A guest post by Bob Burton, credit analyst and author of Credit Score Race.
Your credit score accounts for the amount of interest you have to pay for a loan or a credit card.
Increasing your score by just a few points will make a big difference in the interest rate you pay for a purchase.
And, if your credit score is high enough, you’ll have no problem qualifying for a lender’s best rates and terms on auto financing, home loans, and small business loans.
The following are a few tips about how you can protect and improve your credit rating:
1. Order Your Credit Report.
Your credit score is based on your credit report, so you should begin by ordering your reports and reviewing each one for accuracy. You can get your reports from a service such as MyFico.com, or order from Equifax, Experian and Trans Union separately online or by phone.
2. Check Your Credit Report Information for Inaccuracies.
Check the identifying information for name, social security number, birth date and incorrect address. Make certain that old negatives and paid-off debts are deleted. Check for accounts and delinquencies that are not yours, late payments, charge offs, lawsuits, judgments or paid tax liens older than seven years old. Also, paid liens or judgments that are listed as unpaid, duplicate collections, bankruptcies that are older than ten years and any negative information that is not yours.
3. Always Pay Your Bills on Time.
Payment history makes up more than a third of the typical credit score. If you paid bills late in the past, you can improve your credit score by starting to pay your bills on time. Lenders are looking for any sign that you might default, and a late payment is a good indicator that you are in financial difficulty.
4. Keep Credit Cards Balances Low.
Carrying smaller balances is the best way to increase your credit score. The score measures how much of your limit you use on each credit card or other lines of credit, and how much of your combined credit limits you are using on all your cards. Within 60 days, paying down credit card balances can increase your credit score by as much as 20 points.
5, Try Not to Open In-Store Credit Cards.
Although your first credit accounts can serve to build and improve your credit history, there comes a point when each subsequent credit application can reduce your score. New credit cards reduce the age of your credit history, and a department store credit card isn’t good evidence of creditworthiness. Every time you apply for a retailer’s credit card your credit score gets dinged.
6. Be Conservative When Applying For Credit.
Having at least one credit card that’s more than 2 years old can help your score by 15%. Make sure that your credit report is checked only when necessary. Or, if you are shopping for a home, try to apply for loans within a two-week period. By keeping the loan process within a two-week period, all of the credit report lookups are seen as one single request.
7. Don’t Close Credit Cards or Other Revolving Accounts.
Closing unused accounts that have outstanding balances without paying off the debt changes your “utilization ratio,” which is the amount of your total debt divided by your total available credit. It will reduce the gap between the credit you are using and the total credit available to you, and that can hurt your credit score.
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