Looking to buy a new car, apply for a credit card or possibly buy a home?
Then you definitely want your credit score to be in top shape.
Your credit score is a score calculated from your credit report. It’s basically an indicator of how risky a borrower you are. Your credit score can range anywhere from 300-850, and the higher the score, the better. When you go to apply for a car loan, student loan, home loan or credit card, your credit score is used by the lender to determine how much they will lend you and what your interest rate will be. The more risky you seem, the lower the limit they’ll give you—and the higher the interest rate they’ll charge you.
Do you know your credit score?
You want to get in the habit of checking your credit score at least once per year. You can go to sites like freecreditreport.com to access your credit report for free once per year and then pay an additional fee to get your credit score. Mint also offers a free credit score that is updated on a monthly basis through soft inquiry.
So what goes into calculating your credit score? There are 5 factors that contribute to the credit score and knowing what they are will make it easier to increase your credit score and creditworthiness. The five factors include:
1. Payment History- i.e. Are you paying your bills on time? This accounts for about 35% of your score.
2. Total Amount Owed- According to Mint, you should strive to keep your score healthy by using less than 30% of available credit across all your credit cards. This factor accounts for 30% of your score.
3. Length of Credit History- This factor accounts for 15% of your score. Getting an early start on building credit is essential. I usually recommend parents to help their children open up a credit card starting in high school, and help them understand the importance of establishing and being responsible with their credit.
4. New Credit- i.e. Number of recently opened accounts and credit inquires. This accounts for 10% of your score.
5. Types of Credit Used- i.e. Car loan, mortgage, and credit cards. This accounts for 10% of your score.
The goal is for your score to be above 760. This means you have excellent credit.
Do you need to improve your credit score?
It’s important to know that repairing or improving your credit score can take time, although there are some ways that you can begin improving it right now.
Here are 3 Ways to Improve Your Credit Score:
1. Check Your Credit Report
Make sure you check your credit report annually. You can use www.annualcreditreport.com to check your credit report once per year per credit bureau (there are three) for free. Review your credit report for errors and make sure that the amounts you owe are correct and that there are no late payments incorrectly listed. If there are any errors on your credit report, dispute them with the credit bureau and reporting agency.
2. Set Up Payment Reminders
Paying your credit payments (credit cards, car loan, student loans) on time is one of the biggest contributing factors to your credit score. Enroll in automatic payments through your credit card and loan providers to have payments automatically debited from your bank account. For those you can’t set to auto pay, link your biller account to Mint and take advantage of the new bill reminder (and bill pay) feature.
3. Reduce the Amount of Debt You Owe
Since your credit score is also based on your debt ratio (i.e. how much balance you have vs. your total credit limit), reducing the amount you owe can help increase your credit score. So if you have a balance on your credit cards, the first thing to do is stop using them. Then make a list of all your credit card accounts to determine how much you owe on each account and what interest rate each one is charging you. Come up with a payment plan that allows you to make additional debt payments starting with the highest interest rate first, while at the same time maintaining minimum payments on your other accounts. For more information on the best debt reduction strategy, check out John Agate’s article on Getting Organized to Get Out of Debt.
There are lots of myths out there about credit, read Farnoosh Torabi’s article debunking some of the biggest ones: All About Credit: Misconceptions from users on all things credit.