The world of credit can be daunting, especially if you’re trying to save up for a new car or home. Many people have no idea what their credit score is, let alone how different aspects of their debt and spending are affecting their score.
While it may seem like an arbitrary number, your credit score is a formulaic number that will affect you every time you apply for a loan.
Take a look at these 5 tips to help you understand your credit score and get it where you need it to be.
1. Keep a Low Balance
One of the largest components of your credit score is the easiest to understand but arguably the hardest to maintain: percentage of credit usage. This one is really pretty simple. You want to keep your percentage of debt at 30% of the total credit you have available to use. This means that if you have a credit card with a limit of $1,000 you only ever want to spend $300 on it before paying it off. Of course, it can be easy to spend more than 30% on your credit cards when something big comes up.
If you’ve accidentally gotten yourself to a position in which you have a larger amount of money on your cards, work on paying off these debts first. You’ll want to pay off your cards with the highest interest rates first to help you avoid paying hundreds to thousands of extra money just in interest payments. Once you’ve paid your cards off, keep the lines open so that they count towards your total available credit.
2. At Least 3 Lines at All Times
In the credit world, 3 is basically your magic number. As far as your credit score is concerned, you want to have at least 3 lines of credit open all the time. These lines of credit can include credit cards, personal loans, auto loans, or mortgage loans, as long as there are 3 of them. On that note, it looks better on your credit score if you have a variety of lines rather than 3 credit card lines. However, if you are not in a position to have a mortgage or an auto loan, having 3 credit cards is still better than only having 1.
While this may seem confusing, it’s really just a way for credit companies to determine whether or not you are able to juggle multiple payments at once. They want to know that you are dependable, and we’ve all heard the phrase, “third time’s the charm!”
3. The Older the Better
While it’s true that you want to have at least 3 lines of credit, another factor that concerns credit companies is the longevity of these lines. If you have 3 lines of credit, but they are all only 1 year old, this will affect your credit score negatively. This means you shouldn’t go out and get 2 new credit cards tomorrow to increase your number of lines of credit. This could actually make your score worse until both the lines have aged.
Luckily, there is a way you can circumnavigate the time factor allowing you to add an older line of credit to your credit score. If you have a parent, sibling, or trusted friend that adds you onto one of their credit cards as an authorized user, this line of credit will show up in your credit history too. Ideally, this will be an account on which they have their balance below 30% and is at least 12 years old.
4. Low Payments Are Better Than No Payments
While it is frequently forgotten about, the timeliness of your payments is a large factor in your credit score. Having to make payments on many different loans each month can be difficult, especially if you are going through a period of time when money is tight.
If this is the case, make sure you are paying some money to each of your debts rather than paying only 1 or 2 and ignoring the others. If you choose to ignore a payment completely it will show as a late payment or missed payment on your report which will push your score down quickly.
If you are paying something on each payment, this will look a lot better than paying nothing at all on one.
5. Know Your Score
One of the best ways to get on top of your credit score is to get a free credit check. Don’t be scared to learn what your score is. If you don’t know that you have a low score, you will not have the power to fix it. On the other hand, if you check your score and it’s in the green, you’ll be able to breathe easier knowing you have everything under control and that you’ll be likely to apply for future loans. Either way, checking your score on a regular basis is a great way to monitor your credit health.
Don’t worry about checking your credit score too frequently. This type of credit check is not the same as a hard credit inquiry and it will not affect your score. A credit check is only considered “hard” if it comes from a credit lender who is checking your score for the purpose of giving you a new loan or credit card.
This type of inquiry can stay on your credit report for up to 2 years and can affect your score negatively. When it comes to checking your score personally, you can’t check it too much. In fact, checking your own score can be a good way to ensure you don’t have any false hard inquiries negatively affecting you.
Boost Your Credit Score with Knowledge
Your credit may seem like a scary subject but it’s all about learning about the factors that affect your credit and dealing with each piece individually. As you get to know your credit, you can make better decisions for your financial future. It doesn’t hurt, of course, to have some helpful hints to help get you on your way!
Sam uses her BS in Finance and MBA to help others get control of their finances through budgeting, saving, investing, side hustles, and travel hacking. Due to following the FIRE Movement’s principles, she was able to quit her high-stress job in the financial services industry in July 2019 to pursue her side hustles. She is now a full-time entrepreneur and blogger. When not working, she enjoys spending time with her dog “Simba” and traveling with her husband, John.