Learning how to achieve and maintain a good credit score is a crucial part of your financial health. Not only can it be a badge that says your financial life is in good shape, it can also help you access credit and get approved for loans and insurance at more competitive rates. Being approved for lower interest rates and premiums can in turn save you tens of thousands of dollars over your lifetime.
A solid credit score can also have other perks, such as helping you get approved for products with better features, such as rewards credit cards.
While there’s no one size fits all solution on how to keep a good credit score, there are some best practices you can follow. Read on to learn more about this topic and actual tactics, including:
• What is a credit score?
• How can you maintain a good credit score?
• What are tips to keep your credit score high?
• How can new credit card users establish a credit score?
What Is a Credit Score?
A credit score is a three digit number ranging from 300 to 850 that is an indicator of your credit behavior. Your score is calculated based on your credit history from all three credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — and is based on how lenders may perceive your risk as a borrower.
What exactly does that mean? By reviewing your past use of credit, your score reveals if you are more or less likely to pay back your loans on time. If you are more likely to repay your debts in a timely manner, the less risky you are.
The higher your credit score, the more creditworthy you are in the eyes of lenders.
What Affects Your Credit Score?
Several factors can affect your credit score, such as your payment history, the number of loan or credit applications submitted, and the age of your accounts you hold. There are also different scoring models, such as FICO vs. VantageScore. Each weighs factors differently to arrive at a credit score. Meaning, there may be some differences in your credit score.
Lenders may look at one credit score or all of them, plus different qualification criteria when deciding whether to approve you for a loan and at what interest rate.
How Is Your Credit Score Calculated?
Though there are different credit scoring models, most use similar financial behaviors to calculate them.
They’re grouped in the following categories:
• Payment history: This factor is one of the most important factors in your credit score as it assesses whether you’re likely to pay your loan on time. Credit scoring models will look into current and past account activity, including any late or missed payments.
• Amounts owed or available credit: The percentage of the available balance you’re using is your credit utilization. The more you are using available credit in your revolving accounts (like your credit cards and lines of credit), the more it could appear you rely too much on credit. This can make you look like a risky person to whom to lend.
• Age of credit history: The longer your credit history, the more a lender can look into your credit behavior. It’s usually considered good to have a long credit history vs. a very short or recent one.
• Account types: Having a different mix of loans offers more insight into how you handle various accounts. Credit-scoring models may not, however, use this as a major factor when calculating your score.
• New or recent credit: The more recent applications you submit for new loans or credit accounts, the more risky you may appear to be. That’s because it may look like you need to rely on credit; that you are quickly trying to acquire different forms of access to funds.
(There are some exceptions, such as shopping around for mortgages within a short span of time.)
8 Tips for Maintaining Your Credit Score
Understanding the importance of a good credit score and what goes into it can help you protect the one you have. The following are eight suggestions on how to maintain a good credit score.
1. Pay Your Credit Card Bills on Time
Ensuring you’re on top of your bills (not just your credit cards) will help keep a positive payment history in your credit reports. This is the single biggest contributing factor to your credit score at 30% to 40%. Consider setting up automatic payments or regular reminders to ensure you’re paying on time.
2. Keep Your Credit Utilization Low
Your credit utilization is the percentage of the available limit you’re using on your revolving accounts like credit cards. Basically, you don’t want to spend close to or at your credit limit. A good rule of thumb to follow is to now use more than 30% of your overall credit limit.
So if you have one credit card with up to $10,000 as the limit, you want to keep your balance at $3,000 or lower.
3. Maintain Credit History With Older Credit Cards
Even if you don’t use your older credit cards that often, keeping them open means you can maintain your long credit history. Consider charging a small or occasional amount, whether an espresso or gas station fuel-up, to ensure your account stays open. This can reassure prospective lenders that you have been managing credit well for years.
