Pro tips for a higher credit score
at something and an expert says, “Just do blah, blah, blah,” we roll our eyes and think, “That’s easy for you to say. You’re already good at The Thing.”
Ah, but therein lies the rub. To become good at The Thing, you must start with the basics. All that said, here’s our first—and simplest—tip for a higher credit score.
(Spoiler alert: it’s a regular routine and it will require just a little self-discipline!)
Pay your bills on time
We know. Blah, blah, blah. But really and truly, being absolutely militaristic about paying your lenders before the due date is the most vital way to maintain a good credit score, or to improve a poor one.
According to Forbes Advisor writer Chelsea Brennan, “A late or ‘delinquent’ payment stays on your credit report for seven years. The impact on your overall score declines over time, but that negative mark still matters.” Ouch.
Avoiding this scenario doesn’t need to be arduous. For bills that are generally the same amount each month, i.e. the mortgage, water bill and other utilities, set them up on autopay. For bills with amounts that vary, set reminders on your phone’s calendar, in your email or anywhere else you’re guaranteed to see them. Be sure to set multiple reminders. You don’t want to accidentally dismiss one and then forget completely.
Use your history of paying utility and streaming service bills on time
What if you’re already good at paying SOME bills on time? Maybe you’ve never missed a Hulu payment. Or you’re so terrified of losing Internet access that it’s your first bill to go out every month. Great news! You can leverage that awesome history.
With your permission, Experian, one of the three major credit bureaus, will get you connected to Experian Boost. Through it, they’ll review your utility, telecom and streaming service payment history. Next, you’ll get a chance to look over and verify the data, at which point Experian will add it to your file and provide you with an updated score.
View your credit report
At first, this may sound a little basic, but it’s an option many people might not know even exists. According to advice from Andrea White in CNBC Select, you should request and closely review your credit report from the three major credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax and TransUnion—at least once every year. These are available for free from annualcreditreport.com.
While it may seem unlikely you’ll find errors, it does happen. You might find discrepancies if you’ve obtained credit under a different name or experienced major life changes like marriage or divorce. Look especially closely at any late or missing payments to be sure they’re correct. If you see an issue, you can contest it online or via phone with the applicable company. Before you do that, however, you’ll need to compile evidence to support your claim.
Get a credit card
It might be hard to believe in our digital landscape, but there are people who don’t have a credit card. Whether they want to avoid spending above their means or paying a high interest rate, the effort is admirable. If this is you, however, and you’re looking to build good credit, you need to sign up for one, pronto.
By having a credit card and paying it on time every month (the basics, remember?) creditors can see that you are responsible with your credit. Over time, this pattern combined with the payments you make on other debt like student or car loans will result in a higher credit score.
So, go get a credit card, but don’t go crazy racking up charges. If you have any doubt as to whether you can be responsible, set just one bill to be paid on the card each month, sign up for automatic payments and then tuck the plastic itself away. Some people even swear by freezing their cards in a block of ice so it’s difficult to access in weak moments. Whatever works for you!
This is adulting like a pro. While some of these steps may seem daunting, they’ll quickly become second nature. And incorporating them into your routine will pay off BIG in an improved credit score. Greater home purchasing power is just a new routine away; work at it now, and ‘future you’ will be grateful.