Credit report with score on a desk

3 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score

Your 790 credit score might not be as great as you think it is. It all depends on which credit score you’re looking about. If you’re referring to a FICO score of 790 out of 850, that’s excellent, but 790 is only so-so on the VantageScore 2.0 model, which tops out at 990.

Credit report with score on a desk

What credit score is good?

Sound like a super easy question. Well, it’s not. In fact, there is no single answer—not even a definitive range. That’s because you have many different credit scores—current estimates say you have at least 58. Yes, really.

Lots of credit scores

The eight most common credit scoring models used by lenders and consumers range credit scores from as low as 150 to as high as 990. The most commonly used credit model (used by 90% of lenders and others who use credit scoring) is your FICO score (MyFico.com).

Now add to that information, the three major credit bureaus, TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax, each have their own scores.

TransUnion’s TransRisk score ranges from 300 to 850, and the Equifax Credit Score ranges from 280 to 850.

Meanwhile, one of Experian’s scores ranges from 360 to 840 while another goes from 330 to 830. And then there’s the score the bureaus created together—the VantageScore—which ranges from 501 to 990.

It’s complicated

Confused? Don’t be. Credit scores are like body weight. You can weigh yourself ten times a day and come up with a different number every time. Why bother? That’s not going to change a thing.

Instead of becoming a slave to the bathroom scale, eat better, exercise more, and your weight will take care of itself.

A credit score is a direct reflection of the way you manage your credit and financial life. Instead of obsessing over your credit scores, concentrate your efforts on the following three simple steps to improve your money management skills, and your credit scores (all of them!) will begin to soar.

1. Pay your bills on time

Just do it. Late payers suffer greatly with low credit scores because low scores translate to paying higher insurance premiums, higher interest rates on mortgages and car loans, and perhaps missing out on that great job or apartment. Your credit history matters!

2. Check your reports

Do not confuse credit reports with credit scores. Your credit reports are the blueprints to your credit scores. If there’s an error on a report, that could severely affect its score. You can get one free copy of each of your big three credit reports every twelve months.

Take full advantage of this by going to AnnualCreditReport.com, a site authorized by Federal Law. Follow the prompts, but do not be sidetracked into paying for anything. You may be offered something from one of the major credit reporting agencies (Experian, TransUnion, Equifax), but don’t get distracted. Click through. Get your report(s) for no cost at all—either by U.S. mail or receive them digitally. Then check your reports carefully and dispute any items that you do not recognize or know to be factually correct.

Crop shot of bank worker consulting client and showing papers of credit report sitting at table

Your credit reports are the best place to see if you’ve become a victim of ID theft. See something on there you do not recognize to be true and accurate? Move quickly to report it, following the instructions that accompany every credit report.

3. Get your utilization rate under 30%

Utilization rate is the ratio between your credit limit(s) and the amount of debt you are carrying. If you have a credit card with a $2,000 limit, you should not be using more than $600 of it (which is below 30%) at any time.

If all of your credit cards together have $15,000 of credit limit total, all of your credit card debt should never exceed about $4,500 (below 30%). If you’re over, do everything you can to get below 30%. Then go for the gold by paying them all off to achieve $0 balances and 0% utilization across the board.

Keep it Simple

Pay close attention to:

Your credit reports

Rotate through your three free reports from AnnnualCreditReport.com, so you are reviewing one every four months. Mark your calendar. Once you rotate through all three reports, you’ll be ready to order the first one again, as it will have been 12 months since you ordered it. Every adult should make this a regular habit.

If you have minor children, order reports using their Social Security numbers as well and on the same rotation. Suppose nothing turns up (the response you want is that there is no information to report), great. That’s how it should be.

If, however, you receive a report in your minor child’s name and SS number, which includes any activity at all, it is critical that you move quickly to report that child’s ID theft. Absent inquiring by ordering his or her report, it could be 18 years before the ID theft is detected, which could result in a life-long problem.

Your FICO credit score

My advice is to forget all scoring models and credit scores that are not branded FICO. Don’t give yourself false hope by leaning on a little-used or even cared-about scoring model from some outfit no lender or service provider has ever heard of, let alone will be looking at to see if you qualify.

