It’s not always easy to keep up with the ins and outs of your credit score — but having a solid understanding of how it works can save you headaches in the long run. A good credit score is one of the most valuable tools for managing your financial health, allowing you to access higher lines of credit, pay lower interest rates on loans and get better terms from lenders. But knowing how to build and maintain a strong one isn’t always obvious — so read on for our guide to mastering “The Art of Credit.”
Understand Credit Score Basics
Having a good credit score is important for many reasons. It helps you access loans, find better interest rates, and generally speaking, it reflects your financial responsibility. To get the most out of your credit score, it’s important to understand how it works and how you can maintain a strong score over time.
Your credit score is based on five factors: payment history (35%), amounts owed (30%), length of credit history (15%), new credit (10%), and types of credit used (10%). Each factor plays an important role in determining your overall score.
Payment History: Your payment history is the most significant factor when calculating your credit score because it looks at whether or not you have been paying your bills on time. Your payment history is reported to the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) by lenders and creditors.
Amounts Owed: This factor looks at how much debt you have compared to your total available credit limit. The lower the amount of debt you have, the better it looks on your score.
Length of Credit History: This factor looks at how long you’ve had each type of account open. Generally speaking, if you have longer credit histories with certain accounts, this will help boost your score.
New Credit: New credit refers to any new lines of credit or loans that are opened in your name; this could include a mortgage, car loan, or credit card. When you open a new account, it can temporarily decrease your score; but if you pay on time and responsibly manage the account, it will likely improve over time.
Types of Credit Used: This factor looks at the types of accounts you have open. Creditors like to see that you are responsible for different types of credit (i.e., installment loans, mortgages, revolving credit cards).
Maintaining a Strong Credit Score
Now that you know what factors determine your credit score, let’s look at how to maintain a strong one:
Payment History – The most important way to maintain a strong score is by paying all of your bills on time. As mentioned above, this is the most important factor when calculating your score.
Limits & Balances – Keep credit card balances low and stay within your limits. It’s also a good idea to pay off your credit cards in full each month.
Credit Inquiries – Be aware of how many inquiries are being made to your credit report; too many can bring down your score. This includes credit applications, as well as account reviews from creditors that you already have accounts.
Monitor Your Credit Report – Check your credit report at least once a year to make sure that all information listed is accurate, up-to-date, and free of errors or fraudulent activity.
Pay Bills on Time
One of the easiest ways to build your credit is by making sure you pay your bills on time. Paying bills late or not at all can have a big impact on your score and could cause you to experience damaging credit consequences such as higher interest rates and late fees. So, make it a point to set up reminders or use automatic payments to ensure you always pay on time. Additionally, you might want to consider setting up payment alerts with debtors if they offer them so that any changes in payments that occur are immediately communicated to you. This way, you’ll always be ahead of any potential problems before they happen.
Paying off your statement balance each month is a wise move to steer clear of late payment fees, penalty APRs and interest charges that often arise when you carry an outstanding debt. Establishing autopay as a habit is essential to never miss another payment again. Furthermore, staying up-to-date on your payments is easy with email, text, or push notifications from your card issuer. Make sure to at least set the minimum payment and enjoy peace of mind knowing you are always current.
Consider Alternative Ways to Build Credit
In addition to using credit cards, there are other ways to build a strong credit score. Consider:
- Secured Credit Cards: Secured cards require a deposit that becomes the line of credit for the card. These are excellent options for people with no or low credit scores and can help you rebuild your credit over time while avoiding high-interest charges.
- Retail Store Cards: A store card is usually offered when you open an account at certain retail stores or clothing outlets. This type of card often comes with incentives like rewards points and discounts on purchases made at their store, but they will report activity to the three major bureaus and may help to improve your score over time if used responsibly.
- Become an Authorized User: Another popular way to build credit is by becoming an authorized user on someone else’s account. This option requires a person who trusts you with their existing card to add you as an authorized user, and then your activity will be reported to the credit bureaus.
- Utilize Rent Reporting Services: Many rental companies now offer rent reporting services, which allows them to report your on-time payments directly to the major credit bureaus. This can help boost your score over time if maintained responsibly.
Consider a Maintaining Low Utilization Rate
Keeping your utilization low is one of the most important habits that you can follow when trying to build and maintain a strong credit score. Your utilization rate is the amount of available credit that you are using, and it’s determined by dividing all of your balances by your total available credit limit. For example, if you have four cards with a combined limit of $10,000 and a total balance of $1,500 (across all four cards), then your utilization rate would be 15%.
Ideally, you want to keep this number lower than 30%, as anything over that can start to drag down your score. That being said, some experts suggest keeping this number below 10% for maximum effect. There are a few ways to go about this. First, you can make sure that you’re making regular payments and staying ahead of any balances on your card. This will reduce your overall balance and therefore lower your utilization rate.
Keep Your Contact Information Current
Making sure that your contact information is up to date is incredibly important when it comes to building and maintaining a strong credit score. Any address, phone number, or email address you’ve provided creditors with must be correct and current. If not, it can be difficult for lenders and credit bureaus to track you down if they need to reach out about payments or other matters related to your account. Additionally, you should register on the National Do Not Call Registry as this will help reduce the number of unsolicited calls from lenders trying to get in touch with you.
Keep Your Oldest Line of Credit Open
The longer your credit history, the better. This means that if you have an old line of credit open, it’s best to keep it open even if you don’t use it. The age of your oldest account is one factor used in determining your score. Keeping that older account active can help bolster your overall credit score.
It’s also beneficial not to close out accounts with a zero balance as this can lower the average age of your accounts and impact your score negatively. If the account has a high annual fee or any other factor that makes you want to close it, consider downgrading it instead of closing it outright so that you can still keep building on those years of good credit habits.
Pay More than the Minimum Payment
When building a strong credit score, one of the most important things to do is to pay more than the minimum payment due each month. It’s easy to become complacent and think that making the minimum payment every month is enough, but this can be risky as it can lead to you having large amounts of debt that take years to pay off.
The good news is that paying more than the minimum payments due each month can help you get out of debt sooner and build your credit score at the same time. By doing this, you are showing potential lenders that you are trustworthy when it comes to managing your finances and can handle taking on additional debt responsibly.
Building a strong credit score is more than just knowing how to manage your finances – it’s an ongoing process that requires discipline and consistency. With the help of the tips we’ve shared above, you can begin to establish credit for yourself, stay on top of any issues that arise throughout the journey, and ensure that your score remains strong for years to come.