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Improve Your Credit Score

Your credit score--that three-digit number that summarizes your credit history--is in many cases the most influential factor in a lender’s decision to grant you credit and at what rate. The higher the score, the less you’ll pay for the use of someone else’s money. As information in your credit file changes, so will your credit score.

The most widely used credit scoring model is FICO, and scores from all three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion) are available at myFICO.com for $15.95 each. You can obtain one free credit report annually from each of these bureaus through annualcreditreport.com, which can be helpful in monitoring and correcting errors in your credit history.

What factors affect my credit score?

While each company uses a slightly different breakdown, it is important to understand the general factors that impact your credit.

  • Payment history. This is perhaps the most important factor.  Have you had an account sent to collections?  How many times have you been late?
  • Total debt.  How much overall debt do you have? How many credit cards have balances on them? How close are you to your limits?
  • Length of credit history.  Is the person an emerging consumer or someone who has paid bills on time for 10 years?
  • New Credit. Are you aggressively seeking credit? A flurry of activity and inquiries on your credit report raises suspicion.
  • Credit Mix.  Do you have a healthy mix of credit: bank cards (VISA, Mastercard), store cards, gas cards?

How can I improve my credit score?

Although it may not be easy to drastically alter your score in a short period, you can improve it over time:

  • Build a long history of on-time payments.
  • Don’t max out your credit lines. It’s better to use part of your available credit on a few accounts than all of your available credit on just one account.
  • Keep card balances low, and pay off debt rather than moving it between cards.
  • Don’t open or close accounts as a strategy to raise your score. Or, if you have more open credit accounts than you want, close the newest ones and keep longstanding ones open.
  • When loan shopping, submit applications in a limited time. If you’re shopping for a car loan, say, and visit five dealers in three weeks, those five inquiries will count as one inquiry to a potential lender looking at your report.
  • Check your three credit reports, for free, once each year (one every four months) through annualcreditreport.com, and contact the creditor and the credit bureau to correct any errors.

Published 07/13/2015

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