If you want to get ahead financially, good credit can be a huge help. Lenders may be more inclined to give you a car loan or a home loan at a great rate when you’ve got a strong financial history. But how do you build better credit? And how long does it take?
Surprisingly, not as long as you might think. It all comes down to planning. If you’re wondering how to improve your credit score — and do it quickly — these tips can help.
Know your score
First things first, get your free credit score so you know where you’re starting from and how many points you’ll have to make up to reach your target score. For example, if your score is 650 and you want to raise it to 700, that’s a 50-point gap you’ve got to cover.
Check your score but also check your credit report. Your credit report includes all the information that’s used to generate your score, including your payment history, how much of your available credit you’re using, the age of your credit accounts, the types of credit you’re using and how often you apply for new credit.
Two things, your payment history and credit usage, have the biggest impact on your score. If you have late payments on your credit or high balances on your credit cards, those are two trouble spots you’ll need to work on right away if you want to fix your credit fast.
Target one debt
Credit usage just means how much of your available credit you’re using. The closer you are to your credit limits on your credit limits, the worse that is for your score. Paying one of your cards off, or paying down a significant chunk of what you owe, could trigger a quick credit score turnaround.
Pick the card with the balance that’s closest to your credit limit. Or, you can pick a card that has the lowest balance overall if you think you can pay it off in just a few months. The goal is to widen the gap between what you owe and your total credit line as much as possible.
There is an alternative way to do this. You could ask your credit card company to raise your credit limit, or you could open up a brand-new credit card account. Remember, though, that applying for new credit can ding your score by a few points.
Get caught up on past due payments
Paying your bills on time is the most important thing you can do to help your credit score. If you’ve fallen behind on any of your credit cards, loans or medical bills, getting paid up should be at the top of your to-do list. Once you’ve done that, focus on paying your bills on time each month going forward.
Automating your payments from your bank account is an easy way to do this. You could also set up payment alerts to keep track. Either way, the fewer late or missed payments on your credit, the better for your credit score in the long run.