Credit score is another one of those confusing financial concepts. Everyone has a credit score, but not many people actually know how it’s calculated, or how to improve it. In this article, I will discuss what is credit score, the importance of having good credit, which factors are used in the credit score calculation, and give you 9 actionable steps to improve your credit and increase your credit score. In addition, I have some commonly asked questions at the end of the post.
What is Credit Score?
Credit score is a number calculated from your credit history. Your credit score is used by lenders to determine your creditworthiness for a mortgage, loan, credit card, etc. Credit scores vary between 300 and 850, with 300 being the lowest credit score and 850 being the highest credit score.
The Importance of Having Good Credit
Consider the following situation: you are looking to buy a house and go to the bank for a mortgage loan. The loan officer at the bank types in your information and says, “You have a credit score of 653 and as a result, we will give you a loan at 4%. If your credit score was 700 or higher, we could get you a loan at 3.75%” While 0.25% doesn’t seem like much, it can add up to A LOT more interest over the time you are paying down the loan.
For a $200,000 30 year mortgage loan, a 0.25% interest rate increase will cost an additional $10,000 in interest over the life of the loan! Below is a table with the total interest paid and total cost of a $200,000 30 year mortgage at various interest rates.
|Interest Rate||Total Interest Paid||Total Cost|
One other point to make is if your credit score is very low (less than 600), some banks and lenders will not even consider extending credit because they believe you are not creditworthy! That being said, you can fix this and improve your credit score.
“A man in debt is so far a slave.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Next, let’s talk about the factors which go into determining your credit score.
Which Factors Determine Your Credit Score?
A person’s credit score is calculated based off a combination of factors.
Payment History (35%)
Payment history looks at if you have made your credit payments on time. Credit reports show the payments submitted for each line of credit, and the reports indicate if the payments were received 30, 60, 90, 120 or more days late.
The best credit quality borrowers have 0 late payments.
Utilization is the ratio of money owed to the amount of credit available. For example, if you have a credit card with a credit limit of $5,000 and you owe $1,000, you have a utilization rate of 20%. An important note here, utilization does not take into consideration loans.
The best credit quality borrowers have a utilization rate lower than 30% of their total credit limit.
Length of Credit History (15%)
As a general rule of thumb, the longer an individual has had credit, the better their score. Credit scores take into account how long the oldest account has been open, the age of the newest account and the overall average.
If you have accounts which have been open for multiple years, you will have a higher credit score. The best credit quality borrowers have a history of 10 years or more.
Credit Mix (10%)
Credit worthy borrowers will generally have a mix of loans and credit lines on their history. These loans and credit lines could be student loans, auto loans, mortgages, credit cards, etc.
A high credit score will have a number of different loans and lines. I have 4 credit cards and a mortgage, and have had a student loan and an auto loan in the past. The best credit quality borrowers will have at least 15 open accounts.
Applying for New Credit Accounts (10%)
Let’s say you are a bank and you see someone apply for 3 credit cards and a mortgage in one week. This probably isn’t good sign. The person who applied for those new accounts probably isn’t in a great position financially, otherwise they wouldn’t need to apply for 4 credit accounts. As a result, the bank views situations like these as risky.
Inquiries for new credit accounts stay on your credit report for 2 years. After 2 years, the inquiries no longer show up on a person’s credit report. Generally, the best credit quality borrowers will have less than 4 inquiries on their credit report.
9 Tips to Increase Your Credit Score
Below are 9 tips to help increase your credit score!
1. Review Your Credit Report and Identify Areas of Improvement
What gets measured gets managed. First, go to AnnualCreditReport.com and request a free credit report from each of the big three credit reporting companies:
By law, you’re entitled to one free report each year. After obtaining your credit report, dive into the details!
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I have any accounts with late payments? Are these accounts accurate?
- Do I have any unpaid bills? Is this information accurate?
- Are there any other mistakes or errors on the report?
- Which factors need improvement? (Payment history, utilization, credit history, credit mix, opening new accounts)
- Do you have late payments?
- Is your utilization rate above 30%?
- Do you need more credit history?
- How many different credit accounts do you have?
- Did you recently open a bunch of new accounts?
Click for more detail on how to check your credit report.
After understanding your current credit situation, you are ready to start improving your credit score! Note: these credit reports will not tell you your credit score for free. If you have Mint account, you can look at your credit score for free. I’ve found it to be a decent estimation, but slightly lower than real inquiries.
2. Correct Any Errors on Your Credit Report
Does your credit report have any errors in your personal information, accounts, or payment history? Are there any missing accounts? Are there any bills which you believe you have paid but the agencies don’t believe you have?
To correct these errors, do the following:
- Contact the credit bureau and the organization that provided the information to the credit bureau
- Both these parties are responsible for correcting inaccurate or incomplete information in your report under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
- The credit bureau must investigate the item(s) in question – usually within 30 days – unless they consider your dispute frivolous. Include copies (NOT originals) of documents that support your position. In addition to providing your complete name and address, your letter should:
- Clearly identify each item in your report you dispute.
- State the facts and explain why you dispute the information.
- Request deletion or correction.
- Follow up with the organization that provided the information to the credit bureau
- Again, include copies of documents that support your position. Many providers specify an address for disputes. If the provider again reports the same information to a bureau, it must include a notice of your dispute. Request that the provider copy you on correspondence they send to the bureau.
- Expect this process to take between 30 and 90 days.
If you know the error is an error, don’t be afraid to dig in. Make sure to keep all documentation and notes on the subject. This woman sued Equifax for $18 million over an error on her credit report!
3. Never Miss a Payment
35% of your credit score calculation is payment history. Keep it simple stupid! Pay your bills on time!
