Credit card companies, car lenders, mortgage companies, and even some landlord’s nowadays require you to have a good credit score. They need assurance that you’ll pay them back, as you both have agreed.
If you’re seeking knowledge on how to improve your credit, in this article, I’ll be sharing some helpful tips that I discovered solely through trial and error.
Let’s get into it!
The 5 Factors that Make Up Your Credit Score
Payment History (~35% of your credit)
Your payment history is the heaviest category, in terms of your credit score. Having good payment history will show your creditors that you’re good at making payments and that you would be a suitable candidate for paying back your line of credit.
It’s also important to know that a “late payment” is categorized in 4 ways, each more severe than the next:
30 days late
60 days late
90 days late
120 days late (approaching charge off)
The only time you’ll be flagged for a late payment, if you’ve been 30 days past due or more. So if you’ve ever been late by a few days, that doesn’t count – only once you reach the 30 day threshold will it be reported to your credit.
Now the later you get, the worse the mark on your credit becomes. Once you pass 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, and finally make it to 120 days – your creditor will likely “charge off” your account and you’ll receive an extremely derogatory mark on your credit report, likely alongside a collection effort for any unpaid balances.
Needless to say, make your payments on time at all costs, or call your creditor to work out a payment arrangement if you’re struggling to keep up.
Keeping your creditor informed can result in possible leniency (not guaranteed).
Utilization Ratio (~30% of your credit)
Your utilization ratio is the next heaviest category affecting your credit score.
So what IS utilization?
Well, your utilization is how much of your total credit line is being used. For example, if you have a $1000 card, and carry a $300 balance, this would equal a 30% utilization for THAT specific account.
Your utilization ratio is your TOTAL balance unpaid, divided by your TOTAL available credit line – across every revolving account you currently have.
It’s widely recommended to pay off your credit cards in full, every month, to avoid interest and spiking your utilization ratio, therefore likely decreasing your credit score.
It’s also important to know the difference between your payment due date, and your statement date. Your statement date is the actual day your card balance is reported to the bureaus, while the payment due date is just when you have to make your minimum payment at the latest.
So if you’re in the habit of paying your card off, you could theoretically pay the card off a day before your statement date, wait a day or two, then rack up some charges – still resulting in a $0 balance reported to the credit bureaus.
Length of Credit History (~15% of your credit)
So this one isn’t something you can necessarily control, nor is it a HUGE factor, but it’s an important part of your credit score.
It’s extremely straightforward, the average length of your credit history impacts your score – so having accounts open, in good standing, for a long time – will benefit your credit score.
By the time I was 25, I had an average credit history of 5 years. I had applied for my first card, a secured capital one card, the day I turned 18 years old.
I really wish I would have applied for more, because having that extremely old account on my credit history really helps when it comes to applying for things like unsecured credit lines, a mortgage, or a car loan.
Types of Credit (~10% of your credit)
Your credit mix is small, but an important part of your credit as well.
You see, most people will start out with a credit card – likely a secured one – when starting their credit building journey.
…but how does that show a mortgage company that you’ll be able to pay back the mortgage you want? Well it doesn’t. You only have experience with credit cards.
Even though they can still see your utilization ratio and payment history, that doesn’t necessarily tell them you do well with “installment debt”
When I was around 20 years old, I chose to finance a vehicle (with a terrible interest rate) solely for the reason of having that installment history alongside my credit card history. This seriously helped me in the long run. I was able to refinance about 6 months later, with a much better interest rate, AND I qualified for a mortgage by the time I was 21.
So be sure to keep in mind that you need a variety of credit types on your report, else your “good score” could be a false sense of security when you apply for something like a mortgage or a car loan.
New Credit (~10% of your credit)
Fairly straightforward, the “New Credit Applications” portion of your score affects you slightly. When you apply for credit, you’ll likely lose a handful of points due to the “hard inquiry”
A hard inquiry is just another word for “pulling your credit” – when they request access to see your report and scores – you get dinged.
Applying for too many accounts could show the creditors that you’re risky. It’s very typical for consumers with too many credit accounts to file bankruptcy.
Especially when they apply for them all at once, combined with a short credit history.
Over the years, I tried to do my credit applications in short bursts. If I’m shopping for a new card, I’ll research 2-4 cards that I’m interested in.
If I don’t get the main card I wanted, I move down the line and apply in succession until I get one I’m happy with. This will usually result in the hard inquiries falling off all at the same time.
Summary of Each Score
It’s also important to note, that you do NOT just have one credit score. You actually have several, and they are typically unique to the type of credit you’re applying for.
For example, you’ll typically find that mortgage companies will pull your FICO8 score. You also have a FICO Auto Score (traditionally used by car financing companies), and you have a FICO Bankcard Score.
I’m sure you can deduce that each type of credit, will pull their respective score. These scores can also be different from each other, and they usually are.
Each score has different variables and weighted categories to better suit the specific lender, for what they’re looking to provide for you.
Technically, you could apply for a preferred rewards card (like American Express) with a 705 Fico Bankcard Score – but then be declined for a mortgage due to having a 610 FICO8 Score.
Now let’s move on to the tips!
Tip #1 – Pull your real credit report, dispute inaccuracies
For starters, you need to see what you’re working with. Just rip the band-aid off and get it over with.
Head to annualcreditreport.com and fill out the information necessary to pull all 3 reports: Equifax, Experian, Transunion.
You won’t receive scores, but you’ll see all the accounts, payment history, utilization, and your personal information.
It’s extremely important to review every piece of data on these reports. If you find something inaccurate, you can dispute it by simply sending a letter and waiting for it to be removed.
I’ll be linking free templates in this article soon, or on my website so stick with me! You’ll be able to fill them out and print them for free.
