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A good FICO score is more important than ever. We show you how to improve your credit score today with these 11 simple steps.

Improving your FICO credit score has never been more important than it is today. Your credit score affects whether you are approved for a loan, the interest rate you pay, and even the cost of insurance.

Credit card companies have always used your credit history to determine what interest rate to offer. But now they use them to determine the length of no interest balance transfers and other account terms.

Your credit history can even affect whether or not you get a job!

Is it possible to improve your credit during the COVID-19 Pandemic?

It’s important to keep your credit in mind during this time because you don’t want to see it decline. Once the pandemic is over and you need a new line of credit or need a new car, or even a new job, bad credit could hold you back.

You should pay as many bills as possible on time–at least making the minimum payment. If you lost your job or just don’t have the money to cover your bills, call your creditors/lendors/utility companies immediately. Find out if it’s possible to defer payments for now and work out a payment plan to get you back on track when the pandemic ends. If you can help it, don’t wait until your payment is due to do this. You need take action as soon as you know you can’t cover a bill to give you and the creditors time to come up with a plan.

If you are currently making your monthly payments on time and want to improve your credit score, try using Experian Boost. It’s free to use and can help improve your credit score by tracking all the monthly bills you are paying on time.

In short, your credit score affects your whole financial life. If yours isn’t the best, that could sound like bad news. But the good news is that a few small, simple steps can help you boost your score relatively quickly.

In fact, I’ve seen my score jump by as much as 25 points within a single month, just by taking some of these steps.

Related: How to Protect Your FICO Score During an Economic Setback

1. Get your FICO Credit Score

The first step is to know your credit score. The saying goes that you “can’t improve what you can’t measure.” And that’s never more true than with your finances.

The good news is that you can get your FICO credit score for free. You do have to sign up for a 30-day trial, but you can easily cancel the service before the trial ends if you want.

Don’t want to use a service that might require payment? That’s doable. Services like Quizzle, Credit Karma, and Credit Sesame give you a free credit score estimate. (Just keep in mind that these are estimates, even if they may be fairly accurate.)

Another option is to check with your current credit card provider. Many of today’s credit card companies provide a free copy of your credit history and credit score every month.

The bottom line here is that you should have some idea of where you stand with your credit score. With all the free options available, there’s no reason not to!

2. Get a free copy of your credit report

Step two is to get a free copy of your credit report. By federal law, the three major credit reporting agencies must provide each consumer with a free copy of their credit report every year. This is the starting point for improving your score. And remember, you can get your free copy at AnnualCreditReport.com.

You can swing this in one of two ways. One option is to get all three reports at the same time. Then you can compare them to be sure they all have accurate information. (See steps three and four!) Or you can pull one report every four months. This lets you keep an eye on your credit history without paying through the nose for frequent reports.

Either option is fine. Again, it’s most important that you have some idea of what information appears in your credit history.

3. Review your credit report for accounts that aren’t yours

The first thing to do when reviewing your credit report is to make sure the identifying information about you is accurate and that listed accounts belong to you.

If you see an account you don’t recognize, try to get to the bottom of it. Start by reviewing your personal records of outstanding debts and accounts. Sometimes creditors have a different official name than the one they present to the public. So an account you don’t recognize could be one you actually opened but just don’t recognize immediately.

If that’s not the case, though, it could be that you’ve fallen prey to identity theft. In this case, you’ll need to go through the steps of reporting the theft. Simply having fraudulent accounts removed from your credit history could significantly boost your score.

4. Review your credit report for errors

Even if all of the reported accounts belong to you, they may contain errors. For example, a creditor may have reported a delinquent payment that was, in fact, paid on time or repaid. If you paid a creditor in full after some time of missed payments, it’s not unusual for the creditor to have failed to report your payment to the credit bureaus.

Or you may show outstanding collections accounts that are actually paid off. Collections accounts on your credit history aren’t good, either way. But paid-off accounts are much better than those with an outstanding balance.

