Whether it’s a New Year’s resolution or part of the holiday hangover, for many people, January involves a financial overhaul. Here are five fairly simple ways to impact your creditworthiness over the rest of the year that may, over time, also boost your credit score.
1. Pay your bills on time. Because payment history makes up about 35 percent of your credit history, paying your bills on time is very important. One delinquent payment that is just 30 days late will stay on your credit report for up to seven years. Remember that paying your bill in full and on time is positive for your credit history and score.
2. Check your credit report regularly. Sometimes people who know they have had some problems in the past—maxed out a credit card, missed a payment or two, or failed to pay a bill that ultimately went to collections—are afraid to check their credit report until it becomes absolutely necessary. However, it’s important to check your credit report regularly, regardless of whether you think you have a score of 550 or 750, so you can see where you stand—what debts need to be paid down, if you have any collections that need to be paid off immediately, or if there is any inaccurate information on the report. You also want to make sure you haven’t been the victim of identity theft, which can destroy your credit.
3. Pay off debt. The debt-to-available-credit ratio is another important aspect of your credit history; it’s more positive to have a higher ratio of available credit to debt. For example, if you have a credit card with a $10,000 limit, and you’ve charged $8,000, potential creditors might be worried about how much additional debt you can take on and about your ability to pay that debt off on time. If you only have a few hundred dollars of debt, you’ll be seen as more likely to be someone who pays debts off quickly and handles credit responsibly.
4. Fix any errors. If you discover an error, whether an erroneous address or a bill marked unpaid that you’re sure you did pay, fix it immediately. A creditor may have missed reporting a payment or you may never have received an important bill that was eventually sent to a collections agency. Start by disputing the error with the credit reporting agency—it will work to resolve the error with you and the creditor. You can also contact the creditor to see if you can resolve the error with that company. Remember to get names and take detailed notes during these conversations so you can reference them later.
5. Consider new credit opportunities. Some people have lower credit scores because they have a very thin file, meaning they don’t have much credit or have a very short credit history. Building your credit history takes time, but you can build a more positive credit report if you open more lines of credit. While it is certainly not recommended to take on debt you don’t need, you may want to try opening a retail, gas, or low-interest credit card. Keep in mind that this credit card isn’t for buying things you can’t afford; it’s about building a positive credit history. Charge only small amounts that you can easily pay off at the end of the month.
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