How to Boost Your Credit Score

We all know how important our credit score is. It affects our home and auto loans, credit cards, insurance rates and even job or rental applications. To receive the best rates, you need to have at least a score in the mid- to high-700s.

Unfortunately, the average American has a credit score of 690, with a quarter having a score of 600 or below. What’s even more alarming is that nearly half don’t know their own credit scores!

If you haven’t checked recently, you can go to artofthinkingsmart.com/credit for resources on how to get your free credit report and score.

Unfortunately, the average American has a credit score of 690, with a quarter having a score of 600 or below. What’s even more alarming is that nearly half don’t know their own credit scores!

The three main credit bureaus, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian, determine your FICO credit score based upon the following makeup:

• 35 percent payment history
• 30 percent debt amounts
• 15 percent credit history
• 10 percent credit mix
• 10 percent recent credit inquiries

What if your score is not high enough? The most important thing you can do is to pay your bills on time, not max out your cards, and not have too many hard inquiries (when lenders check your score, not when you do). However, here are some lesser-known tips that can help you boost your score.

• Don’t close your credit accounts.

You finally paid off your cards and should close the accounts, right? Don’t do it! Since 15 percent of your score is based on credit history, you want to keep your oldest accounts open. This also helps the average age of your credit accounts. Even if you don’t use them, keeping them open will help your score more over time.

• Ask for higher credit limits.

Even if you pay your credit cards off every month, if it looks like you are maxing them out or getting close to your limits, FICO sees this as not being able to handle debt responsibly. You shouldn’t exceed 30 percent of your limit. Call your credit card company and ask it to increase your limit.

• Look at borrowing.

Ten percent of your score is made up of your credit mix. FICO wants to see a mix of revolving accounts (credit cards) and installment accounts (auto and home loans). Even if you can pay for a car in cash, it may be better for your score to get an auto loan, especially with the low interest rates. Having said this, you don’t want to use this as an excuse to borrow more money if you can’t afford to pay it back. Make sure it fits your financial situation.

• Be an “authorized user.”

If you have someone who has great credit and a high limit add you on as an “authorized user,” then it can help your credit history, your record of paying bills on time and your credit limit. This person doesn’t even have to give you a card or access to spend it. Every month the account status will update your credit score. Essentially, you are piggybacking on someone else’s great credit.

• Negotiate with your creditors.

You may have made some mistakes in the past when finances were tight. Call the creditor and see if it will remove anything negative from your score. If you were in collections and had to settle, ask it to put “paid in full” instead of “settled” on your credit report. Some creditors are willing to work with you on this. If they agree, make sure they give it to you in writing!

david@artofthinkingsmart.com