If you notice a mistake, start a paper trail. You might need proof of your contact to get the situation resolved quickly.

5. Review your inquiries for errors

When you apply for most credit, the creditor will pull your credit report as part of its decision whether to extend credit and on what terms. These inquiries are one factor in determining your credit score.

The theory goes that if you have a lot of recent inquiries to your credit report, you may be applying for credit to address a financial crisis. As a result, inquiries will lower your credit score. What you want to make sure is that you authorized each of the inquiries that you find in your credit report. If inquiries are showing up when you didn’t actually apply for credit, contact the credit reporting bureau to report the mistake.

Related–Visit CreditKarma to see your free credit score.

6. Dispute any errors you find

Having carefully reviewed your credit report, the next step is to dispute any errors you find. Having successfully disputed errors in the past, I suggest taking two approaches.

First, contact the creditor directly to dispute the error. Particularly if you still have an ongoing relationship with the creditor, they generally are willing to look into the issue. Second, dispute the error directly with the credit reporting agency. By law they are required to investigate any errors you bring to their attention and respond to you within 30 days.

Filing a dispute with a credit bureau is much easier than it may seem, and each of the three major credit reporting agencies has a section of their website (Experian | TransUnion | Equifax) that will help you dispute an error online.

7. Pay your bills on time

Having examined your credit report closely and disputed any errors, it’s now time to turn our attention to money management. The first rule of credit score health is to pay your bills on time.

Even one late payment can significantly lower your credit score. And the higher your score is to begin with, the more impact a late payment will have. Note that most creditors will not report a late payment until it’s 30 days past due. Still, being even one day late can result in penalty fees, increased interest rates, and even closed accounts.

The best way to avoid late payments is to automate your finances. Sign up for automatic bill pay whenever you can. Or if you live with a variable income, try to get a month ahead on your payments. That way if income doesn’t hit your bank account at the right time, you have built in extra time to pay your bills.

8. Pay down your debt

This may fall into the “easier said than done” category. But it will help improve your credit score. Your overall amount of debt plays into your FICO score. And revolving debt is particularly important. Carrying high balances on credit cards relative to your available credit will tank your score quickly.

In fact, paying down revolving debt, like credit card debt or even a HELOC, maybe the quickest way to improve your credit score. And since paying off debt is also a way to get in control of your finances, it’s generally an excellent strategy.

9. Do NOT close revolving accounts

It may seem counter intuitive, but closing credit card accounts, lines of credit, and other revolving debt can actually lower your credit score. One of the main factors in your score, mentioned above, is your debt-to-limit ratio. This is how much credit you’re using versus how much credit you have available.

Closing a credit card will lower your available credit. This will increase your credit utilization ratio, even if you don’t go into any more debt. Plus, if you close an older account, it may lower the average age of your accounts. This is a less important piece of your credit score, but it’s still a part of the equation.

If you’re struggling with overspending, try another strategy. Consider cutting up your cards and unlinking them from all of your online accounts. Or use only one card with a low limit for your everyday grocery and gas shopping. Then, pay it off as soon as you use it. This keeps your cards active, but lets you avoid going into more long-term credit card debt.

10. Don’t max out a credit card or line of credit

Another factor in the credit score formula is whether you use most or all of the available credit on any given account. The theory is that if you max out an account, it may reflect some financial difficulties that could increase your risk of default. And this is true even if you pay off the account in full every month.

Even if you pay off a card at the end of every billing period, that may not reflect on your credit report. Say your American Express account gets reported to Experian on the 15th of every month. You’ve used your card every day for the first part of the month, so you’re carrying a hefty balance. You pay off the balance on the 28th–two days before that month’s bill is even due.

But, still, your high balance was reported to Experian on the 15th. Not good.

The best policy here is to never charge more than 30 percent of a card’s limit on any individual card. And also don’t use more than 30 percent of your total credit limit at any given time.

Sometimes it makes sense to make a large purchase on your credit card. For instance, you might book a $5,000 vacation cruise on your credit card to get the automatic travel insurance and other perks. That’s great. Just pay it off as soon as the transaction is processed to avoid having that large balance show up on your credit report.

