You’ve worked hard to build your credit. But your credit score still isn’t exactly where you want it to be. After all, even just a jump in 20 points could mean the difference between getting approved for a loan or credit card — or not being improved at all.
To start, you’ll need to understand what makes up your credit score and work on building good habits. Here’s how to improve your credit score:
- Pay all your bills on time
- Pay off your debt
- Don’t close credit card accounts
- Limit new credit
- Keep an eye on your credit report
1. Pay all your bills on time
First of all, it’s important to always pay all of your bills on time because on-time payments are a big part of what makes up your credit score. On top of that, if you miss just one monthly payment on a credit card or any other loan, that loan could get sent to collections.
If you’re already past due on a bill or two, don’t think it’s too late. Focus on getting those past due bills up to date. It’s a good idea to call the creditor if a bill has already been sent to collections, or if it hasn’t been sent to collections yet, call your lender or credit card company and work with them on a payment plan.
2. Pay off your debt
One of the best things you can do to improve your credit is to pay off your debt. You should aim to have a credit utilization ratio of 30% or less. This is the amount of money (or credit) you’re using based on your available credit. The lower your utilization percentage, the better. This tells lenders you’re being responsible and not maxing out all your credit cards and loans.
For example, if your combined credit limit on three credit cards is $10,000, but you’re only using $2,000 of that total, your ratio would be just 20% (which is good).
Learn More: How to Pay Off Your Debt Fast
3. Don’t close credit card accounts
Sometimes you might think that you should close a credit card account simply because you don’t use the card anymore. But think twice before you do this.
Keeping all of your credit card accounts open for more than just a period of time can help your credit score since it adds to the length of credit history. In some cases, however, if a credit card has an annual fee that you can’t justify or afford, you might need to close it. Just know that it can affect your score, but the amount of the impact varies, depending on the account.
4. Limit new credit
Opening up a new credit account, whether a credit card or loan, can bring your score down slightly because they cause hard credit inquiries on your credit report. New accounts will also lower the average age of credit you have, so always keep this in mind when you open a new account.
It’s best to limit or not open too many new accounts at once since new credit inquiries can take about five points off your credit score.
5. Keep an eye on your credit report
Always check your credit score and report regularly. You can get a free copy of your credit report once a year from AnnualCreditReport.com.
In addition to checking your credit for errors, you should also look for anything that could be evidence of identity theft or fraud — like previous addresses of places you’ve never lived or names of employers you didn’t work for.
Though not always free, all three of the credit bureaus offer credit monitoring services, as well. But first, be sure to check to see if your bank, credit card issuers, or another financial institution offers this for free — many do.
Once you’ve worked on improving your credit, it’s important that you stick to these good habits. If you continue to nurture your credit, it can continue to grow — and then you’ll be the proud owner of that shiny, high credit score you’ve always wanted.
Read More: How to Build Credit Fast