You don’t have to be a credit expert to know that tactics like keeping your debt low and paying bills on time are proven ways to improve your FICO score. But they aren’t the only ways to see a spike. These lesser-known tactics can also do the trick—fast.
Your credit utilization ratio, or your debt compared to credit limits, accounts for 30 percent of your score—so you want a healthy one of 30 percent or less. In addition to paying down debt, you can ask your current lender for a limit increase or open a new card that you rarely, if ever, use. Exactly how much this can improve your score depends on where you started, says credit expert John Ulzheimer, formerly of FICO and Equifax—but a 50-point jump would be in line.
Look for accounts in good standing or positive information (like a $0 balance on old collections) not listed on your credit report, suggests April Lewis-Parks, director of education for Consolidated Credit. For example, “if you’ve had a phone contract for a long time and a good payment history, it could help boost your credit history, which will boost your score,” she says.
The same goes for your cable, Internet and utility providers. They’re not obligated to report your payment history, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
You’d think that paying your credit card off every month would lead to $0 balances on your credit report, but that’s not necessarily the case. Rather, your report reflects your balance on whatever day your lender reports it—meaning even a temporarily high balance can result in a poor utilization ratio and lower score.
The solution: Pay your bill twice a month to keep your balances down. Or if you make an unusually large purchase, send a payment immediately.
This won’t necessarily boost your score, but it can protect it. Each time you apply for credit, potential lenders hit your report with a “hard inquiry.” Too many, and it could signal that you’re desperate and could be a risky bet, which could hurt your credit. But there’s an exception when you do loan shopping—for mortgages, or car or student loans, say—within a tight span of 14 to 45 days, Ulzheimer says. FICO bundles similar inquiries within that range to protect smart consumers looking to compare loan terms, so your score won’t get dinged.
Negotiating with creditors or even collections agencies can help soften the blow of a negative item on your report, says Lewis-Parks. They aren’t obligated to remove accurate items, but you can ask for a “good-will adjustment.” For example, say a due date slipped your mind or hefty medical bills made it impossible to pay one month. Write to your lender, emphasizing your previous stellar payment history, and ask that they remove the blemish from your report.
You can also contact debt collectors to ask if they’ll stop reporting collections if you pay the bill in full. Again, they don’t have to play ball, but still ask—and put any agreement in writing before submitting your payment.