11. Apply for new credit only if you must

As noted earlier, inquiries to your credit report will lower your score. Every time you apply for a credit, the creditor in question looks at your credit score. The credit bureaus record this inquiry, and it dings your score. So to avoid these inquiries, apply for new credit only if you must.

One thing to keep in mind is rate shopping. Credit card companies understand that smart consumers shop around for credit in certain situations. For instance, if you’re getting a mortgage, you should check with multiple lenders to get the best terms.

So FICO gives consumers between 14 and 45 days to rate shop. Which end of the spectrum depends on which particular FICO score (there are more than 10!) a potential lender pulls. Your best bet is to do your rate shopping within two weeks. So set a deadline to put in all of your mortgage, car loan, or student loan applications within two weeks to avoid multiple hard pulls and a ding on your credit score.

Improving your credit score can have many positive effects on your finances. The simple steps described above will help you to improve your score, and you may seem results very quickly. Of course, if you are recovering from a financial meltdown, it will take time. But with patience and sound financial management, you should see your score start to improve.

Author Bio

Total Articles: 279
Abby is a freelance journalist who writes on everything from personal finance to health and wellness. She spends her spare time bargain hunting and meal planning for her family of three. She has a B.A. in English Literature from Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, and lives with her husband and children in Indianapolis.

Article comments

jackcobain says:

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Banker Says – Carry Debt to Improve Credit Score

Ellen says:

Great article. Another thing to add: Call your credit card company if there is an unjustified late fee! I know that CC companies are more flexible on late payments if you have never had one before, so don’t be afraid to talk to them about extenuating circumstances that may have caused you to be late on a payment. This goes with #7 – because just one late payment makes a difference.

I review my credit report every 6 months. Never found any errors other than an out of date address or employer. But still, others have found much more erroneous information that needs correction right away.

kenneth hamilton says:

I find it difficult to believe that we are still allowing such an antiquated and highly error ridden system (as high as 80% some say) to affect our financial and therefore our overall lives. Seriously, think about a system created or at least used by banks to determine your credit worthiness, when a higher score could and usually does mean as much as billions in absolutely free profits. It just doesn’t fit the criteria used by the justice system to find you guilty of a charge. This system can be used to charge citizens with serious financial charges without but perhaps the minimum possibility of any type of interaction if it is wrong, which it frequently is. Your only recourse is to dispute these wrongful charges but again the final judgement is being made from organizations that, in my experience, usually favor as the banks do the creditor. This happens far more frequently than most realize. An example is how the banks have tightened their standards to hasten the generation of funds, in my opinion and I believe obvious, since a significant number of them participated in a massive scam that caused you and I to have to bail many of them out. Imagine the very same people that they have made a fortune off of over the years by being their judge and jury using this obviously one sided scale being bailed out from what essentially was “bankruptcy or insolvency”. You would think that this would show that they are incapable of monitoring our credit worthiness.

Peggy says:

I concur, they lower our credit scores and then can charge the MIP insurance, foreclose on us and be paid three times over on a home.

Eloisie Ferguson says:

Some of my credit card companies are charging annual fee that ranges from $65.00 and up. I am just trying to pay off my credit card and not charging anything. I don’t want to pay the annual fee. Do I need to close the account and just continue paying the balance?Will it hurt my credit if I close it?

BC says:

It won’t solve your problem to close the account at this time. Just don’t use the card. Our score is based on the amount of credit available versus what we owe. Your available credit will go down, so will your score.
One thing that I learned is that you should keep your balances to only 1/3 of what your credit limit is to each card or account. Don’t use the card alot (heavy use), and do pay more than the amount due, even if $1.00 (try for much more than that).
Credit Card Companies are not your friend. Try hard not to use them.
As mentioned earlier, it has a really unfair and strange way of calculating the score. Really work hard to pay them off.
One last note: In my business class last year I went home very ill one day when I learned a little bit more about credit card companies. We watched a video about a woman who held conferences to help different company employees to see whom they should seek out-or target-to offer cards to, and she thought the middle income was one of the best choices. One gentleman, if you could call him that, was quite the whole day, until the end. He then raised his hand and said that he felt that was the wrong advise. He targets the lower income because that is where the money is. He is talking about the fees that they can charge. Creating fees…for the lower income, who can least afford it! I was boiling mad. I am not lower income, but I could be easily. And I grew up that way. MAD! So look around. That is where many companies are making money-fees!