Credit Repair Agents/Agencies
I also think it’s a great time to mention something about “Credit Repair Specialists”
For starters – in the state of Georgia – it is illegal to operate as a credit repair specialist unless you are a non-profit or a licensed real estate brokerage.
I’m not a licensed attorney, and this is obviously not legal advice – but I can read directly from the Consumer Protection Division’s Website and they call it a misdemeanor to operate as a credit repair agency, with only a few exceptions.
It’s very important to know that there’s an entire industry of “credit repair agents” who make money by charging you a monthly fee, in turn for “deleting items” on your credit.
Do not fall for this scam – you are only legally allowed to dispute things from your credit report that are ACTUALLY inaccurate.
The credit repair agents typically try to delete everything that is negatively affecting your credit score, which can have serious consequences on YOU, not them. Be wary, I’ll be posting another article outlining exactly what they do, and their processes – shortly.
Tip #2 – Make your payments on time
Now this tip you might be thinking “No s%#t man” but it’s worth reminding that you are ONLY late if your minimum payment is still not received on the 30th day.
Now I’m not saying that you should push it that far, on purpose, but you can use that piece of information to help plan out your budget when you’re struggling to make ends meet.
You can also prevent late payments by performing a balance transfer, applying for a debt consolidation loan, or utilizing a consumer agency like American Consumer Credit.
Personally, about 5 years ago, I had racked up around $10,000 in credit card debt and my minimum payments were around $500-$700/mo.
I was cutting it so close every month, and actually did miss a payment which seriously hurt my credit. We’re talking 40 points over a SINGLE 30 day late mark.
Once I enrolled with American Consumer Credit, they had me fill out some paperwork, sign a few things – then they called all of my accounts, closed them, negotiated a much lower interest rate AND lower payment. Much more manageable.
Now, closing the accounts STILL hurt me a bit, but it was better in the long run. My credit recovered after about a year, and I completed the program 2.5 years in.
You can get in contact with them by clicking here and ask for their debt management program.
Tip #3 – Keep your utilization ratio below 30%
Keeping your balances low can be a bit of a pain. I found a bit of a life hack back when I was 23, and it involves becoming an authorized user on someone’s account.
Essentially, in the beginning it’s pretty hard to keep your balances low when every credit card company only dishes out $300 or $500 limits.
I mean, can you blame them? You’re brand new, and a complete risk. You have nothing on your report so you’re sort of a wild card.
So the situation was, my fiancé had pretty rough credit after getting out of college. We’re talking low 500s. Her main issue was, no one would give her a card besides the extremely sub-par companies with terrible terms, annual interest, and fees.
So I added her to my American Express card ($3,500 limit at the time) as an authorized user. If you’re an authorized user on someone’s account, that card will show up on your credit as if it’s yours – because technically it is.
After being added as an authorized user, the company will typically mail you a card with your name on it, specifically meant for you.
So what I’ve told a few struggling peers – ask your mom, dad, sister, ANYONE who has a card with a high credit line, and a low balance.
Ask them to add you as an authorized user and make sure to convince them that you WILL NOT spend – honestly you can tell them to keep the card because you shouldn’t spend. They’re doing a serious favor for you.
After about a month, this account should reflect on your credit report. You should see a bump on your score, just like I saw on my fiancé’s credit.
Tip #4 – Apply for new lines of credit in clusters
Fairly straightforward – don’t apply for credit accounts every single month. I see so many people applying for a new card every two weeks.
All this will do is consistently ding your credit by a few points every time, and your chances of being approved for the new account shrink.
It’s typically recommended to do them in bursts, then wait for 3-6 months at a minimum.
I mean, of course, apply if you need the credit, but you shouldn’t be making this your late night activity.
Tip #5 – Negotiate Collections to remove them
Now here’s the big one – collections.
In my opinion these are the WORST items that can show up on your credit report, but everyone makes mistakes, so I’ll show you how you can improve the situation.
Now again, I’m not an attorney, and this is not legal advice – you should consult with a legal professional before attempting this – but I’ll tell you…
This worked for me on 4 accounts, over the span of 5 years…
Every. Single. Time.
So the first thing you need to understand, every time an account is entered onto your credit report (even if it’s a collection) it’s considered a “tradeline”
Now, everything on your credit will fall off after 7 years, even negative items like a collection. However, you typically don’t want to have to wait nearly a decade for something to be removed from your credit.
So If I were you, I would follow this process – step by step.
First things first – is this account legitimate? Call the collections agency, tell them who you are, and request a statement or a verification of the debt.
No matter what, do not admit that the debt is yours. Just ask for verification or a billing statement.
“Hello, my name is Johnny Jones and I’m calling in regards to a collection that has been placed on my credit report on DATE”
If this debt truly is yours, then you’ll typically want to say the following:
“Thank you for verifying that for me Mr. Collections. This account is seriously affecting my credit report, I would be happy to pay this account in-full, but you must delete this tradeline from my report. Does that sound fair?”
It’s very important that you get them to say “yes” to deleting the tradeline from your report, because it’ll then be removed entirely as if it never existed.
if you simply pay the account, the collections mark will still be there – but it will show as “settled” or “paid” which still indicates (to future creditors) that you had a collection at one point.
So the idea is to remove it entirely, with no trace.
Now, on the other hand, if you’re absolutely sure that this account is NOT yours, then you need to hang up and call an FCRA attorney to find out your next steps.
An FCRA attorney is a Fair Credit Reporting Act Attorney that specializes in dealing with credit bureaus and sometimes debt collectors.
Improving your credit score can be one of the easiest ways to better your financial situation and begin a more prosperous life. But in order to accomplish this, you’ll have to start paying attention to that credit report. I personally hope that these tips have helped you identify opportunities for improvement. If you follow them, there’s no reason your credit score won’t get better.