Suppose you get your FICO score as a bonus or benefit from your credit card provider. Great. Watch it. Know it. If you do not, get it from MyFico.com. Not in the mood to pay for it? You can use the free FICO Score Estimator to get a good idea, which may be all you need right now.

cropped view of woman showing credit score at office

Don’t panic

If your credit history is sketchy, your FICO score in the tank, don’t panic. Instead, resolve to fix these things as best you can (no one can delete true and accurate information from your credit reports; negative items will drop off after 7 or 10 years, depending on their nature). Then get busy cleaning up your act. Improving your FICO score won’t happen overnight, but your awareness, determination, and commitment certainly can.

Never forget that knowing is half the battle.

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8 replies
  1. Suzanne says:

    Have you tried to pay a credit card ahead of time recently? A few years ago I knew I was going to make a large purchase using a credit card. The card had a very low balance at the time (we pay it off every month). The bank wouldn’t allow the prepayment. Apparently, there was a time when people used that strategy for nefarious purposes ( money laundering?) and now won’t allow payments of more than the current balance.

    Reply
  2. Cath says:

    When I began the process of applying for Medicare last year, I wanted to start by comparing plans using the Medicare website. To do that, I had to open an account. To do that I had to pass their security check. I was never able to get past that gate because, apparently, they use Equifax as the gatekeeper. For reasons unknown, I cannot get through that gate. I invested an enormous amount of time trying every way I could think of. Many phones (to different numbers), many emails, snail mail. Nothing worked. I can never get past the gate. Once I actually was able to talk to a human. Very polite and pleasant. Chatted for a while. Asked me some questions, then transferred me to a customer representative. It turned out to the the same robot I had talked to countless times. The human was like the parking lot attendant at the airport. He wasn’t TSA. I couldn’t get on the airplane, metaphorically speaking. I’m grounded. The best I could figure, Equifax doesn’t like me and never will because, hello, I don’t have any debt (I always have paid my bills every month, including my one and only credit card). Own my house, my car, son’s college ed paid for. Money invested. Live within my means. They don’t like good little girls. I managed to open an account with one of the other credit reporting agencies. I think they dubbed me “Thin Credit.” I got nothin. So what do I have to do to get through to Equifax? I managed to get signed up with Medicare at the height of the pandemic (no office visits — only phone calls), but it was difficult. Somehow I managed to convince them I’m legit in spite of Equifax not recognizing me. I gave up on ever getting through to Equifax, but this article reminded me that I should try again. Any thoughts?

    Reply
  3. Ingrid Asta says:

    Credit scores are frustrating. We utilize approx 3% of our available credit every month which we use then duly pay off. No late payments ever! I have seen my scores drop for using 10% of credit and my scores dropped again this month for using 1%. Supposedly we did not utilize enough credit. We have no installment payments, due to being careful our whole life and wanting to enjoy retirement as much as possible. This frugality is also being punished with lower credit scores. Any advise on that?!?

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt says:

      Credit scores fluctuate. I’m not sure you are seeing this change due to utilization. One thing: How do you know when the score you are looking at was assessed? When your accounts were at $0.00 or when you were using that 10%? I’m going to assume you have an excellent FICO score. Maybe hovering by watching it so closely is not the best idea. Unless you will be applying for a new mortgage or some other kind of credit or even insurance in the next few months, my suggestion is to back away. Your exact score from one day to the next doesn’t really matter because it is not affecting your overall financial situation. Am I right? Check it every 4 mos when you check your credit report. That should be more than sufficient!

      Reply
  4. Bill Stock says:

    If you make a large purchase and balance is exceeding 30% of your credit limit, send your payment BEFORE billing date hence balance due will not reflect being over 30 % utilization.

    Reply
    • Mary Hunt says:

      Well, not exactly accurate, Bill. Think of a credit score as a camera set to auto, taking snapshots and constantly updating. CRAs (credit reporting agencies) don’t pay attention to an individual account’s credit cycle or due dates. That means if you make that big purchase that uses up 100% of your credit limit and five seconds later one of your other creditors or even your insurance carrier grabs a looksee at your credit, it could paint a very unreasonable picture! My point: using more than 30% of available credit at any time during the billing cycle could prove a negative outcome. For sure, if you know you will be applying for a new mortgage or other credit, make sure you lay off the new purchases completely for at least 90 days prior.

      Reply

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