Laura says:

GREAT POINT BC!!!! Companies make more money out of low income people than out of higher ones. These low income have to pay way more for anything they need. Furthermore, the less they know and they earn, the more they pay for anything. sometimes any little mistake on their credit report cause people big headache. It is really sad, but so true!!!

Paula says:

I have a guestion reguarding a home equitity loan….is there anyone that could help me with this?
thanks so much
Paula Dalton

Matt says:

What is the best way to repair a poor credit? Any good companies that are helpful and not full of it?

Kerr says:

Matt, I actually was on the search for such a “company”, however, all of the ones I came across were just out to make a quick buck from their clients. The BEST way I found, is to just put in the work yourself. To begin, following the steps above, believe it or not is one of the best ways to repair a poor credit score. It’s going to take work and dedication, but after 3month, six, or even a year or two, it will be well worth it. In addition, its also a thrill to see your score rise steadily. I hope this helps, but if you or anybody out there know of a helpful company, please, feel free to share…

David says:

I have excellent credit and try to keep it that way, but, I have found that credit card companies have raised my finance rates due to the recent economic mess this country has gotten itself in. I mean I have had 7.80% rates raised to 17.99%. What did I do wrong??? I’ve paid off most of my credit cards and not carrying balances anymore. I have had two banks cancel my credit cards because there was not enough activity with them and wanted to start charging annual fees for using their card. huh! All I was doing was making monthly payments to pay the outstanding balances on them. So, there was activity going on – paying them off. They want you to keep charging on their cards constantly.

Carrie says:

I had the same thing happen. Not only did the company raise my rate to 27.99%, but they cut my available credit to the balance I owed. I pride myself on paying my bills on time & using my credit card only for emergency situations, but now I find myself with a lower credit score b/c of it. All I was trying to do is use my credit card wisely. This is all so frustrating.


If I have collections on my report, can I contact them to pay them off and when will it be removed from my report? I have collections for 42 and so forth that I knew nothing about!

Matt says:

No, they will most likely not remove them from your report, but you can always ask them to remove it. It will however improve your score still, showing that you paid your collection.

Peggy says:

If it is a third party creditor, you can write and ask them what they paid for the account. They tell people to pay the full amount, but in reality the Company asking for the money is not the Company you contracted with. So they may have bought your account for about $40.00. Even if you pay this $40.00 bucks this company may pull the bad credit and then the real party to the Account can come back and ask for the full amount all over again.

Kelsey says:

I have heard that when you check your credit score your score actually lowers. True or false?

RH says:

False – it does not hurt your credit score when you pull your own report.

Sela Wood says:

I wanted to find out what advice you would give to me. A few years ago I withdrew some of my 401k money to help my parents get out of a financial bind. I also withdrew some money off my credit card, hoping to pay it off after a few months, however the interest just keeps getting bigger and I am unable to get ahead as my interest charged on my cc is 19.99%. I still have some cash in my 401k and want to find out if you would advise me to withdraw a large chunk of it and pay my cc off completely, as I do not make as much interest on my investments as the cc company is charging me. Also, I have thought of going to debt counselling and want to find out if by going with one of those firms, will my credit score be affected? If I do sign up with one of these companies, will I lose my credit cards? Your help would be much appreciated.

