Having a good credit score can unlock doors for you—from getting for a car loan to qualifying for the mortgage you’ve always wanted. Some lenders, including credit card companies, offer bonus incentives to people with good credit scores, including lower interest rates, mileage programs, and higher spending limits. Here are some tips to help you set healthy financial habits and watch your credit score skyrocket:
1. Check your credit score and report.
It sounds like a no-brainer, but the first step in improving your credit is knowing how potential lenders see you. The most widely used and reputable scoring system is the FICO score, which assesses your credit on a scale between 350 and 800. Obviously, the higher your score, the more appealing you will be to lenders, so knowing where you’re at now and where you’d like to be can give you some motivation to re-think your spending and saving habits. You can check your FICO score online now, and you’ll also want to review a detailed credit report to make sure there hasn’t been any unfamiliar activity in your name that is affecting your score.
2. Be punctual and consistent.
FICO has a model for how credit scores are calculated, and the two most important factors are your payment history and the amount you owe. If you’ve consistently paid your bills late, you’ll have some red flags on your report, which will lower your score. Making on-time payments a priority in your life (even if that means cutting back on spending) will show lenders that you take your financial health seriously and you’re responsible enough to entrust with a loan or mortgage.
3. Use your credit….
Think you need to avoid credit cards in order to establish good credit? Wrong. It may seem backwards, but it’s actually good for you to have open accounts—the highest-scoring people actually have about four credits cards or loans that they actively use.
4. …but not more than 30% of it.
The trick is to be responsible with your spending. Don’t use credit cards to pay for things you can’t afford, and pay off the balance each month to keep your debt-to-limit ratio healthy. Just as having no credit history is a red flag, so is maxing out all your available credit and struggling to pay it off.
5. Have patience.
Building a healthy credit score takes time. Lenders want to see a consistent pattern of responsible spending—you have to start at the bottom and work your way up. People with the highest scores have had open accounts for years, even decades, and their persistently careful use of their money is what impresses lenders the most. So don’t get discouraged if you are just opening your first account now; rather, know that each spending decision you make is making a positive imprint on your financial records, and with time, your score will be something to truly be proud of.