Fastest Ways to Raise Your Credit Score in 2021

Fastest Ways To Raise Your Credit Score
GUIDE
Eric Bank
By: Eric Bank
Posted: May 5, 2021
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When lenders won’t even return your calls, it’s probably a good time to consider the fastest ways to raise your credit score.

FICO, the credit scoring system used most by lenders, calculates scores from 300 (very bad credit rating) to 850 (excellent credit rating). If your score is below 660 (considered the dividing line for bad credit), you’re likely missing out on the lowest loan interest rates and the best credit cards.

Keep reading to find out how you can address head-on the problem of building credit.

1. Dispute Credit Report Errors

One of the major jobs of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion) is to compile monthly credit reports that include data about your debt repayments. The bureaus use these reports to assign you a credit score.

Naturally, your score can suffer if your credit file contains inaccurate information, such as:

  • Indications of a late payment even though you paid on time.
  • Hard inquiries you didn’t authorize.
  • Accounts that you didn’t open.
  • Loan balances that seem too big.
  • Any other activity you don’t recognize.

Purging mistakes from your credit file can help an incorrectly depressed credit score rebound. You can correct misinformation by challenging your creditors to validate the information and by lodging disputes with the bureaus. Each bureau accepts disputes via online facilities, or you can communicate through registered mail or over the phone.

DIY credit repair is essentially cost-free but can be very time-consuming. By law, the bureaus have a month to adjudicate each dispute. If you can get a credit bureau to correct or remove inaccurate derogatory information, you should see an improvement to your credit score within a month or two.

2. Hire a Credit Repair Company

You can correct your credit reports yourself, but many consumers hire a credit repair agency to do the work on their behalf.

The credit repair agency will typically lodge a specified number of challenges each month. The goal is to have a bureau and/or lender or merchant validate or remove the disputed data. Below are our top-three recommended credit repair companies:

  • Free consultation: 1-855-200-2394
  • Most results of any credit repair law firm
  • Clients saw over 9 million negative items removed from their credit reports in 2016
  • More than 500,000 credit repair clients helped since 2004
  • Cancel anytime
  • Click here for sign-up, terms, and details.
★★★★★

4.9

Overall Rating

Better Business Bureau In Business Since Monthly Cost Reputation Score
See BBB Listing 2004 $89.95 10/10
  • Free consultation: 1-855-200-2393
  • Helped with over 7.5 million removals on members' behalf since 2012
  • Free access to your credit report summary
  • Three-step plan for checking, challenging and changing your credit report
  • Online tools to help clients track results
  • Click here for sign-up, terms, and details.
★★★★★

4.5

Overall Rating

Better Business Bureau In Business Since Monthly Cost Reputation Score
See BBB Listing 2012 $99 9.5/10

Credit repair companies work on a monthly subscription basis, usually for about six months, although you can cancel at any time. We’ve found that the agencies we evaluate charge reasonable fees for the work they do.

3. Pay Your Bills on Time

Failing to pay your bills in a timely manner is one of the fastest ways to ruin your credit history because 35% of your FICO credit score stems from your payment history.

Most creditors will report a late payment that is 90 or more days past due. Once reported, your credit score could lose 100 points or more.

FICO Score Factors

If you find yourself simply forgetting to make some bill payments, set up automatic payments wherever possible. Consider using personal financial software to remind you of upcoming bills and/or initiate repayments automatically.

4. Pay Off Debt

Another 30% of your FICO credit score derives from how much debt you owe. Your score will suffer if you’re using debt to the extent that you appear to be financially overextended.

Warning signs include large amounts owed on all accounts, high outstanding debt (not including a secured loan) compared to the original installment loan amount, or several credit cards with unpaid balances.

You can improve your credit score by paying off existing debt. Make a list of debts and prioritize repayments by interest rate. Redraw your budget (you do have a budget, don’t you?) to tighten up on spending and consider ways to bring in extra money on the side.

5. Keep Your Credit Utilization Ratio Below 30%

One of the most important metrics for judging the impact of your credit card debt is the credit utilization ratio — or credit utilization rate (CUR) — which is the amount of credit used versus the credit line authorized, i.e., your credit card balance versus your credit limit.

The importance of the CUR is that you can’t judge creditworthiness simply by the total of your credit card balances. Rather, creditors contextualize that total by comparing it to the sum of all your credit card credit limits.

Creditors generally want to see CURs below 30%. You can improve your score even faster if you can get your CUR below 10%, but any credit card balance above 30% will likely reduce your credit score.

For example, the fact that John owes $5,000 on his credit cards while Mary owes $3,000 does not necessarily make John a greater credit risk. If John’s credit lines add up to $20,000 while Mary’s total $6,000, some simple math puts their CURs at 25% and 50% respectively. John is in much better shape, credit-wise, than Mary, who needs to reduce her balances by at least $1,200 just to reach the critical 30% CUR target.

The following chart from Credit Karma shows the relationship between CUR and credit score:

Credit Karma Credit Card Utilization Chart

How do we explain the relatively low average credit for the 0% CUR? We guess that some of these cardholders simply don’t use their credit cards much and therefore have little opportunity to improve their credit scores. Further research is needed to nail down the answer.