Annie Mack says:

Actually disputing errors on your credit report are meaningless. They get back to you and say, ‘yep, it’s your debt’. Well, it’s not my debt and after 3 certified letter to the creditor, they still haven’t provided the information I’ve asked them for. So, unless I’m willing to go to court or pay for a lawyer, I have a collection for $388 on my credit that I can’t have removed. The lawyer would charge me that for one hour of work. Until someone turns the credit merry-go-round in our favor, we’re all screwed.

Peggy says:

Only because they say give us this and this and this and give us your SSN. When you give your SSN you own it. I have been giving Zero’s. If you go look nobody but the Gov. can ask for your SSN. It’s against the law for others to even ask. Go read up on the IRS. BC is not suppose to be proof of life either.

John says:

I am writing to agree with all you say about raising your credit score. I have raised mine by over 130 points to near excellent simply by following your suggestions. I have found it especially true when using the “credit report” itself and not simply using the so called “free scores”. Free scores ONLY give you a starting point. I found so many errors on my actual “credit report” it was disgusting. All three credit bureaus had multitudes of incorrect or outdated information and a person MUST dispute those errors. It is not easy and very time consuming. Case in point, my old bank was bought out by another bank and all three bureaus said my credit was adversly effected because too many accounts were too new. ALL of the accounts that had been transfrred into another banks name were at least five years old and in the case of my home mortgage, that account was over ten years old. They reported these as “new accounts” and that simply was not true. Fight for your credit rights and follow the examples set forth in the blog and you will soon find yourself on the way to better credit scores, interest rates and simply a good feeling inside that you are being treated fairly.

Kim says:

trying to get a car, was financed w/ my previous car for 72mo. loan w/ 8% interest and a [email protected] Wells FARGO…I, repeat I made all payments for 4yrs. on time, car was totaled last mo., my ins. PROGRESSIVE paid all but $1335 and I paid that myself, so car is PAID OFF!!! I went car shopping hoping my credit had finally creeped up enough I didn’t need a co-signer!!!! NO, not sure why, so my question is, is it possible that the credit report is still showing that is an open account and if so, how do I find out!
SO Wells Fargo got over $26,000 in 4yrs and they wouldn’t give me a loan!!! WT??????????????????//

DR says:

Kim, step one would be to get a copy of your credit report from annualcreditreport.com to see if the account is still shown as open. If it is, call and write Wells Fargo to get them to update your credit history. Also keep in mind that there could be other aspects of your credit history affecting your ability to get financing.

Bonnie says:

Annie Mack- In your case, you must file a claim with the FTC (federal trade commissioner) the OCC (office of the comptroller of currency) and finally, your State Attorney General. The Attorney General will mediate your claim, free of charge. Be Sure to have all documentation, dates and any other steps you have taken, ready to submit to these agencies to expedite the handling of your claim.
One last thought, the credit bureaus ARE NOT OMNIPOTENT GOVERNMENT AGENCIES! -although they behave that way. In fact, what I believe to be true is the big bank credit card companies created them!!
Perstistance Pays!! Contact the 3 above mentioned Goverment Agencies that were created to help the consumer against the predatory practices of the creditcard companies! Best of Luck!

mrsholi says:

I too have raised my score by doing the work myself. It is time-consuming. But it works. Raised my score 90+ points by disputing, and pfd letters. It took about four months to see an increase.

John says:

Just wanted to educate people on the new practices of new car dealerships in the midst of the economic situations. It came to my attention last Feb. when i went to my local credit union to get pre approved for a new car loan. Well the credit score was actually higher than I thought it would be. I got approved and then went about to look for a new car. This is where the trouble started. Looks as though dealerships want to sell you on a credit company that gives them kickbacks instead of the pre approved line of credit you tell them you already have. If you find you are asked to sign a waiver for a credit check beware. In my case the dealership wanted to sell me a car I couldn’t afford ( I even told them NO WAY)so they kept (without my knowledge)seeking a company that would approve my credit. In my case I had a C line of credit and was denied a loan for a car I told them I couldn’t afford to pay for. I have 23 denials for credit that came through snail mail I didn’t even ask for. But hey ! This came about from two car dealerships 50 miles apart within a two week period. Anyone have any idea’s of how i fix this mess? My score dropped a whopping 56 points I now have a D credit score. I did buy a new car, the car i wanted to buy that I could afford and was 2 thousand dollars less than my pre approved loan. But getting the dealer to except my offer was painstaking. This behavior should be against the law.

