Whether you’re buying a home, a car, or going back to school, you’ll probably need a loan which means you’ll definitely have to worry about your credit score. If you have a high credit score (700 or higher), you’re more likely to receive low interest rates and better repayment terms on any loans you apply to, whether they be for a home, car, or education.
On the other hand, if you have a low credit score (648 or under) any and all loans you apply to will either be outright rejected or approved with high interest rates and harsh penalties for missed or late payments. The only way to avoid a 13% interest rate on your newly-approved credit card is to start building your credit score fast.
Your credit score won’t go up in 100 points in a day or a week, but if you use these strategies wisely, you may be able to bump it up to the high 600’s or low 700’s in a year, and maybe even see boosts of 20 or 30 points in a single month.
1. Apply for a secured credit card
These specialized cards, great for building credit, require a down payment up-front, usually in the form of a cash deposit of around $200 to $500, though it’s ultimately up to you and your card-carrier. This payment acts as your credit limit, as well as your safety net against credit damage due to missed or late payments.
The banks report your payments to the credit bureaus as you continue to use the secured card, which boosts up your score. The key to building credit fast with a secured credit card is to use it every month, but only up to 10% of your credit limit to keep your credit utilization low. So if you put down $500 on your credit limit, you should only spend $50 a month using your secured credit card—and you should always pay it back in full and on-time at the end of the month!
This strategy might not boost your credit score up 50 points in 3 months, but over the course of 12-18 months of consistent payments and low credit utilization, you can count on seeing your score in the high 600’s or low 700’s as long as you don’t have any negative items like bankruptcy or foreclosure in your credit reports. If you’re interested in this option, you should check out our recommended secured cards!
2. Take out a personal loan
Another smart strategy for boosting your credit score is taking out a small personal loan. This accomplishes two things: it diversifies your credit accounts or credit mix, which counts towards 10% of your score, and it allows you the opportunity to make easy and consistent monthly payments. This is especially important when you consider that 35% of your FICO credit score depends on payment history, so building a history of good payments is the best and fastest way to building a good credit score.
For this strategy to work, however, you need to be careful about the amount on the loan and what you’ll be using it to pay for. Our best advice is to take out a small loan which you know you can pay back and to use that to pay down any debts you might have. However, you should never take out a personal loan to cover an unnecessary or frivolous expense such as new clothes, vacations, or a better TV. More importantly, you should only use this credit building strategy if the personal loan has a low interest rate. As long as you set up automatic payments and make your payments in full and on-time at the end of each month, you’ll be decreasing your credit debt and improving your credit score immensely by paying consistently on two separate accounts—the personal loan and the credit card.
With a personal loan, you can improve your credit mix and payment history simultaneously, which together affect about 50% of your score. Finding a good loan with bad credit is difficult, but when used correctly, a personal loan strategy can raise your score dramatically in as little as 6 months. Just remember to stay on top of all of your payments! It’s a riskier strategy than the secured credit card option, but it’ll improve your credit faster if you do it right.
3. Pay down debt
The hardest and most effective strategy for improving your credit score fast is to pay down your debts aggressively. This will lower your debt-to-credit ratio and improve your credit utilization rate—two factors which are very important to your credit score. To pay off your debt effectively, you need to approach it strategically. Which accounts have the highest interest rates or highest balances? Which can you pay off the fastest, without harming or reducing your payments to other accounts? How much debt to you have, and what debts are causing you the most stress financially or personally? Once you have the particulars of your debt in mind, you can begin to form a debt payment strategy.
Though paying off your debt while staying current on monthly bills can be extremely difficult, it is the best and fastest way to improving your credit score. Getting rid of your debt signals to potential lenders that you are responsible and they will be more willing to share their resources in the form of better interest rates and lighter penalties on loans. Better yet, by making your debt go away, you’re getting rid of the biggest drag on your credit reports and can expect to see your credit score improve steadily and quickly towards the high 600’s to low 700’s range—or even higher, depending on where you start out!
The key to seeing your credit score improve in any situation is to avoid repeating the mistakes which tanked your credit score in the first place. If you have a bad spending habit, cut up the credit cards and pay them off. If you keep forgetting to pay your bills, set up reminders or automatic payments. If you’re drowning in student debt or wallowing after a foreclosure, there are experts who can help you back on the path to financial success. Stay positive and alert, keep paying off your debts and bills, and you’ll see that score start to rise in no time at all!