In the summer of 2020, Brandon and I bought an RV, sold most of our belongings, and hit the road to travel full-time. It’s been amazing, but we hit a few bumps in the road.
Most notably, our car started on fire. Yes, you read that right. It literally started on fire.
As you can imagine, there wasn’t much that could be done to salvage it, and we had to replace it quickly.
When this happened, I started to panic a little. You see, my husband and I have both had our fair share of financial hiccups along the way, and we’ve both had times when our credit scores weren’t very good. I immediately started to worry about whether we’d be able to get a car loan.
This worry came out of habit after years of worrying about money. In reality, Brandon and I have worked hard to be in the financial situation we are in today. All of that work not only allowed us to get a loan to replace our car, but our good credit scores also allowed us to get a good interest rate, so we wouldn’t be throwing away a ton of money on interest while we paid off the loan as quickly as possible.
Like Brandon and I, many people find themselves at points in their lives where their credit score is suffering. And just like we did, you are 100% capable of increasing your credit score and making your financial life a heck of a lot easier.
In this article, you’ll learn what a credit score is, why it matters, and how to start boosting yours quickly.
What is a credit score?
A credit score is a three-digit number that represents your creditworthiness (aka how likely you are to pay your bills on time). It’s based on the information on your credit report, which is compiled by three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and Transunion.
You can think of your credit report as your report card and your credit score as the grade you receive. Credit scores range from 300-850 and are considered either poor, fair, good, very good, or excellent. The higher your credit score, the better.
Why is a credit score important?
Your credit score tells lenders how risky of a borrower you are. In other words, they use the number to decide how likely you are to pay them back when you borrow money.
Your credit score has a huge impact on your finances. It can affect things like:
- Whether you can borrow money. If lenders see you as too much of a risk, you may not be able to get a credit card, car loan, mortgage, etc.
- Your interest rates. Even if you can get a loan, those with lower credit scores will end up with much higher interest rates. A good score can save you thousands of dollars.
- Your ability to get an apartment. When you fill out an apartment application, your credit score is one of the factors the landlord considers. A poor credit score can prevent you from getting an apartment.
- Your job. Potential employers can access part of your credit report. They might use this information to make a hiring decision, especially if you’re applying for a job where you’ll have access to company or customer money.
- Your insurance rates. Studies have connected credit scores to driving records. Because someone with a low credit score is a greater risk for insurance companies, your premiums will probably be higher.
How do I check my credit score?
Federal law says that everyone can get a copy of their full credit report from each of the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) at least once per year by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com.
That being said, your full credit report doesn’t actually include your credit score.
Luckily, it’s not that difficult to get your credit score from other sources. First, you can use a free credit scoring site like Credit Karma or Experian. Depending on your credit card company, they may also provide you with a free credit score.
It’s important to note that there are multiple types of credit scores, including FICO and VantageScore. Experian reports your FICO score, while services like Credit Karma report your VantageScore. The two different major types of credit scores are the reason why the credit score you see may not be the same as what a lender sees.
What is a good credit score?
Credit scores range from 300-850 and break down like this:
- 300-579: Poor
- 580-669: Fair
- 670-739: Good
- 740-799: Very Good
- 800-850: Excellent
850 is a perfect credit score. The good news is that you don’t need a perfect score to get the perks that come with good credit. Those with a score of 800 or above will have access to the best rates on the market.
If you have a very good score, meaning 740-799, you still have plenty of advantages going for you. You probably won’t struggle to get a loan, and you’ll have access to better-than-average rates.
How can I raise my credit score quickly?
If your credit score isn’t quite where you’d like it to be, you don’t need to panic. Your credit score is an ever-evolving number. And by making a few changes to your finances, you can start to see your score consistently increase.
1. PAY YOUR BILLS ON TIME
Paying your bills on time is one of the easiest things you can do to consistently improve your credit score.