4. Apply for a New Card Only When Important
Consider this as you try to keep a good credit score: Go slow. Since credit-scoring models look at the number of times you apply for new credit, only open one when you really need it. Stay strong in the face of offers to get free shipping or 10% off if you sign up for a card that many retailers promote.
Spreading out your applications is a good idea rather than regularly or heavily putting in a lot of card applications. By moving steadily and choosing a credit card and other types of funding carefully, you likely won’t raise red flags, such as that you need to rely heavily on credit.
5. Frequently Check Your Credit Reports for Errors
Mistakes can happen, and errors in your credit reports could negatively affect your score. You can get your credit reports for free at AnnualCreditReport.com from all three credit bureaus.
It’s wise to check your credit scores regularly, which won’t impact your score. If you see an error — whether it’s an account you don’t own or a bill marked unpaid that you know you took care of — dispute it as soon as possible.
6. Make Payments in Full When Possible
Making payments in full will help you maintain a positive payment history and lower your credit utilization. Both of these can maintain your creditworthiness and save you money on interest charges.
7. Don’t Close Old Credit Cards
Closing your old credit cards could shorten your credit history. It could also increase your credit utilization because it will lower your available credit limit. Even if you make the same amount in purchases, your credit utilization would go up when your credit score updates.
For example, if you currently have an overall credit limit of $28,000 and you have $7,000 in credit card balances, your credit utilization is 25%. If you close a credit card which had a $7,000 limit, you then lower your total available credit to $21,000 your credit utilization will go up to 33%.
8. Live Within Your Credit Means
It can be hard to say no to an invitation to try a pricey new restaurant or not tap to buy when scrolling through social media. But when you let your spending get out of hand, you may use your credit cards too much. It can feel like free money in the moment — but you still have to pay it back. If you overextend yourself, you may find it hard to pay your balance on time and risk a late or missed payment.
Instead, spend only what you can afford and try to avoid lifestyle creep (having your spending rise with your pay increases or even beyond them). That can help provide some guardrails for using credit cards responsibly.
Establishing a Credit Score for New Credit Card Users
Trying to establish a credit score can be a challenge since, ironically enough, you need credit to build credit.
If you are in this situation, there are several options to pursue, such as the following:
• Open a secured credit card: A secured credit card is one where you’ll put down a refundable cash deposit that will act as your credit line. You can use this to establish credit and apply for an unsecured credit card. Some issuers will upgrade you once you make consistent on-time payments for a predetermined amount of time.
• Apply for a credit builder loan: These types of loans are specifically geared towards helping you establish and build credit over time. Instead of getting the loan proceeds like a traditional loan, the funds are held in an escrow account until you pay back the loan in full.
• Become an authorized user: You can ask a loved one, like a parent or even a close friend, if they’re willing to add your name on their credit card account. Doing so means the credit account will go in your credit history. Of course, that doesn’t give you access to use their account without restraint. The guardrails can be established between you and the original card holder.
Maintaining a good credit score (and keeping that score high over time) comes with perks such as increasing the likelihood of getting approved for loans at more favorable terms. You might qualify for lower interest rates, saving you a considerable amount of money over time.
Using a credit card wisely is one of the ways you can build and maintain your credit score. But that’s not all there is to opening a credit: You also likely want one with great perks.
How can I maintain my credit score?
You can maintain your credit score by consistently making on-time payments, keeping a low credit utilization, and limiting applications for new credit.
Why is it important to maintain a good credit score?
Maintaining a good credit score can help increase the chances of getting approved for loans with more favorable rates and terms. It can also mean lower insurance premiums.
How can I maintain a good credit score without debt?
You can maintain a good credit score by paying off all your credit card balances each month so you don’t carry that kind of debt. Keeping older accounts open and using them occasionally can also contribute to a good credit score.
What can I do to build a good credit rating?
You can build a good credit rating by ensuring you’re making payments on time, not using all your available credit limit, and being careful in applying for new loans (that is, don’t apply for too many lines of credit too quickly). These are some of the best ways to achieve and maintain a good credit rating.
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