Apply for a credit card, auto loan, or line of credit and the first thing the lender will do is pull your credit history. Your application hinges on a three-digit number called your credit score; “good” credit usually means getting approved and “bad” credit often ends in rejection.
Credit scores as we know them have only been around since 1989, yet their importance can’t be understated for the average consumer. That’s because a good credit score can translate into better loan terms, lower interest rates, and even rewards if you’re approved for premium credit cards. Bad credit often means paying high interest rates, and that’s at best — many times, it means no access to credit at all.
Is it possible to boost your credit score by 200 points?
The good news is that your credit history is like the weather. It changes frequently — even if it’s just a little bit at a time. But unlike that damp and windy Saturday morning, you can do something about your credit if your score is less than ideal.
Even if you’re brand new to credit or your credit score is below 580 — which is the number that Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO) defines as “poor” — it doesn’t have to stay that way forever. It’s true that past mistakes such as a bankruptcy or foreclosure mean that it could take longer to improve your FICO score by 200 points, but by incorporating smart borrowing, spending, and repayment habits into your financial routine and learning how to manage your money, you’re on the right path.
While you can start implementing smart habits today to begin improving your score, it’s impossible to deliver an exact timeline that explains how to raise your credit score by 200 points precisely. It's also worth keeping in mind that each of the three major credit bureaus weighs factors like your payment history, credit utilization, and credit mix a little differently, so your score might vary slightly depending on which credit report you're looking at.
The good news is that there are ironclad practices you can put into place that will help improve your credit score in the coming months. And though you aren't going to score a 200-point increase in a single month, you can definitely get a healthy head start by taking a few key actions now.
6 high-impact steps that can raise your credit score
Here are some significant steps you can take to improve your credit score, starting today.
- Repeat after us: No more late payments
- Pay off revolving debt ASAP
- Ask for a credit limit increase or apply for a new credit card
- Review your credit report
- Keep old credit cards open, even if you don’t use them
- Consider other ways to boost your score
Did you know that your record of on-time payments makes up 35% of your FICO score? Your payment history is of interest to lenders because they want to know they’ll be paid in time. Missing as few as one or two payment deadlines can drop your score, and late payment information stays on your credit report for years. So make sure you make every payment on time, even if you can only submit the minimum balance due. It is absolutely the most important thing you can do, period.
If you’re bad with deadlines or can’t remember when you last paid your credit card balances, stop what you’re doing right now and make sure you’re current on your accounts. If you’re overdue, make at least the minimum payment now. Seriously. We’ll wait.
And one more thing — if you’re current now but have a few late payments in the past, it’s okay. The good news is that the older your “bad” information is, the less of an effect it will have on your score now.
Paying on time is super important, but how much you spend on your credit cards is a close second. That’s because the next-biggest factor affecting your score is how much you actually owe your credit card lenders in relation to how much you could borrow. This is known as your credit utilization ratio.
If you have a lot of credit card debt, you’ll want to focus on paying down those balances as quickly as possible. Many experts suggest limiting balances owed to no more than 30% of your available credit, but if you really want to impress the credit reporting agencies, consider spending even less.
Why? Because people with credit scores of 800 or above typically only use around 5% of their available credit, according to LendingTree. If you have $20,000 of total available credit spread across two or three types of credit accounts, for example, using just 5% of your credit would translate to a monthly balance of around $1,000.
If you’re not able to use less of your revolving credit, consider increasing the amount of credit you have access to. This can help improve your score because it will lower your credit utilization.
Try contacting your card issuer and requesting a credit limit increase on an existing credit card or applying for a new credit card. Keep in mind that if you apply for a new card, it will typically result in a hard credit inquiry. Hard inquiries can lower your score by a few points temporarily. And make sure you don’t spend all that added credit; you want that newly available credit to stay available, or your utilization ratio won’t improve.
What do you mean you haven’t read your credit report? Now’s the time, because mistakes happen on credit reports all the time. In fact, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced it received more than 125,000 complaints about credit report errors in 2018 alone. Clearing any mistakes you find on your reports up means you could boost your score significantly, and fast.
Here’s what to do: You can get a copy of all three credit agency reports for free once each year when you request them through AnnualCreditReport.com. Don’t just read one and chuck the rest, either, as they may not all collect the same information. Go through every page, check the current balances, and watch out for negative items, accounts, or other personal information you don’t recognize.
If you find inaccuracies, you can dispute the error. And if you’re correct, the agency will remove the information from your report.
Not only does an unused credit card help your credit utilization rate, but it also helps establish your record of maintaining long-term relationships with credit card companies. Age of credit relationships counts toward 15% of your FICO credit score, so resist the temptation to close old credit cards, if possible.
If you’re like many consumers, then you make every effort to pay your cell phone and utility bills on time. After all, failure to pay means no service (and worse, no electricity). Experian thinks you should get credit for those on-time payments, so it invented Experian Boost. Here’s how it works.
Sign up for Boost online and Experian will gather payment information for your mobile and utility bills from your bank account. It’s really that easy, and it’s free.
The upside is that Boost works quickly and the average user observed a credit score increase of 13 points after signing up, according to Experian. The downside is that only Experian uses Boost, not the other credit bureaus, so you won’t notice a change in your Equifax or TransUnion reports.
The bottom line: stay the course
While there's no exact roadmap to raise your credit score by 200 points, making monthly payments on time is critical, and so is paying down debt. Taking actions like opening an installment loan or signing up for Experian Boost can also have an impact. But remember, just like credit scores can go up, they also go down. Keep your momentum going by making these tips more than one-time tasks. In order to really build credit, you need to turn these best practices into habits.
Finally, stay the course and remember that it takes time for credit to improve. Even if you don’t see a 200-point increase in one, two, or even three months, keep fighting the good fight. Before you know it, you’ll land where you deserve.