kate says:

Same thing happened to me. Preapproved by credit union, dealership ran my credit through their own credit system anyway, got 4 denials from major banks. I called the dealership and told them what I thought of this practice, seeing how it was unnecessary in the first place, and was told that these hard hits on my credit report would not matter, would cause no damage to my credit score. But of course it did! Why the dealership would do this to me for no apparent reason, I do not know. You must tell them not to do this. Tell them right away as soon as you decide to buy a car there, because by the time you’re brought in to sign the final papers, they’re already running your financial info through their own system.

Also, if you’re using their system, you may note that the credit score you had at the time you went in is not nearly as high as the credit score they’re telling you you have, that all of a sudden it’s much lower, thus they need to charge you a higher interest rate.

The Don says:

First off, should of never signed off on the form about credit! An if they had you sign anything ask what it’s for? Also don’t go to sleazy back yard type dealerships, stay to the mainstream Toyota, or honda! The lesser ones, don’t care about you, only about taking your money on their lemons they have for sale in their lots. You probably signed something you didn’t ask about, and then they spammed your mail box at home! If you have a credit union check to buy the car, don’t tell them how much it is. They will always try to max you out on the check. Instead look for the car you want then negotiate price and get it in writing. Then when it comes time for credit checks and payment, then tell them you have a bank check, and write down the amount you already agreed upon, and give it to them. That way you take away their bargaining power, and you take away their ability to sell you on their financing. Which by the way is a big way they get you in fees. Also don’t buy the up buy on the warranty, another scam they sell. Already comes with some type of warranty, if buying new or newish. Good luck, be smarter next time, and use these tips to help you not be a target again!

Rich says:

How do you improve your credit score after filing bankrupsy

Rob Berger says:

Rich, this resource addresses your question–https://www.doughroller.net/credit/establish-credit-bankruptcy/.

kelly says:

I just added my husband as an authorized user on a credit card that reports monthly to all credit bureaus, so I was wondering if that will show up on his report by May 1st. We are trying to buy a home and only need four points increased on his score to get approved and I was wondering if that would do it. Please help asap.

Rob Berger says:

Kelly, first my apologies for not responding to your question sooner. Somehow your comment slipped past me. According to FICO, the creator of the credit score, being an authorized user on a credit card can improve your credit (http://www.myfico.com/crediteducation/questions/fico8.aspx). However, it likely will not happen inside of a week.

Sonja says:

I’m trying to get my last few credit cards totally paid off. Would it hurt my credit score if I closed all of my credit cards except for one.

Also, how do you feel about department store credit cards?

Rob Berger says:

Sonja, it probably would hurt your score to close all of your cards but one. One factor in the FICO formula is credit utilization–how much of your available credit have you used. By closing all but one card, you lower your available credit.

Department store credit cards can be one way to build credit. They usually come with high interest rates, however, so be sure to pay them in full each month.

Stephen Webster says:

In regards to closing accounts you fail to mention the importance of keeping older accounts open in order to add as much depth as possible to your credit profile. In addition I would add that it is important to use all of your accounts on a regular basis to ensure that none of them are closed by the creditor due to inactivity.

Kimberly Hutson says:

I had my son as an authorized user on my Care Credit Card. He was trying to raise his credit and apply for a first-time morgage. I took him off the card last February, but for some reason, he only cam off of two of the credit bureaus and he was left on one. We called in August to tell them to please remove him, and his credit score fell. The payment history was good on the card. The card was paid off in April, but them we charged more on it in June. In July his score was up. I am not sure if charging the money on the card or removing him as authorized user on the card dropped his score. Any thoughts? We are working with someone that helps build your credit score, and they want me to immediately add him back on. They said it was good for him to have that payment history.