Bad Credit Checkup: 6 Steps to a Healthy FICO

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When people get a cold, their doctor’s advice is usually pretty straightforward: Take some medicine, drink fluids, and get lots of rest. If you had a cold and your doctor recommended that you stand on your head and yodel, you’d think she was crazy. Sometimes the simple, straightforward answers are the best ones.

The same holds true for your credit score. If you have bad credit and are looking to improve it, the answers are pretty simple. We don’t have any #hacks for you, just best practices. While it is possible to improve your FICO score quickly, it’s not really achievable for most people. (Pay off all my credit cards right now and my score will skyrocket? Why didn’t I think of that before?!)

If you have bad credit and want to improve your credit score, here are the doctor’s orders …

1. Get a copy of your credit report.

Your credit score is based on the information in your credit report. If you want to find out why your credit score is so low, then your credit report probably has the answers you seek. Plus, your personal report might have errors in it that are unnecessarily dragging down your score. Under federal law, everyone is entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. To request a copy of your credit report, visit www.annualcreditreport.com.[1] Learn more about credit reports in the eBook Credit Workbook: The OppLoans Guide to Understanding Your Credit, Credit Report and Credit Score.

2. Pay your bills on time. No really.

Your payment history accounts for 35 percent of your FICO score. Make a spreadsheet with all your payment dates, set reminders to check your minimums, and make the payments on time. It’s that simple. And even if you miss payments by a day or so, don’t tear your hair out. Many lenders and credit card companies have a grace period before they report a late payment to the credit bureaus. Plus, if you open a new account, making on-time payments from the outset will help your FICO score long-term.[2] You can read more about why you should pay your bills on time in our blog How One Late Payment Can Affect Your Credit.

3. Use less than 30 percent of your credit limit.

Your credit utilization ratio makes up 30 percent of your FICO score, which begs the question: What is a credit utilization ratio? Basically, it’s the amount of your available credit that you are actually using. If you have a credit card with a $5,000 limit and you have used $1,000, then you have utilized 20 percent of your available credit. In general, keeping your credit utilization ratio below 30 percent will help boost your score. This means paying down your balances and then keeping them low. However, it might also mean requesting that your credit card company increase your credit limit. (Fair warning: If you don’t have a good history of paying bills on time, they aren’t going to give you more credit.)

4. Keep your old cards open.

Once you have paid off a credit card, you should just close that card, right? Nope! You should keep that card open. Remember your credit utilization ratio? That card represents a bunch of available credit that you aren’t using. And since you have a longstanding history with that credit card, it helps you more than opening a new card would. In fact, do not open up new cards just to create more available credit. According to FICO themselves, that could end up backfiring on you and lowering your score.

5. Pay down your debt.

Start with your credit card debt. Did you know that the average US household has over $15,000 in credit card debt?[3] Yikes! The key to paying down your debt is to make a plan and then stick to it. Create a monthly budget that comes in well under your monthly income and use that extra money to pay down your cards. Two popular methods of debt repayment are the Debt Snowball and the Debt Avalanche. Check them out to see which one might work best for you. Paying down your debt won’t just improve your FICO score, it will improve your financial future, too!

6. Think about consolidating.

Credit cards carry higher interest rates than most standard personal loans. This is one of the reasons that credit card debt can be such a heavy burden. Plus, your FICO score weights credit card debt more heavily than it does other types of personal debt. So if you are having trouble paying down your credit cards in a timely manner, think about consolidating those cards instead. Shop around to see if you qualify for a personal installment loan with a lower Annual Percentage Rate (APR) than your credit cards. Shifting that debt from a credit card to a personal installment loan could net you both an improved FICO score and a more reasonable path towards debt repayment. You can learn more about the ins and outs of debt consolidation loans in our blog series, Debt Consolidation 101.

Making your payments on time with a personal installment loan from OppLoans could help improve your credit score.

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References:

  1. Free Credit Reports. Federal Trade Commission: Consumer Information. Accessed from https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0155-free-credit-reports.
  2. How to repair my credit and improve my FICO Scores. MyFICO.com. Accessed from http://www.myfico.com/crediteducation/improveyourscore.aspx.
  3. El Issa, E. “2015 American Household Credit Card Debt Study.” Accessed from https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/credit-card-data/average-credit-card-debt-household/.