Credit scores are calculated using information in your credit files that are maintained by nationwide credit reporting agencies like Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
Start by visiting annualcreditreport.comto view/print each of your 3 free credit reports to check for any discrepancies.
The reason negative information on your credit history is so detrimental is because it stays there for a long time. Late payments remain for 7 years and some bankruptcies remain for 10 years.
Don’t believe anyone who tells you that it’s possible to instantly improve or “fix” poor credit. There’s no way to immediately improve a credit score if it’s based on accurate information. Credit scores are designed to reflect your credit behavior over time.
The good news is that credit scores typically give more weight to recent activity and information.
Paying bills on time is the best way to build an impressive credit history. Missing payments and having accounts in collection will hurt your credit scores more than any other factor.
Credit cards are one of the most convenient and safe ways to make purchases—plus, they give you a powerful way to build a strong credit history. Since you decide how much to charge and pay off each month, a credit card reveals how responsible you are with credit and can really boost your scores.
The best way to manage a credit card is to avoid interest charges altogether by paying the balance off in full each month. You never have to carry a balance or pay any interest to build credit.
Though using credit cards can help you build credit, they can also damage it if you rack up too much debt.
The amount of debt you have on revolving accounts—like credit cards and lines of credit—compared to your credit limits is called your credit utilization ratio. A major factor in maintaining good credit is to keep this ratio low.
Having an installment loan—like a car loan, student loan, or mortgage—is great for your credit because it demonstrates that you’re a reliable borrower when you consistently pay on time.
While lowering your total amount of debt can improve credit, in most cases it isn’t better to pay off student loans and mortgages ahead of schedule.
If you have at least 6 month’s worth of living expenses stashed away in an emergency fund and you’re saving at least 15% for retirement, paying off installment loans early may be a smart move for you.
The key to building credit is to use credit accounts—but in moderation! Never abuse credit by using it to pay for a lifestyle that you can’t afford because that destroys your financial future and your credit.
Since credit scores are based on what’s in your credit file, your goal should be to accumulate a long history of good credit behavior for different types of credit accounts, such as credit cards, lines of credit and installment loans.
When you understand how the credit scoring system works and use credit strategically, you’ll build excellent credit that will improve many aspects of your personal finances.