6. Open a New Credit Account

To some extent, you can help raise your credit score by opening a new credit account — a new credit card account, a personal loan, an auto loan, an installment loan, refinancing a student loan, etc. This helps in a couple of ways, but only in small doses:

  • CUR reduction: By getting a new revolving credit card account, the CUR denominator (i.e., total credit available) increases. For this to have the desired effect, you should not carry a balance on the new credit card, which would offset the gain by increasing the CUR’s numerator (credit used).
  • Increase credit mix: Ten percent of your FICO score stems from your mix of different credit types: an auto loan, credit cards, mortgages, online loans, retail accounts, and finance company accounts. FICO reasons that you are more creditworthy if you can successfully juggle multiple account types. But don’t open a new account just for FICO’s sake, as this is only a minor factor.

The problem with opening new accounts is that the benefits just described are somewhat offset by the hard credit inquiries required for new credit, a 10% component of your FICO score. For a single new account, the impact is minor: A five-to-10-point drop in your credit score for up to one year.

Opening a new account (which requires a single credit inquiry) is probably a net positive, but multiple new accounts in a relatively short time frame (say six months) may do more harm than good.

7. Request a Credit Limit Increase

You can directly increase the denominator of your CUR, and thereby lower the ratio’s value, by increasing your available credit. You can do this without opening a new account if you already have one or more credit cards.

Most credit card companies will seriously evaluate a request for a higher credit limit, but you may have to provide extensive financial information to back your request.

The credit card company may ask for bank statements (or credit union statements if you belong to a credit union) and tax returns before granting a higher limit. You should expect the creditor to do a hard pull of your credit, which reduces the positive impact of the higher limit, at least in the short run.

Naturally, you’ll get the biggest CUR improvement by not actually using your additional credit, as explained earlier. A credit card company expects you to use any card it issues to you — otherwise, it’s not worth their effort.

8. Use Experian Boost

Historically, the card issuer and credit reporting agency industry have defined what types of bill payments it tracks in its credit reports. Before Experian Boost, on-time payments to your landlord or utility company did not have any effect on your FICO score.

Experian Boost changed all that. It widened the scope of tracked bill payments to include certain utility-type accounts like the ones for your mobile phone, rent, electricity, internet, and cable. By paying these newly tracked accounts on time, you add positive ammunition in your struggle to improve your credit score.

Experian Boost Screenshot

Experian Boost is a free service that can help you raise your FICO Score 8 by an average of 13 points.

Other products that deliver similar results include UltraFICO, eCredable, Aire, and FactorTrust, among others.

9. Become an Authorized User

If you are having trouble getting a credit card (not counting a secured credit card), ask a friend or relative to make you an authorized user on their card, allowing you to get credit for payments made by you or the card owner. Your credit report and score will benefit as long as the card owner makes timely payments and remains within the credit card spending limit.

You should take care to observe any agreements you reach with the card owner, lest you put your relationship at risk. If that doesn’t seem feasible, you would probably do better with a secured credit card.

Another way to establish your credit is to apply for a credit card or personal loan with a cosigner — a friend, colleague, or family member willing to ensure that payments are made on time. It’s important to choose someone who is willing to step in occasionally without completely resenting you and your debt.

A cosigner also comes in handy when you want to refinance a student loan or two. The following chart summarizes the pros and cons of using a cosigner:

Benefits and Risks of Cosigners

When recruiting a cosigner, try to develop a feeling of trust by presenting your case in a low-key, reasoned approach.

10. Avoid Closing Old Accounts

The length of your payment history accounts for 15% of your FICO score — the more of it you have, the better, as long as it doesn’t include derogatory items like delinquencies, collections, write-offs, bankruptcies, and foreclosures.

FICO examines several aspects of your payment history, including:

  • The ages of your oldest and newest credit accounts.
  • The average age of all your credit accounts.
  • When each specific account was established.
  • Any long lapses in the use of certain accounts.

Given these guidelines, FICO advises that you not close old credit card accounts. Rather, use all cards at least once a year, or else some accounts may be considered inactive.

11. Hurry Up and Wait

FICO and the credit bureaus are not without mercy — your negative items will fall off your credit reports after a set time. The following chart summarizes how long you will remain in credit purgatory after committing a financial faux pas:

Time Negative Items Can Stay on Your Reports

As you can see, your period of penitence can last from two to 10 years, depending on the crime (the longest punishment resulting from Chapter 13 bankruptcy). Once the retention period elapses, the item is expunged from your credit report, along with any remaining damage it is doing to your credit score.

But in reality, the hit your credit score will take from a penalized infraction usually starts to lose its impact after a couple of years. The trick to letting time heal all financial wounds is to adopt and maintain creditworthy behavior following the incident. Reformed sinners need and deserve another chance, and with a little discipline, you can rejoin the community of those with unblemished credit reports.

Implement Several Strategies For the Fastest Results

For maximum impact, exercise several of our recommended fastest ways to raise your credit score so they occur at the same time. Some strategies require positive action, while others would have you refrain from harmful behaviors.

You don’t necessarily need excellent credit. With a little time and effort, you can once again enjoy the fruits of a good credit score, including a nicer lifestyle and increased financial security.

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