A Quick Credit Boost: Is it Possible?
Having a bad credit score is like having a serious nut allergy. People wouldn’t know you have an allergy by looking at you, but there are a bunch of delicacies this condition may be holding you back from trying.
Similarly, while another person can’t decipher your credit score just by looking at you, a poor credit score can still impact your choices in life.
The limitations that accompany a nut allergy can prevent someone from eating certain types of candy bars, a nice peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or even at certain restaurants -- an annoyance, for sure. Unfortunately, a bad credit score may force you to reckon with a small line of credit for larger purchases, higher interest rates, or other unfavorable financial consequences.
Either way, both a peanut allergy and a poor credit score can put real limits on your options in life. Luckily, while a nut allergy is something you’re pretty much stuck with, a bad credit score is something you can fix.
Is it possible to raise a credit score quickly?
For someone who has a mediocre credit score — say in the 670 range — raising it can be pretty easy. But if you have bad credit -- like a score that’s 630 or below -- rebuilding it is going to take a lot more effort.
There are steps, however, you can take to give your score a quick bump. How much of a bump? It’s hard to say, but striving for 50 points is a good starting goal.
With that in mind, here are two immediate actions you can take to start pushing your score in the right direction.
No. 1: Check your credit report for errors
Before you start planning a personal finance revolution that will unlock the shackles of your own credit past and establish a shining good credit score, it is a good idea to make sure the negative information on your credit report even belongs there in the first place.
In today’s world, identity theft can show its face in a variety of places -- from unemployment scams to credit card abuse. In fact, a TransUnion survey found about one-in-10 U.S. adults fell victim to identity theft in 2020 after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
If you are -- or have ever been -- a victim of identity theft, there’s a chance you have incorrect information on your credit reports. (That’s right -- you have more than one credit report.) That means a bad credit score may appear worse than it should -- but that doesn’t mean you have to accept that.
Each of the three credit bureaus -- TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian -- offers free access to your credit report once per year. Translation: You can pull your credit for free three times each year -- once from each bureau.
“If you find any [errors],” says debt relief attorney Leslie Tayne, “be sure to dispute [them] with the creditor and the credit bureaus to get [them] removed. Errors on your credit report could be unfairly negatively impacting your credit score.”
There’s even a chance you may catch errors that were put there by honest mistake.
Regardless of how the error got there, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission says the major credit bureaus will typically investigate your claim within 30 days of filing a complaint. Just make sure you go through the proper steps to have the erroneous information removed.
To order a free and legitimate copy of your credit report, just visit www.annualcreditreport.com. Don’t use any other website to get your free credit report, no matter how catchy their jingle may be.
No. 2: Consider Experian Boost
Experian Boost is a free service that allows consumers to link bills to their credit report that normally wouldn’t appear there. By linking your bank account to your credit report through Experian, and pointing out positive payment history for things like a cell phone bill or utilities, your credit score may see a quick boost.
When it comes to your credit score, making drastic improvements is a bit of a long game. Most information stays on your credit report for seven years, so it can take some time for bad information to drop off.
If you’re looking to set up yourself and your credit for long-term success, the below strategies will help get you there. And the sooner you get moving on them, the faster you’ll see results.
No. 1: Pay your bills on time
There are five different categories of information that go into your FICO credit score. Of those five, the most important one is your payment history, which makes up 35% of your score.
Want to strive for better credit? Pay your bills on time.
Ideally, you would pay your credit card bill in full each month to prevent from carrying over a balance and accruing interest. But if that isn’t possible, Tayne urges making at least the minimum payment by the due date. This will keep you current on your payments, even if you’re carrying over a credit card balance.
Worried about making your monthly payments by their due dates? Consider these strategies:
- Automate your bills: If you can take some of the onus off your plate with a set-it-and-forget-it approach, then go ahead and do it by automating as many bills as you can. This will help to avoid missed payments. Just remember to check on your statement at least once a month to make sure you have the right payment amount queued up by your due date. You should also review your statement for erroneous charges to help protect yourself from fraud.
- Budget around payday: Focus on budgeting your money properly so you always have the funds in your account when a bill comes due. An automated e-bill doesn’t do much good if it’s zeroing out your account and racking up overdraft fees.
No. 2: Practice responsible credit card use
Proper credit card use is one of the most reliable ways to build credit. Paying off your bill in full each month is one way to do that. Not only does this prevent you from accruing interest on remaining balances, but it also helps to keep your credit utilization in check.
Generally, it’s ideal to keep your credit utilization ratio -- sometimes called your credit utilization rate -- under 30%. Your credit utilization ratio takes into account how much you owe compared to your credit limits on all your accounts. The higher your ratio, the more of a negative impact it could have on your credit score.
With this in mind, Tayne warns against closing credit accounts haphazardly. Just as new accounts will offer a credit limit increase that reflects well on your credit rating, closing accounts can harm your score by reducing your available credit and increasing your ratio. Closing credit cards can also negatively impact your credit mix, which benefits from having a diverse range of available credit.
Of course, not everyone can just open a new credit card whenever they want. If your credit is too low to qualify for a traditional card, consider a secured credit card. Secured cards require cash collateral, but they can be a good tool to build up your credit as long as you’re following all the previously mentioned rules.
No. 3: Consider asking a trusted source for help
You may not have to tackle your credit repair goals alone.
“Become an authorized user on someone's card who has great credit,” suggests certified financial planner Jeff Rose. “Shared management of a credit card account can create a quick boost by using some of the original card holder's good credit history.”
Just be sure that you trust and are trusted by the person who is making you an authorized user so the arrangement works out well for both of you.
No. 4: Pay down your debts as aggressively as possible
You don’t need to be a credit expert to understand that debt can be a drag on your credit score. Together, your credit history and the amount of debt you owe make up 65% of your total credit score. That means paying down outstanding debt is one of the most effective ways to raise your credit score quickly.
We know that’s easier said than done. You might have to choose between building your savings and paying off debt. However, the more strategic you are about paying off your debts, the quicker the impact on your credit score will be.
“If you can, quickly work to pay down any debts that are close to the credit limit,” Rose says. “The closer to the credit limit you are, the more it negatively affects your credit score.”
- Payoff strategies: Two of the best debt repayment strategies out there are the debt snowball and debt avalanche methods. The debt snowball method encourages you to pay off your smallest debt first and then build on the momentum, while the debt avalanche encourages starting with the highest-interest debt.
- Avoid new debt: Finally, do not fall into the trap of trying to pay down your debts by thoughtlessly taking out new loans or opening a new credit card -- particularly if you’re trying to raise your score quickly. While additional credit accounts can help your utilization, hard inquiries will ding your FICO score.
Take a deep breath
While there are ways to give your credit score a quick boost, it’s important to remember that quick fixes aren’t permanent solutions. Maintaining good credit takes work. If you successfully work with the credit bureaus to remove errors from your credit history, but then start missing bill payments, you aren’t going to be in a good place.
Additionally, the impact of your credit-boosting actions will depend on your previous payment activities -- but again, you won’t get your shiny new credit score if late payments or collection accounts are weighing you down.
Bottom line: Consistency is key. So keep those on-time payments coming, your debt-to-credit ratio on the decline, and your eye on the prize. It will be worth it in the end.
Leslie H. Tayne, Esq. has nearly 20 years’ experience in the practice area of consumer and business financial debt-related services. She is the founder and head attorney at Tayne Law Group, which specializes in debt relief.
Jeff Rose is a certified financial planner, the CEO of his own wealth management firm, and author of a best-selling book, “Soldier of Finance.”