It’s easy to feel as if the smallest mistake can quickly sour your credit score. But since your credit score is usually updated monthly, when lenders report your payment activity to the major credit bureaus, there are things you can do within that time to potentially raise your credit score as well.
While negative information usually takes around 30 days to hit your account, so does positive activity. So, if your score is a little low, whether that’s from carrying over too much debt from month to month or because you don’t have any established credit history, implementing these ideas could help speed the process of raising your credit score and making life a little bit easier.
Why is credit important?
Like it or not, credit scores have a big effect on our lives, but most people don’t give their score much thought until they need to use it. If you have bad credit, not only could it be more difficult to obtain a loan or credit card but you could also pay higher interest rates than someone with a good credit score. Additionally, you may have a harder time getting an apartment or landing a job if you have poor credit.
That’s because your credit score is a number that allows potential lenders to decide whether they can trust you with their money. Your credit score directly represents your borrowing habits and payment history, so a lender is able to look at your score as a factor for determining whether or not they want to do business with you. While this may seem a little heartless, financial institutions need to make decisions quickly, and this score makes their job easier.
All this adds up to the simple fact that your credit score is an important piece of your personal finance health. And you should know how to keep your score in a healthy range so you can reap the financial benefits when you need them.
What is a good credit score?
So where does your credit score fall in the bigger scheme of things? Credit scores can range from 280 to 850, depending on the reporting agency. Credit scores are organized by ranges — excellent, good, fair, and poor — but the main thing to know is that the higher your number, the better.
To increase your changes of qualifying for the best terms and rates on things like car loans and credit cards, you’ll want to aim for a score in the 750+ range. At a minimum, keeping your score over 620 can put you in a place where you'll be more likely to qualify for most loans and credit cards.
10 strategies that could improve your credit score in 30 days
If you’ve made a few financial mistakes, it’s easy for things to snowball and weigh your credit score down, but all hope isn’t lost. Here are ten of the best strategies that could help you increase your credit score fast.
1. Make sure your credit report is accurate
Perhaps the single most important thing you can do to potentially help your credit score is to make sure your credit report is accurate. It’s recommended you check your credit report at least twice a year, which can be done through a service like Credit Karma. Alternatively, you can request one free credit report each year from all three major credit bureaus — Transunion, Equifax, and Experian — by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com.
Taking the time to dispute a credit report error and removing bad or inaccurate information could raise your score a considerable amount, depending on your findings. For instance, if you happen to have the same debt listed twice, removing this inaccurate information can lower the amount of debt listed on your credit report, which could in turn lift your score. Since credit utilization typically makes up 20-30% of your score, this can make a big difference.
Read your report carefully. Look out for old debt that should have been removed, information that isn’t yours, and fraudulent charges. If you find an error, ask the credit bureau to fix it. If you find something on your credit report that shouldn't be there, you can file disputes at each of the credit bureaus: Transunion, Equifax, and Experian.
2. Use Credit Karma
A common myth is that checking your credit score lowers it, but this simply isn’t true. Checking your credit score is one of the best ways to stay on top of your credit health and to see what factors are impacting your score. This is especially important if you decide to borrow money, whether that be a new credit card or a personal loan, as your credit score will give you an idea of where you stand and what your chances are of being approved.
If you sign up for Credit Karma, you'll get free access to your credit score, reports, and monitoring, and this can all be put to use as a tool for credit score improvement. Credit Karma shows your scores from TransUnion and Equifax, and checking your score has no impact on your credit.
3. Pay bills on time
This is a given, but paying your bills on time affects your credit big time. Your payment history makes up a whopping 30-35% of your total score, so missing monthly payments or making late payments can really drop your score. On the flip side, having a good payment history could contribute to a better credit score.
Your credit score could see a sizable improvement from making at least your minimum payment on time every month on each of your debts and other financial obligations. Lenders want to see that borrowers can be trusted, and this is one of the best ways to show you’re a responsible borrower.
To decrease the chance of missing a payment, consider using autopay when it's available. Often this is something you can schedule with either your bank or your lender and have the money automatically moved out of your bank account on a specific date each month. That way, you won’t have to remember to write a check or log onto a website to pay your bill each month. This can save you time and, ultimately, money.
4. Use credit cards responsibly
Aside from earning cash back or travel rewards, credit cards could be a great tool to build credit — if used responsibly. Emphasis on responsible here. As effective as a credit card could be for raising your score, they could just as easily damage your credit.
But whether you have no credit or poor credit, using a credit card and paying it off on time every month could boost your score quickly.