Seriously, this is the biggest component of your credit score. By staying current on all of your accounts, your credit score will go up over time.
4. Keep Your Utilization Rate Below 30%
Your utilization rate makes up 30% of the credit score calculation. Remember, utilization rate is your outstanding balance divided by your credit limit.
If you don’t want to decrease your spending, you can pay down your highest debt, increase your credit limit, or get another line of credit (credit card).
5. Increase Your Credit Limit
Increasing your credit limit will decrease your utilization rate. Early in 2017, I increased my credit limit $7,500 and saw a 20 point increase in my credit score!
6. Get Another Line of Credit
If you don’t want to increase your credit limit on your current credit lines, you can get another line of credit. There will be a slight hit to your credit score because you are opening a new account, but over time, your credit score will increase because your utilization rate will decrease.
7. Pay Down Your Highest Utilized Account
Paying down your highest utilized account will have a direct impact on your utilization rate. If you have 2 credit cards, one that is 100% utilized and one that is 10% utilized, the smart move would be paying off the 100% utilized card.
8. Mix it Up
Having a diverse mix of credit accounts shows the credit rating agencies you have a handle on your finances and credit situation. Having a few credit cards, an auto loan, and a mortgage would look much better than only a credit card. That being said, I wouldn’t recommend taking a personal loan out just to build credit… you have to think about interest payments!
9. Stay Consistent
Building your credit will take time (credit history, aka time, is a variable in the credit calculation!) By staying consistent, paying your bills on time, and ensuring errors stay off your credit report, your credit will increase over time.
I’ve been building credit for a few years now. When I started out, my credit score was between 600 and 650. I had a student loan and a credit card. The next year, I bought a house and applied for a mortgage. My credit score was about 680 at that point. The following year, I bought a car and paid off my auto and student loan. Throughout this whole time, I’ve been current on my payments and kept my utilization below 30%. After 3 years of consistency, my credit score is between 725 and 750.
You can do it! You can improve your credit score!
“A journey of a thousand miles beings with a single step.” – Lao-Tzu
Common Misunderstandings and Questions about Credit Scores
There are a number of common misunderstandings and questions people have about credit score. I will address a few of those misconceptions here.
Am I Build Credit Faster by Keeping a Balance on my Credit Card?
NO. You are not building credit any faster by keeping a balance on your credit card at the end of the month.
If you are keeping a balance on your credit card, this could actually have a negative effect on your credit score (your utilization rate will be higher compared to if you paid it off in full).
PRO TIP: Pay off your credit card in full each month. You aren’t building credit if you have a remaining balance any faster than if you have $0 balance. In addition, if you have a remaining balance, 20%+ will be tacked on in interest to next month’s outstanding balance.
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How will Consolidating Debt Accounts Affect my Credit Score?
It depends on the situation. From a financial standpoint, debt consolidation generally is a good thing. From a credit standpoint, things get a little hairy.
If you have maxed out a few credit cards and consolidate that debt into an installment loan, your credit score will take a slight hit. Your credit score will decrease because you opened a new account and have no credit history on that account. After a few months, your credit score will begin to increase because you will be making your payments on time, your utilization rate will be lower, and your credit history will be building through that loan.
From a financial standpoint, consolidating debt is generally beneficial. Credit cards generally have 20%+ interest rates. Debt consolidation can reduce the interest rate. As a result, you will pay much less in interest when paying down your debt.
If you have student loans or need a personal loan, check out SoFi. SoFi can help by finding the best interest rates available in order to refinance your student loans. We are all about helping and providing you with the best options to get to financial success. The best part is, SoFi is free!!! You also get a $100 bonus when you sign up with SoFi through the referral program.
Should I Work with a Credit Repair Agency?
It depends. There are a few situations where working with a credit repair company may make sense:
- If you have legitimate errors on your credit report and don’t want to fix them yourself
- The main function of any credit repair service is to remove errors from your credit report. These could range from errors in lender reporting to simple errors in your personal information.
- If you have errors that can’t be verified
- A little known fact about your credit report is that every detail in the report needs to be verifiable. If an item cannot be verified, you can get it removed from your report.
- If your lenders are willing to work with credit repair agencies
- Some lenders don’t like working with credit repair services. Some lenders aren’t willing to negotiate. However, for the lenders who are willing to listen, this is a good way for credit repair services to raise your score.
A word of caution on working with credit repair agencies: if you choose to work with a credit repair agency, make sure you pick one with a high reputation. In addition, make sure you pay them ONLY after the work is done. There are a number of companies which will ask for payment up front and not get the job done.
Click for some more information on credit repair agencies.
Will Closing Accounts have an Effect on My Credit Score?
Yes. If you close a credit card, your overall credit limit will go down and your utilization rate will go up. In addition, your credit mix and credit history will take a hit. If you close a loan account, your credit mix and credit history will take a slight hit.
My recommendation whether to close an account or not is to think about your goals and financial situation and make sure it makes sense for you.
If you have a student loan and want to be debt free, don’t worry about your credit score. Destroy that debt!
If it’s a credit card, you can make one purchase a month and pay it off at the end of the month. I have 2 credit cards where I spend about $25 a month with them just to keep the credit history building. In this case, I wouldn’t recommend closing the account.
With the tips above, you will be on your way to a higher credit score. Remember, never miss a payment, keep your utilization rate below 30% and have a diverse mix of credit accounts. Over time, your credit score WILL increase.
Lastly, make sure to pay off your credit cards in full each month, and be careful when working with credit repair agencies.
“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.” – Amelia Earhart
Which steps have made the biggest impact on your credit score? Did I miss any critical points?