Ladies — winter does not only mean fuzzy sweaters and candy hearts. Let’s turn this season into a productive one and raise our credit scores. Yes, credit scores and, yes, I can hear your groans from my office. But, that’s the whole point! I promise that credit cards have more worth than just giving you the ability to satisfyingly swipe for that new pair of boots when payday is still a week-and-a-half away.
Every time you purchase something with your credit card, you are essentially taking out a loan that you will repay (in full, please!) at the end of each billing cycle (usually one month). Your credit activity, like how often, how much, and how responsibly you adhere to that model — along with a bunch of other factors — is analyzed and turned into, tada!, your credit score. This score lets the bank know how reliable you are and how much money they should loan you when you want to buy something big, like a house or a car. The higher the score, the more likely you are to get what you want from the bank, so you want that score to be as high as possible. Make sense?
Let’s start at the beginning by checking our scores. Head to any of the free online sources that give you an estimate of your score based on all of the lines of credit you have open, like Credit Karma. Unless you are at that perfect 850 mark, keep reading to figure out how to get there.
As if you haven’t heard it enough already, the single most important thing you can do to raise your credit score is to pay your credit card balances in full and on time, says Bruce McClary, Vice President of Communications for NFCC. More than a third of your score is based on this fact alone. If you’re notoriously forgetful, set up a recurring automatic payment, or at least a monthly alarm to remind you to pay the bill, Stefanie O’Connell, nationally recognized personal finance author and speaker, suggests.
You might want to hone those detective skills to uncover what is making your credit score decline. Take a look at your credit report to see what is negatively impacting the number, McClary says. It could even be fraudulent activity, which can be weeded out by looking through the report and taking action, too.
You may feel like you’re doing all the right things and your mediocre score just won’t climb. If that’s the case, be aware of how much you’re spending each month. Spending more than your credit limit (or going into debt) is not the only way spending can hurt your score. Actually, you only want to spend around 30% — at most — of the credit you have available to you. If you are getting too close to spending all you have allotted, your score will be impacted negatively, says McClary. Requesting a credit limit increase could help you, says O’Connell. But that’s only if your spending stays the same.
Another thing that could be hurting your score is how often you apply for lines of credit. It’s never smart to take out loans and apply for multiple credit cards at the same time, since each inquiry negatively impacts your score, says McClary. All those requests at once could make your score come crashing down, so really consider your offers before sending in a credit card application, and spread out your credit requests over time.
Turning around your credit score is hard work, and it won’t happen overnight, says O’Connell. There are things you can do to expedite the process, like utilizing Experian Boost, but the most effective way to get your needle in the green is to diligently work day-by-day to apply these best practices to your credit life.
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