it might look like you're trying to raise cash quickly or preparing to take on lots of new debt, both of which can make you a higher credit risk. Keep your credit applications to a minimum. If you want to increase your amount of credit, consider calling your credit card issuer and asking for a higher credit limit.
Mix it up
Ideally, you'll have several types of credit: revolving credit, such as a credit card; installment loans, like auto or student loans; retail accounts, such as from a department store; and a mortgage. You don't need to have them all, but it's generally better to have more than one from this list.
Patience is your friend
If your credit score is on the low side, you might want to do everything you can to bump it up quickly. But a healthy credit score is a reflection of long-term financial stability. Expect the process to take a year or more.7 Make it easier by keeping your old accounts open, even if you've paid them off. That way, your former successes will continue to impact your history.
Make your payments on time, keep your balances low, and check your score regularly. Over time, you should see your score improve.
1 "What Is a Good Credit Score?", Gerri Detweiler, August 2016. Retrieved from https://www.credit.com/credit-scores/what-is-a-good-credit-score/, last accessed 8/15/18.
2 "What's in my FICO Scores," myFico. Retrieved from https://www.myfico.com/credit-education/whats-in-your-credit-score/, last accessed 8/15/18.
3 "What Is a Credit Score?" myFico. Retrieved from https://www.myfico.com/credit-education/credit-scores/, last accessed 8/15/18.
4 "Payment History". myFico. Retrieved from https://www.myfico.com/credit-education/credit-scores/payment-history, last accessed 10/9/18.
5 "7 Ways to Improve Your Credit Score," Dana Dratch, November 2017. Retrieved from https://www.bankrate.com/finance/debt/7-simple-ways-improve-credit-score-1.aspx, last accessed 8/15/18.
6 "What Does a Credit Counselor Do?" ConsumerCredit.com. Retrieved from https://www.consumercredit.com/what-does-a-credit-counselor-do, last accessed 8/15/18.
7 "How to Rebuild Credit in 7 Steps and How Long It Will Take," John S. Kiernan, May 2018. Retrieved from https://wallethub.com/edu/rebuild-credit/19613/, last accessed 8/15/18.
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