Maybe you haven’t put much thought into your credit score, but if you're in the market for a credit card, personal loan, or even a mortgage, keeping on top of your credit can literally pay — you can get lower rates, better loan terms, and increase your chances of a loan approval.
But just because your credit score is less than desirable doesn’t mean you need to give up hope. There are ways to improve your credit scores in a relatively short amount of time and increase your chances of nabbing that much-needed loan.
8 ways to quickly boost your credit score
Your credit score won’t increase instantly, but once you know where you stand, you can work on boosting it. That’s why checking your credit score first before trying any of the following steps is a good idea. There are many services out there — your credit card company might offer your score for free — that can help you find out what your credit score is fast.
With that in mind, here are some of the best ways to improve your credit score:
1. Pay every bill on time
It’s common sense — paying your debt back on time shows creditors you’re a responsible borrower. If a lender sees that you make on-time payments consistently, they’ll most likely assume you know how to manage your money and can handle future loans the same way.
As such, you’ll be seen as a less-risky lender, and your credit score can go up. In fact, your payment history is the most influential factor when determining your FICO credit score.
Whenever possible, avoid actions like paying your loan obligations late or missing payments entirely. Not only will these things likely cost you in fees but your credit could take a hit.
2. Check your credit utilization — and lower it if needed
Your credit utilization is based on how much revolving credit — such as a credit card or a line of credit — you use. It’s typically expressed as a percentage and can be found by dividing the amount of revolving debt you’re using by the amount of credit available to you.
Let’s say you have a total of $5,000 revolving credit available and your balance currently sits at $3,000. That means you have credit utilization of 60%. Typically lenders want to see this percentage at or below 30%, as it’s an indicator that you can safely manage your debt without overextending yourself.
If your credit utilization is high, lowering it could help your credit score. Consider paying off some of your credit card balances so your credit utilization is below 30%.
3. Raise your credit limit
Raising your credit limit is another way to improve your credit utilization. If you’ve been making on-time payments and have been a customer for a while, you could request a higher credit limit.
If your credit card company says no, consider opening another credit card instead. While this could temporarily lower your credit score — since opening a new card means there will be a hard inquiry on your credit — getting an approval means you could lower your credit utilization, which factors in more heavily to your credit score.
4. Avoid closing old credit cards
Closing old credit cards can cause your credit utilization rate to go up, since you have less available credit in your name. If you’ve had the card for a long time, closing it can also affect the length of your credit history — a smaller factor of your credit score.
If the card doesn’t have an annual fee and isn’t costing you anything, consider leaving it open and occasionally using it for a small purchase to keep the account active.
5. Remove errors from your credit report
Even credit bureaus make mistakes, so there could be errors on your credit report bringing your score down. The best way to check is to get a copy of your credit report — you can get one from each of the three major credit bureaus for free every 12 months by going to AnnualCreditReport.com.
If you do notice any errors, make sure to dispute them right away by contacting the appropriate parties.
6. Consider score-boosting tools
Those with a limited credit history profile might find it hard to boost their credit score using the above methods. After all, you may not have many credit cards or loans — and if your score is low, getting approved for a new financial product can be difficult.
Enter score-boosting tools. Services such as Experian Boost helps you increase your credit profile by tracking other types of financial information, including your utility bills and mobile phone payments. UltraFICO Score, another program, let’s you use your bank data (think savings and checking accounts) alongside your credit history when calculating your credit score.
7. Become an authorized user on another credit card
If it’s not possible to increase your credit limit or open a new credit card by yourself, see if someone else can add you as an authorized user to their existing credit card. You’ll get access to their credit account, and their on-time payments will be reported to your credit.
That being said, you want to make sure this person who adds you is someone you trust and a responsible cardholder. One wrong move on their part and your credit score could be affected.
8. Be careful when you apply for credit
Be cautious of how often you apply for new loans or credit cards. Each time you submit an application for a financial product, the lender will do a hard inquiry on your credit, which could temporarily lower your credit score.
Instead, see if you can get preapproved for a credit card or another type of loan. These approvals only count as a soft inquiry, which won’t affect your credit score. And you’ll have a better idea of which loans you’re more likely to be approved for before you submit a formal application.
You’re not going to be able to increase your credit score overnight, but the ideas above can put you on the right track. The key is to be patient, keep an eye on your credit score, and prove to lenders you’re a responsible borrower — hopefully, you’ll see that number climb higher.