When you fail to pay a bill on time, the company you owe money to reports it to the credit bureaus. It then shows up on your credit report and damages your credit score.
Be sure you’re paying your bills on time, and catch up as quickly as possible on any bills you’re currently behind on.
2. PAY OFF DEBT
Your credit utilization, meaning the percentage of your available credit that you’re using, is one of the biggest factors going into calculating your credit score.
The lower your utilization, the better. And anything above 30% can damage your credit score. If you’re using more than 30% of your available credit, try to pay some off to get that number below 30%.
3. INCREASE YOUR CREDIT LIMITS
Paying off debt isn’t the only way to improve your credit utilization. You can also try to increase your credit limits.
Most credit card companies have a form on their website you can use to request a credit limit increase. I find that calling their customer service line is more effective. There’s something about talking to an actual person that seems to get the job done better.
4. USE YOUR CREDIT CARDS RESPONSIBLY
Your credit score tells lenders whether or not you use credit responsibly. So the best way to show them that you do is to — you guessed it — use your current credit responsibly.
A few rules of thumb for credit cards include paying off your full balance each month (not just making the minimum payment), and keeping your total usage below 30% at any given time.
5. KEEP YOUR OLD CREDIT CARDS OPEN
We know that your credit utilization is important for your credit score. So is your age of credit, meaning the average number of years you’ve had each credit account. The longer your average age of credit, the better.
I have lots of people ask me if they should close old credit cards. But keeping them open actually helps improve both your credit utilization and your average age of credit!
6. BECOME AN AUTHORIZED USER
Opening a new credit card can be great and all, but it doesn’t check all the boxes to increase your credit score. It increases your credit utilization but shortens your average age of credit and goes on your credit report as a hard inquiry.
But becoming an authorized user on someone else’s credit card can check all the boxes.
- It reduces your credit utilization, assuming the credit card is under 30% of the limit
- It increases your age of credit, because you get credit for the full life of the credit card
- It doesn’t appear as a hard inquiry on your credit report
I can tell you from personal experience that this one does the trick. My husband had a far lower credit limit than I did, meaning his credit utilization was higher when he used his credit cards.
We added him as an authorized user on my cards, and his credit score immediately shot up!
7. AVOID APPLYING FOR NEW CREDIT
Applying for new credit can hurt your credit in a few ways. First, it shows up on your credit report as a new hard inquiry, which can slightly decrease your score. This will stay on your credit report for two years.
Opening new credit also decreases your average age of credit, which can drop your credit score.
8. DISPUTE ERRORS ON YOUR CREDIT REPORT
Data from the Federal Trade Commission shows that about one in five people has errors on their credit reports. This could look like a debt showing up as delinquent when it isn’t or a debt that isn’t yours at all showing up on your credit report.
Sometimes it’s simply a mistake on the part of a lender, but it could also be something more sinister like identity theft.
Unfortunately, you have to be proactive about removing these errors from your credit report. No one else is going to do it for you.
This is why it’s important to check your credit report at least once per year. You can spot any errors right away, and dispute them with the credit bureaus.
How long does it take to increase your credit score?
Turning your credit around isn’t an instant process. You can’t start paying your bills on time or pay off some debt and expect your score to shoot up instantly.
The good news is, however, that you can start boosting that number fairly quickly. Some things work faster than others.
If you have a low credit utilization or short credit history, having someone add you as an authorized user to their credit card can boost your credit score a lot in just a few months. Similarly, paying off a bunch of credit card debt can make a big difference quickly.
Other things will take longer to recover from. Delinquencies — aka missed payments — stay on your credit report for seven years. Bankruptcies stick around for ten years. If you have either of these, it’s just a matter of waiting for them to fall off, while making other positive changes in the process.
Your credit score is one of the most important numbers when it comes to your finances. It can be the determining factor when it comes to the loans, interest rates, and apartments you can get.
While many people struggle with a low credit score at one point or another, there are plenty of changes you can make to start improving your score.