Credit scores are like the batteries of your financial life. Most of the time, you don't need batteries to live. But when your fire alarm stops working, you need new batteries as soon as possible. And most of the time you don't actively use your credit score for anything. But when you need it, you really need it.
Credit scores fluctuate a little every so often. It's not uncommon for your score to decrease by 10 points and then increase by the same 10 points two months later. But if you've been steadily watching your score go down, you may need to take your credit score more seriously.
Lenders use credit scores to determine if you're a reliable candidate for a loan. A high score means you're someone who is highly likely to pay them back. Landlords can check credit scores as a factor in your home application. And some jobs even check credit scores as part of your job interview process. Having a consistently high score will make your financial life easier.
In case you've got something coming up that you'll need a higher credit score for, here are four actions you can take to raise your credit score in one month.
1. Dispute Any Errors on Your Credit Report
One easy way to raise your credit score in one month is to dispute any errors on your credit report. Credit reports are issued by each of the three big credit bureaus: TransUnion and Equifax. I personally recommend using Experian Boost to improve your credit score, fast. Here's our review for this service.
A credit report is a history of all the credit accounts you've had open. Things like your student loans, credit cards and auto loans will appear as accounts. Late payments, accounts sent to collections, charge offs, foreclosures and bankruptcies are some of the things that will register on your credit report as negatives and will drag down your score.
Your past addresses and names will also be listed on your credit report. If you got married and changed your name, accounts under both names will be listed.
You are entitled to one free report from each credit reporting agency every 12 months. Requesting a credit report will give you the chance to review your report for any errors. If you have a bankruptcy listed that didn't happen to you, you can have it removed. If there is a wrong name on the account (say John R Smith instead of John F Smith), you can have the error corrected.
Removing any errors is likely to help raise your score. Reporting errors can be done online or over the phone, and they are usually removed in a matter of days. This is a fairly fast turnaround time and can help improve your score faster than almost any other effort you make.
2. Ask for an Increase in Your Line of Credit
Increasing your line of credit can help your credit score in one specific way: It changes your credit usage ratio. Your credit usage ratio is the amount of credit you use each month compared to the amount of credit available to you.
If you have two credit cards, each with a limit of $7,000, you can use up to $14,000 in credit. Doing that makes you usage ratio 100%. If you used only $7,000 a month, your usage ratio would be 50%.
Ideally, your credit usage ratio should be between 10% and 30%. Using too much of your credit is a red flag to the bureaus. It says that you don't have enough cash coming in to support yourself. And too little usage tells the bureaus that you don't need credit.
An increase to your total line of credit can bring your usage down to that 10–30% range. And this in turn will help raise your credit score.
3. Stop Applying for New Credit
Each time you apply for a new credit card or another student loan, your credit score takes a dive. If you've applied for several new lines of credit recently, take a pause.
Stepping away from asking for more credit for a few months can mean a fairly big improvement in your credit score. Lenders want to know that you can make payments without needing credit, so each time you ask for more, they ding your score. A month or three of no credit inquiries can see a small boost to your credit score. And small boosts can be enough to help you cross a credit threshold.
For example, 720 is generally the baseline needed for “excellent” credit. If you're currently at 710, a month with no inquiries could be just the ticket to getting you the 10 points you need to cross into credit score excellence.
4. Use Experian Boost
You've certainly heard the name “Experian” before. Experian is one of the three major credit bureaus in the U.S. The company issues credit reports, which contain a history of all your credit accounts, delinquencies, and things like bankruptcies. And it also assigns you a credit score.
The bureau offers a special service called Experian Boost. This product uses your utility and phone bill history to help boost your Experian score. Plus, it's free to use.
However, there's no guarantee that Experan Boost will work for the other credit bureaus beyond Experian. And the boost that you give probably won't be enough to seriously raise your score if you have negative marks on your report. But it can be particularly useful if you have a limited or no credit history.
You can find out more about Experian Boost from our review of this service.
Raising your credit score and maintaining a high score does require that you keep an eye on your overall financial health and your monthly spending. Your day-to-day actions may seem far removed from your credit score, but they are all related. Get into the habit of tracking your credit score with services like myFICO. Check your credit reports regularly. And hopefully, you'll find that your score continues on an upward trajectory.