Nine ways to improve your credit score

A credit score reflects credit patterns over time, with more emphasis placed on recent information. If you have a good credit score, you need only avoid taking any action which might damage it, like missing a payment. If you already have a poor credit score, there is no quick fix. The way to improve your credit score is to build a good credit history, and that takes time. Here are nine tips to build and maintain a good credit history.

1. Check your credit score. You can order a free credit report from the three credit reporting agencies once per year.

Use this link to order all three at once from AnnualCreditReport.com.

Better yet, order them one at a time spaced out over the year. Your free report will not include your actual credit score, but when you get to the screen to view your report, there will be a link to order your credit score for a small fee.

2. Pay your bills on time. This has the most affect on building or damaging your credit score. Pay your bills on time every month. If you do nothing else, this alone will help build a good score.

3. Get caught up. If you’re behind on paying a bill, remedy that as soon as you can. Older credit problems count less than recent activity, so while you will take a hit for being late, as time passes that will become less important provided you remain current on payments.

4. Set up recurring payments. One way to ensure you make at least the minimum payment to your accounts is to set up recurring payments through online banking. You can – and should – make more than the minimum payment. Scheduling a recurring payment ensures you meet the minimum payment on time every month thus avoiding late fees and damage to your credit history.

5. Reduce your debt. One of the major factors in determining your credit score is how much revolving credit you have versus how much you’re actually using. The smaller that percentage, the better for your credit score. Limit balances on credit cards and revolving credit to 30 percent or less of your credit limit.

6. Don’t close unused credit cards once they’re paid off. Good debt – debt that you’ve handled well – is good for your credit. The longer your history of good debt, the better it is for your credit score.

7. Have credit cards and use them responsibly. Using a credit card and making payments on time shows that you can handle debt. If you don’t qualify for a traditional card, ask about getting a share-secured Visa.

8. Vary your credit. Having an auto loan or mortgage shows diversity in your loan portfolio, but what if you don’t need one of those? Consider paying for a large purchase with something other than a credit card. Options include a Personal Line of Credit, a Home Equity Line of Credit, or an All-Purpose Loan. Having a good mix of loan types shows that you can handle a variety of debt.

9. Don’t obsess. Your credit score is most important when you’re shopping for a loan, like a mortgage or an auto loan. Until then pay your bills on time, don’t apply for more credit than you need, and inject some variety into your credit mix. Do that and your credit score will resolve itself.

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