Digging yourself out of a bad credit score can feel like an uphill battle, but it’s not impossible. It just takes time.
According to Kurt Brucker, credit score expert for oXYGen Financial, a leading independent financial services firm, rebuilding poor credit typically takes at least a year of diligent work.
Brucker, who provides personal finance and career guidance to millennials on the national podcast “They Don’t Teach You This,” shared his top five tips for the fastest ways to give your credit score a boost.
The No. 1 rule for getting a good credit score is staying on top of payments, said Brucker.
“The credit score is effectively your ability to pay your debts in a timely manner. Having a history of doing so can increase your score quickly.”
Keep in mind that many bills — such as rent, utilities, internet, phone and insurance — are only reported to credit bureaus if they wind up in collections, Brucker said. More significant payments, like student loans, car notes and mortgages, are reported regardless of whether they are in collections. So a late payment on these accounts will have a bigger impact on your credit.
“It’s a lot easier to ruin a good score than improve a bad score,” he said. “Improving can take time, but one bad delinquency can cause long-term issues with your credit score. It’s important to stay on top of things and not get lax.”
“Paying down your debt is very important and a quick way to improve your score,” he said.
Even if you can’t afford to pay off the entire amount, any extra payments you make can help significantly by lowering your overall debt capacity and utilization rate.
When you do pay off a credit card, don’t close the account, he warned. Instead, he advised cutting up the card and not using it so your credit isn’t negatively impacted.
“Having those old debts on [your credit report] — once they’re paid off — will help along the way, so it’s a double win,” he said.
It may sound counterintuitive, but Brucker said another great way to give your credit score a quick boost is by increasing your credit limit — without increasing your spending. Doing this will lower your utilization rate.
“Credit utilization is the amount of credit you use relative to the limit you have,” he explained.
If you are staying on top of your monthly credit card payments but your score is reduced because of a high utilization, ask the company to raise your credit limit. But be careful — just because you have more credit doesn’t mean you should use it.
“A good rule of thumb is that you never want your balance to be over 30 percent of the limit you were given. Having a lower percentage, however, is ideal,” he said. “If you are able to do this, it will immediately jumpstart your score.”
You can also quickly improve your score by piggybacking on someone else’s good credit.
“Becoming an authorized user can be a good way to build up your credit score — or cost you if the primary user isn’t on top of the payments,” said Brucker. “If the primary account holder has a strong history of paying on time and good utilization, it can help. However, if they miss payments or utilize close to the limit it can severely impact the authorized user’s score.”
It’s also a good idea to request your free annual credit report from all three credit reporting agencies — Experian®, Equifax® and TransUnion®. Monitoring your credit score will help you quickly identify which factors are negatively impacting your score and ensure there isn’t any fraudulent activity.
If you do find evidence of fraud, Brucker said to immediately contact the bureau that is reporting it and the lender that made the claim.
“The bureau will generally investigate within 30 days. You will want to be sure you state facts along with any information you may have to dispute the claim.”
If you can take these small steps and avoid outspending your means, your credit score will be in a much better place relatively quickly, he said.