How to Get a Better Credit Score – Top 10 DO’s and DON’Ts to Improve Your Credit Report

Can you improve your credit score? Yes indeed. Your credit score is based on your credit report, which is a compilation of several kinds of information about you. From those facts (and often errors!) your credit score is calculated. You can improve your credit report and credit score in several ways. Some are obvious – others not so much.1. DO pay all bills on time, every time. Every bill you do not pay on time can affect your credit score, while every bill you do pay on time builds your standing.2. DO keep all financial documents. That includes bills, bank and credit card statements, receipts, cancelled checks and so on for the last several years. This documentation will help you dispute errors on your credit report, including unauthorized charges. If you ever have to deal with identity theft this information will help as well.3. DO get your credit reports. You need a credit report from each of the major credit bureaus, TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. They are different companies and their credit reports often contain different information. Creditors often check all three and average the credit scores they provide. To comply with US law, the three sites have set up a website giving you access to your credit reports once each 12 months at no charge. Credit reports do not include your credit score but they will offer to sell you your score when you request your free report, probably charging $8-12 each. Requesting your own credit report does not affect your credit score.4. DO clean up your credit report. Once you have your credit reports disputing negative items is the fastest, easiest way to remove them and directly increase your credit score. How does that work? Credit reporting agencies have 30 days to confirm disputed items with the original source or they have to remove them from your credit report. If the item is in error (and there are many errors in credit reports), they remove it. If the paperwork is not completed in time (and this often happens) they remove it as well5. DO reduce your level of debt. Focus on paying off credit cards both because they have high interest rates and because they affect your score a lot. If you have memberships or other expenses you can drop to lower your bills, consider doing that and applying that money to paying down debt. One good strategy is to put everything you can into paying off the smallest debt while paying the minimum on all the others. When the smallest is gone, use the money you were paying on that one to add to the minimum you were putting into the next smallest debt and pay it off completely. When that is gone you have freed up more money so you can make bigger payments on the next smallest debt. With each debt cleared you have more to put into paying off the next one. When they are all gone you will have wads of money left over each month. This is called the snowball effect and it is powerful. As you pay down your debts bear in mind that credit agencies like it when you use your credit, but not too much. So as you pay off what you owe, continue using the cards a little bit, but only if you can avoid going over 30% of your credit line.6. DO minimize the number of inquiries on your credit report. Single inquiries (as from new credit applications you make) will not have a big impact, but a number of inquiries in a short time period can damage your credit score. Your own inquiry does not count. You can also get inquiries removed from your credit report.7. DO request a credit limit increase from your credit card company. To avoid another inquiry on your credit report (not big but still a negative) ask for the largest increase they can do without an inquiry. If there have been not inquiries for a long time (as you know from your credit report) if you could get a big increase it could be worthwhile. An increase in your credit limit will improve your ratio of available to used credit, but only if you do not use it. If you are maxed out, get more credit and then charge against it, you are hurting yourself, so be careful with this one. Get the increase, then let it sit there as available, unused credit. That is how to get a higher credit score.8. DO keep open but unused credit card accounts, especially older ones. The longer your average account age and credit history the better, so keeping old but unused accounts open can improve your report in both of those ways. Unused credit also improves your ratio of used to available credit. You can destroy the card itself or put it somewhere safe. If the card is not secure then of course close the account, and likewise if you have too many cards.9. DON’T apply for or take on new revolving credit unless you really have to. If you are already maxing out your available credit then new applications and owing more will only hurt your credit score.10. DON’T go bankrupt if there is any possible way. Bankruptcy can take hundreds of points off your credit score and years to overcome. It may be the only way out of a bad situation, but be very sure before you do it.

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