Working Toward a Better Credit Score

This next year might offer me some exciting opportunities to relocate, so I am going to be working toward a better credit score. I want to be ready to buy either a house or property suitable for a custom home, and I’ll need to get a mortgage to help make that happen.

I have been searching for good tips on how to improve my credit score, which is a big challenge. I have been the victim of identity theft the past four years, and when people tell you that is a nightmare to fix – believe them! I still get blindsided with notices from all kinds of creditors for things that I did not do. So, I check my credit report every month to catch the things that are not mine and am working to build a better credit score with things that I can do and can prove that I’ve done.

Besides needing a good credit score for a mortgage, there are other ways that credit scores can affect you. If you want to borrow money for any reason, such as buying a new car or wanting a new credit card, you need a good score. Your credit score determines not only if you can get a loan at all, but also how much you can borrow or charge, and what interest rate you will have to pay. So, it is important to stay on top of your credit reports.

First thing you have to do is get copies of your credit reports from all three of the reporting agencies. You can request them online, the fastest and easiest way. The three companies are:

  • Experian
  • Equifax
  • Transunion

For a free copy once each year, go to Federal law says that you are entitled to this information once every 12 months at no charge. If you want copies more often, you might have to pay each company a small fee, or you can check with your credit card company to see if they make your credit score available as part of your account benefits.

Once you get the reports, go over them carefully and make sure that everything is correct. If you find any errors, take steps to get them corrected. There are links on each credit reporting company’s web site that tell you how to dispute any mistakes.

The next step is to find out what your FICO score is and that should be shown on the free report, too. The FICO scores range from 300 (not good) to 850 (the best you can get). The best interest rates are usually offered to people with a FICO score of 720 or higher. Scores under 500 make it very difficult to get a loan at all.

To get a better FICO score there are a few things anyone can do, but they take time and dedication, and maybe a little sacrifice of things you want but have to wait on.

Pay your bills on time! All of your bills are important parts of building good credit. They tell a potential lender or employer that you are responsible, make good decisions, and have integrity.

Pay your mortgage or rent on time. Not only are the late fees killer, but every late or missed payment is put on your record at each of the three reporting agencies as a red flag and hurts your FICO score for several years. This is usually the biggest chunk of the average household expenses and it is the most important. Although most lenders and landlords allow up to 33% of you income to go toward your mortgage or rent, it is more prudent to keep this expense below 25% of your monthly income.

If you have credit cards, make sure you pay AT LEAST the minimum payment every month, on time, no excuses. Even better, keep the balances on your cards below 35% of your credit line. Don’t ever skip a payment and NEVER go over your credit limit – that will hurt your FICO score for a long time. But balances that consistently stay under 35% of your limit give you bonus points for your FICO score. This is completely within your control – do not charge more than you can pay off when the next monthly statement comes.

If you have a bank or credit union that offers automatic bill pay, sign up for that and make sure you keep enough money in your account to cover them. This helps make sure your bills are paid on time, especially helpful if you travel a lot or have a hectic lifestyle and tend to forget paying the bills. Plus, you don’t have to worry about any delays in the mail delivery or in the company processing your payment.

About one third of your FICO score comes from your track record for paying your bills on time. This is probably the single most important thing you can do to get and keep a good FICO score.