By Bev O’shea
Fixing errors on credit reports, staying well below credit limits and building a record of on-time payments can have a big impact in a short time.
Building your credit can make life easier, giving you a better chance of qualifying for loans or credit cards. You also might get lower interest rates, better car insurance rates and a chance to skip utility deposits.
Let’s say your score is 620, in the range typically considered “bad credit.” If you could reach 720, which is at the bottom of the “excellent” range, lenders would see you in a very different light.
Even a smaller leap — to good but not quite excellent credit — will give you options you don’t have now.
Read on to find out how to improve your credit by 100 points in 3 steps. (Note: This article contains information customized for NerdWallet members. Not a member yet? Sign up today for a free credit score and see how NerdWallet can help you make all the right money moves.)
1. Knock the errors off your credit reports
According to the Federal Trade Commission, about 5% of consumers have errors on their credit reports bad enough to result in a higher price for a financial product or insurance. About 1 in 4 reports contain errors that might have at least a small negative effect on scores.
About 5% of consumers have errors on their credit reports bad enough to result in a higher price for a financial product or insurance.
You can get a free report every 12 months from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Using AnnualCreditReport.com, request those reports and check them for mistakes, such as payments marked late when you paid on time or negative information that’s too old to be listed.
Then, dispute those errors to get them removed.
How fast does it work? Credit bureaus must respond to disputes within 30 business days. Once incorrect negative information comes off your reports, your scores should benefit.
What’s next: Once you’ve fixed errors, keep an eye out for any new negative marks. You can check your credit report and score with NerdWallet as often as you’d like.
2. Stay well under your credit limit
Your credit utilization — that is, how much of your credit limit you use — has a big impact on your score.
Bruce McClary, spokesman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, says it’s best to keep balances to 30% of your credit limits or less. Both overall and per-card utilization counts. Here are ways to manage it:
Make multiple small payments — often called micropayments — during the month to keep balances down. You can even treat your credit card like a debit card, paying online as soon as you see a purchase is posted.
Ask for a credit limit increase. When your limit goes up and your balance stays the same, you instantly lower utilization. Call your card issuer and ask whether you can get a higher limit without a “hard” credit inquiry. Hard inquiries can temporarily drop your score a few points.
Tackle balances on the cards with the highest utilization first. Maybe a tax refund or other windfall could help. Sometimes it doesn’t take a lot of money, especially on low-limit retailer cards: A $250 payment on a $300 limit card will make a big difference.
Move some debt. A debt consolidation loan could let you reduce or eliminate card balances, lowering your utilization. Getting a personal loan at a better rate than your credit cards have also could save you money in interest.
How fast does it work? Credit card issuers typically report to the bureaus every month. As soon as your creditor reports your lower balance, the better utilization will be reflected in your scores.
If you have a bunch of maxed-out credit cards, you could elevate your scores by nearly 100 points by paying them all off, says John Ulzheimer, a credit score expert who has worked at FICO and Equifax.
What’s next: Set up text or email alerts from your card issuer when your balance is nearing a limit you set. See your per-card and overall utilization — and check all your credit factors — whenever you want with NerdWallet.
3. Deal with past-due bills, get on top of payments
No strategy to bump up your score will work unless you’re also paying on time. Why? Payment history has the single biggest influence on credit scores.
If you’re behind on any accounts, call the creditor. Arrange to pay up and ask if it will rescind the reported delinquencies so they no longer appear on your reports.
Payment history has the single biggest influence on credit scores.
Even if the creditor won’t rescind those previous missed payments, it’s worth getting current on the account ASAP. Each month an account is marked delinquent hurts your score, and a 60-day delinquency hurts more than a 30-day delinquency.
Missed payments stay on your credit report for seven years but you can start counteracting the effect right away: Focus on paying every bill on time from here on out, so you’re offsetting those negative marks with more recent positives.
How fast does it work? This one might not be fast, but it’s essential. Because scores depend heavily on payment history, you won’t make much progress unless you pay on time.
What’s next: Sign up for due-date reminders from your credit card issuers.
Can you improve your credit by 100 points?
If you’re struggling with a low score, you’re better positioned to make gains than someone with a strong credit history.
The lower a person’s score, the more likely they are to achieve a 100-point increase.
ROD GRIFFIN, DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC EDUCATION FOR EXPERIAN
Is a 100-point increase realistic? Rod Griffin, director of public education for Experian, says yes.
“The lower a person’s score, the more likely they are to achieve a 100-point increase,” he says. “That’s simply because there is much more upside, and small changes can result in greater score increases.”
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