You’re ready to take out a loan to buy a house, a car or get a credit card. You fill out the application and wait to hear back from your bank on its decision whether to loan you the money.
And then you get the dreaded phone call. Your credit score wasn’t high enough to approve the loan! Was there anything you could have done to get a higher credit score?
Getting and maintaining a high credit score is just like playing a game. But just like any game, you first need to understand the rules so you can create a winning game plan. Here are the rules of the credit score game you need to understand so you can get the highest score possible.
- Rule 1 – Pay your bills on time (Comprises 35% of your credit score equation). Payment history is the most important component of your credit score and is pretty straightforward – it’s a record of whether or not you’ve paid your bills on time.
Action: Don't be late paying your bills! A one-time late payment may not affect your score, but multiple late payments will drag down your score. Even better, understand what vendors report your payment history and which ones do not.
- Rule 2 – Refrain from maxing out your credit (30%). Just because you have a $10,000 credit limit doesn’t mean you should use it all. Using close to or all of your credit limit signals to lenders that you may be a high-risk borrower. Insurance companies also love to use high-limit spending as a reason to increase your home and auto insurance, so be forewarned!
Action: Don’t use more than 25% of your available revolving credit, and pay the outstanding credit card balance in full each month.
- Rule 3 – Build a long history of using credit responsibly (15%). Lenders want to see a track record that you can handle being entrusted with a credit limit. If you have old credit accounts that are still open and in good standing, that signals your trustworthiness, which is reflected in a higher credit score.
Action: When you open a credit account, keep it active for as long as possible. If you stop using an account, consider leaving that account open, but only if it will help your score and not hurt you in obtaining new credit.
- Rule 4 – Use multiple types of credit (10%). Lenders like to see you with both revolving debt (credit cards) and installment debt (car and house loans).
Action: If you have a low credit limit, request a limit increase. Many banks will honor the request, especially if you’ve had a history of making on-time payments. If you don’t have a history of using installment loans, consider making a small purchase (such as an appliance or electronic device) using an installment loan.
- Rule 5 – Avoid too many credit inquiries (10%). Applying for many loans or credit cards in a short period of time tells lenders you may be attempting to acquire more credit than you can handle.
Action: Apply for only one type of credit at a time. Multiple inquiries for the same type of credit, for example a mortgage loan, within a short period of time will only count as one inquiry.
You can improve your credit score by understanding these rules and putting them into practice.