When it comes to your financial future, why limit yourself? You could be doing just that with a low or weak credit score. You may think of your credit score as merely a way to get a loan for a car or home but it is much more than that. A good credit store can open a world of opportunities and new experiences. A poor score could prevent you from getting a job, renting an apartment, moving up in the military, obtaining a line of credit and more. You want more choices in life, not less.
To keep your all your options as open as possible, it is critical that you take a proactive look at your credit and try to boost your score as high as possible. Here are six simple steps you can take to help get your numbers up.
Step 1: Review your credit reports. These reports are issued by the Big 3 credit agencies (Experian, Transunion, Equifax), and may all contain varying scores and different information. You can view these reports once a year for free. There are also free websites and apps like Credit Karma which provide weekly updates on your credit score, along with loan and credit card offers you may qualify for. Review all your reports carefully as often as possible to look for any inaccuracies. In this day and age of identity theft, there may be accounts there that you didn’t open!
Step 2: Dispute any discrepancies. If you find any errors or items that don’t belong in your credit report, dispute them! You can do it directly on the credit agency’s website. Be sure to document everything that you send to the credit agencies. Suffice it to say, they are not very eager to correct mistakes so you may have to keep pushing them to have items removed or changed.
Step 3: Track all your balances. Make a list of all your credit cards, the amount you owe and how much of your maximum balance you are using on each. Your goal should be to keep those balances under 25 percent of your total limit for each account. For example, if you have a card with a $10,000 maximum limit, your balance should never go above $2,500 at any time. Going higher could significantly impact your score. If you are running a higher balance than 25% of the maximum, open a new card and transfer some of that balance to the new card.
Step 4: Set up autopay. Every credit card should be set up for autopay. If you can, try to pay the full balance each month. If that’s not possible, then at least set it up to pay the minimum amount due. This way, you will never forget to make a payment and can avoid any delinquent payment marks on your report.
Step 5: Don’t close your oldest credit card account. Credit scores are determined in part by your credit history. Make it a point to identify your oldest credit card and keep it open. That account most likely serves as the starting point for your credit history and closing it may affect your score.
Step 6: Open another credit card account. A big part of your credit score is based on how much of your current available balances you are using. Let’s say that you have 2 cards with a $10,000 limit each, and a combined balance of $6,000. The credit agencies see that you are using 30 percent ($6,000/$20,000) of your available credit. If you opened another card with a max limit of $10,000, you would now have a $6,000 balance and $30,000 maximum limit. Now you will only be using 20 percent of your available credit ($6,000/$30,000).
The key to boosting your credit to the lofty 800+ range is simply staying on top of your score. Make it part of your routine to be aware of balances and check your credit reports at least once a year. With a little discipline and effort, these six steps can become second nature and as routine as getting a paycheck. An excellent credit score will open new doors of opportunities to you for your future plans, even if you may not know what those future plans are yet!