4/30/2014 3:30 PM ET|
3 steps to improving your credit health
Treat yourself to a credit makeover with these easy moves.
So you made some financial missteps in the past, and now you’re paying for it with your low credit score. You can’t get approved for a loan or – if you can – your interest rates are sky high.
Unfortunately, there’s no magic potion to fix poor credit. But there are a few serious things you can try to boost your ailing credit health.
Fair warning: These tips are not for credit newbies.
Ask for a higher credit limit
Your credit card utilization rate is one of the most significant factors of your credit score. It tells lenders how much of your available credit you’re using. You can calculate yours by dividing your total credit card balances by your total credit limits and converting that into a percentage. In general, a lower credit utilization rate means a higher credit score.
There’s no strict guideline on what percentage to aim for, but, on average, consumers with a credit utilization rate between 1 and 20 percent generally have a higher credit score than consumers with a credit utilization rate over 20 percent.
Paying down your credit card debt will decrease your utilization rate, of course, but many consumers don’t realize you can ask for a credit limit increase to accomplish the same goal in the short term. A higher limit can also help you maintain a low rate in the future. Give your credit card company a call – or use their online request feature – and ask for a credit limit increase. Of course, this tactic works best if you’re a customer in good standing.
Tip: Make sure your higher credit limit doesn’t tempt you to spend more on your credit cards. This method is most appropriate for those who have good control over their credit card spending.
Open a new line of credit
In general, opening a new credit card just to build your credit isn’t advisable unless you have good control over your spending habits. But, when you’re ready, opening a new credit card – or even a loan – can be especially helpful for two reasons:
- If you have a low percentage of on-time payments, it can boost that very important number.
- If you’ve had just one or two credit accounts in your entire credit history, it can beef up your credit profile.
Find a card that’s right for you based on your credit profile and your spending habits. If you have a low credit score, you may need to start with a secured credit card, which is great for rebuilding credit. If you have good credit, go for a card that will give you some rewards for your everyday spending, like a cashback card. You’ll be able to build your credit and get some money back at the same time.
Tip: Of course, all the benefits of opening a new line of credit could be offset if you lose control of your spending or your payments. Monitor your account regularly, and consider scheduling automatic payments so you won’t miss a bill.
Perform a monthly credit checkup
OK, so just checking your credit won’t boost it. However, reminding yourself to check your progress will help you form a regular habit of it.
Here’s your checkup checklist:
- Credit score. Choose one score and monitor it closely for changes. You don’t have to pay for it – there are several resources for free credit score monitoring.
- Credit report. This is a quarterly – not monthly – task. Each quarter, go to AnnualCreditReport.com and check your full credit report from one of the three bureaus (Equifax, Experian or TransUnion). You’re entitled to one free copy from each bureau yearly.
- Credit utilization. Remember when we were talking about credit limit increases? Well, this is where you’ll see the impact. Try your best to pay off your credit card balances monthly. Monitor your credit utilization to make sure it stays low.
- On-time payment percentage. This is a slow-and-steady credit builder. The closer you can get to 100 percent, the better.
- Credit report changes. Use a free credit monitoring service to watch for changes to your credit report. You’ll be able to quickly catch any inaccuracies and minimize damage.
Tip: Set up a monthly calendar reminder to check on your credit. After a few months, you’ll probably find you’ve formed a habit!
There’s no quick fix for your credit. But if you make some of these moves, you should see some improvement in your credit health in a few months or so. Good luck!
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