After a holiday season chocked full of buying and spending, it’s no wonder so many people want to buckle down in the new year and manage their money. While sticking to a budget or vowing to spend less are noble, short-term fixes for your finances, there’s one strategy that could seriously boost your financial outlook for 2014 and beyond: improving your credit score.
A bump in your credit score can save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars both in the short-term and long-term by helping you qualify for lower interest rates on loans and mortgages. A better credit score may even help you land that job or apartment you’ve been eying!
It doesn’t matter if you’re massively in debt or you’ve plateaued and don’t know how to increase your credit score anymore; here are a few simple and effective ways to improve your credit.
Check your credit report for any errors and resolve them ASAP. A single mistake on your credit report could be hurting your credit score, and you may not even know it. If you haven’t checked your credit report in awhile, take a moment to scan your credit history for any accounts you may have closed or any lines of credit that you don’t recognize. If you do see a mistake on your credit report, contact both the credit reporting company and the source of the mistake right away.
Take care of any debt in collections. Prioritize paying off any potentially negative items on your credit history first. This includes any significantly outstanding debt or any accounts in collections, which likely has the biggest negative impact on your credit score. If your account is in collections, start by calling the collections agency. Request to settle the debt immediately over the phone and ask if they would be willing to remove the negative item from your credit report in a timely fashion.
Open up a secured credit card. If you have a relatively short credit history or no credit history at all, opening up a secured credit card can be a safe, easy way to increase your credit score. A secured credit card is easier to get than a typical credit card. All you have to do is make a deposit of usually a few hundred dollars at your bank or credit card company and they will issue you a secured credit card with a credit limit that’s usually equal to your deposit. Even though this may seem like a debit card, secured credit card activity is reported to the credit bureaus, which means using the card responsibly could boost your score.
Use less than 30 percent of your maximum available balance. One factor that impacts your credit score is called your debt-to-credit ratio. If you have a credit card limit of $1,000 and you have $500 in debt on that card, for example, you would have a 50 percent debt-to-credit ratio. Try to keep the balance of your card below 30 percent of your available credit to help maximize your credit score.
Keep up your responsible credit card habits. Once you’ve taken the steps above to improve your credit score, keep it as high as possible by paying your bills on time, not maxing out your credit and keeping tabs on your credit report.