Bonus Tip: Try to pay your card before the reporting date (versus your due date) to potentially boost your credit score even faster. Credit Karma will show you the dates lenders report your credit card balances under the “Credit card use” section. You can use this to determine when you should make your payments so positive information is reflected more quickly.
5. Pay down a credit card or loan
Your credit utilization ratio also affects your score. This is the amount of potential credit you have versus how much of that credit line you are actually using — in short, whether or not you’ve maxed out your credit or if you have lots of breathing room on your credit cards.
There are several different arguments when it comes to strategies for paying off your credit cards. Some experts say you pay off the one with the lowest balance first (this is called the snowball method), while other experts say to target the card with the highest credit card interest rate to save the most amount of money (this is called the avalanche method).
If you want to increase the likelihood of your credit score going up, consider paying down the credit card that is currently closest to being maxed out. Not only could your score go up by reducing the amount of your available credit that you are utilizing, but that credit card issuer could also become more likely to offer you a credit line increase — which takes us to the next tip.
6. Increase your credit limit on current cards
If you’ve been making on-time payments regularly for at least six months, consider requesting a credit line increase from your current lenders. While a request to increase your credit limit will generally result in a hard inquiry (also sometimes called a hard credit pull). This type of credit inquiry can ding your credit score by a few points, the benefits of having a greater credit limit could have a larger (and better) impact.
If your credit limit increase is approved, your credit utilization rate will drop, which has the potentially to improve credit scores fairly quickly. Some credit card companies will automatically offer higher credit limits as well. This usually occurs on cards that have the most spending activity. Just be conscious not to overspend because you have more available credit.
7. Make payments twice a month
If you know you spend a certain amount of money on your account every month, make two payments instead of one to pay it off. This could help increase your credit score by keeping your credit utilization low. For example, instead of paying $500 once per month, pay $250 twice per month. This way, the amount of credit you use stays low and is reflected in the algorithms run by credit reporting agencies.
8. Consolidate your debt
If you have more than one credit card with high interest rates, consider applying for a credit card offering a balance transfer promotion to consolidate your credit card debt. Your credit score could improve since you’ll have a higher amount of credit available, and you’ll save some money by decreasing the amount of interest you’re paying. Additionally, it’s just less of a headache to pay one bill instead of two or three.
Credit cards that offer 0% APR on balance transfers can be a great way to consolidate debt and save money you’d otherwise be paying in interest charges. These intro interest periods usually run from 12-21 months. The Chase Freedom, for instance, offers a 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 15 months after account opening. After the promotional period ends, your APR will increase to the regular interest rate, so make sure you have a plan to pay your balance off within the introductory time frame.
A word of caution: Hide your cards if you think you can’t control your spending. Balance transfers are a popular method to use to eliminate debt, but this strategy can backfire if you charge your credit cards back up.
9. Ask to be added as an authorized user
If you have a close family member or friend you trust and who trusts you, you can ask them to add you as an authorized user on one of their credit card accounts. This is another strategy that has the potential to boost your credit score. Ideally, the account should have a long history of on-time payments with a low balance.
Also, it’s good to know that you don’t necessarily have to have access to the account to benefit from the primary account holder’s good payments; you just have to be on the account. If they do give you access to the account, don’t do anything that will jeopardize their credit. This person is trusting you since ultimately they are responsible for the authorized user's debt.
10. Don’t cancel old accounts
Whatever you do, try to maintain your oldest accounts. Older accounts can help improve credit scores since they establish when you first began building your credit history. Length of credit history can help show lenders that you have a long track record of using credit responsibly. That means the older the account is, the better it is to hang on to and not cancel your credit card.
One of the biggest mistakes people make is closing all their old credit accounts. It's okay to cut up the cards, burn them, and stomp on the ashes (or melted plastic), but don’t close the account. Credit age makes up 15% of your total credit score and closing old accounts could bring down your score. Even if you never use a line of credit, keeping it open could help mature your credit age over time.
Quick checklist: how to raise your credit score in 30 days
If you’re worried that your lack of credit history or financial mistakes have bogged down your credit score, know that there are steps you can take to raise it. Your credit score is usually updated every month or so when your payment activity is reported to the credit bureaus, so consider these ten strategies that could help raise your credit score in the next 30 days.
- Make sure your credit report is accurate
- Sign up for Credit Karma
- Pay bills on time
- Use credit cards responsibly
- Pay down a credit card or loan
- Increase your credit limit on current cards
- Make payments two times a month
- Consolidate your debt
- Ask to be added as an authorized user
- Don't cancel old accounts