Most people discover they have bad credit at the worst possible time. They’ve filled out all the paperwork for a home mortgage or rental application, only to discover their credit score isn’t up to snuff. By then, it’s too late.
A little planning now can help ensure your credit is in the best possible place when you need it most. Here are some steps you should take to get your credit in order.
Know your FICO
Your FICO score, or credit score, is a number that helps lenders, employers or landlords determine how much of a financial risk you might be. A score of 700 or above is generally considered to be “good” credit, but a score of 740 or higher is often required for the best possible rates on home mortgages.
Thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you can check your credit with the three nationwide reporting companies, Experian, Equifax® and TransUnion®, for free once a year. Doing so allows you to determine whether you have work to do to get credit up to snuff.
Look for low-hanging fruit
Obviously, if you have major delinquencies or a bankruptcy, repairing your credit is going to take some time. However, there are some relatively quick steps you can take to improve your score, especially if you are on the precipice of the score you want for a loan.
First, if there are charges you don’t recognize, dispute them in writing. Companies make mistakes all the time, and you shouldn’t have to suffer for them.
From there, if you have 30-, 60- or 90-day late charges on an existing loan, call and ask if they will be willing to take it off. If your account is otherwise in good standing, they have little incentive to keep a small blemish on your record.
Look at credit utilization
Credit utilization can be a bit of a balancing act. You want enough credit to demonstrate you are
responsible enough to make timely payment, but you don’t want too many credit cards and you certainly don’t want a heavy debt load relative to your collective credit limit.
Having debt that is more than 30% of your credit limit is a major red flag, and 10% or less is ideal. If you are nearing a major purchase, consider paying down debt in order to get under one of those thresholds.
Conversely, if you have very thin or no credit, consider taking out a credit card with a limited balance. Make minor purchases and pay off the balance each month.
Keep credit inquiries to a minimum
Credit inquiries themselves can impact your credit score. Frequent requests for credit cards and loans indicate that you might not have the assets to manage your existing payments.
There are exceptions to this, however. There is no penalty for checking your own credit. Unsolicited credit checks by credit card companies and the like, so-called soft inquiries, do not factor in.
In cases where you do authorize a third-party credit check, multiple checks within the same 30-day time frame count as only one. This is to encourage shopping for loans, so shop around!
Get your adviser on the line
Your adviser has seen everything, and they may have some ideas to work within your financial plan to address items that negatively impact your score.