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How to Give Your Credit Score a Tune up

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By Eva Norlyk Smith, Ph.D.
June 26, 2009

Having bad credit can be costly. Not only does bad credit make it harder to get approved for mortgages, auto loans, or a new credit card; if you do get approved, the loan will come with more restrictive terms and higher interest rates, potentially adding thousands of dollars in costs over the life of the loan.

Fortunately, it’s always possible to improve your credit score, even though it will take awhile. We all wish that we could simply put our credit score on steroids, but unfortunately the only thing that really raises one’s credit score over the long term is using credit responsibly. Then again, that may not be such a bad thing after all. Basically, what’s good for your credit score tends to also be good for your financial health. Here are ten do’s and dont’s to help give your credit score a tune-up.

5 Credit Score Do’s

1. Do pay all bills on time. A full 35% of the credit score is based on whether bills are paid on time, so if you’re not already serious about paying on time, now’s the time to get religion. If you’re behind on credit card payments, do whatever you can to get current and stay current. The longer your bills are paid on time, the more your credit score will increase.

2. Do pay the balance down. According to myFICO.com, one of the most effective ways to improve your score is to pay down your credit card debt. 30% of your credit score is based on your credit utilization ratio, i.e., how much you use of the available credit, so aim to get credit card balances below thirty percent of the credit limit on all your credit cards, and preferably below ten percent. To improve your credit utilization ratio faster, first pay down the cards that are closest to the credit limit.

3. Do curb credit card spending. One of the best ways to lower your credit card balance is to cut back on credit card spending and stop putting more charges on your cards than you can pay off at the end of the month. Make a budget for how much you can spend on the things you normally charge each month: food, gas, clothing, subscriptions, entertainment, and so on. Treat that amount like you would a balance in a checking account, and each time you make a charge to your credit card, subtract it so you always know how much money you have left to spend.

4. Do mix it up. A great way to strengthen your credit is to show that you can manage a variety of credit responsibly. Having different types of credit like auto loans and a mortgage in addition to your credit cards will raise your credit score over time, especially if you make the payments on time.

5. Do check your credit report. According to Bankrate.com, as much as 70 percent of credit reports contain errors. Disputing inaccurate information can be one of the fastest ways to improve your credit score. Everyone is entitled to a free copy of his or her credit report once a year. Pull a copy of your credit report and read it carefully to make sure that all the information is accurate and up-to-date. Check that your credit card limits are correct; if they are listed as less than they actually are, it could cause your credit score to be lower. Call the card issuer and ask them to update the information.

5 Credit Score Dont’s

1. Don’t just move debt around. Instead, explore ways to pay off your debt.

2. Don’t close unused credit cards. If you owe the same amount, but have fewer open accounts, it can lower your credit score.

3. Don’t take out new credit cards just to increase your total credit. Each time you apply for a credit card, it lowers your credit score.

4. Don’t open new credit card accounts too rapidly. New accounts lower the average age of your credit accounts; this can lower your score, particularly if you are a new credit card user.

5. Don’t just ignore credit card problems. If you’re having problems paying your monthly credit card bills, take steps to manage your finances and if necessary, seek help from a credit counselor.