Here’s the thing about credit scores: They’re kind of a big deal. Sure, it’s a simple three-digit number. But consider that people with pristine credit scores get rewarded with the best interest rates on mortgages, credit cards, business loans, auto financing and student loans.
They’re also more likely to be viewed positively by employers, who are increasingly checking job applicants’ credit reports, according to the Society for Human Resources Management.
Having great credit even correlates to more committed personal relationships and sustainable marriages. And Federal Reserve Board researchers have found that couples with poor credit scores tend to break up or divorce at much higher rates than do couples with excellent credit scores.
And your physical and emotional well-being are tied to your credit, too! Too much credit card debt — and the lower credit scores that result from excessive debt — are associated with depression, higher stress levels, elevated blood pressure and overall worse physical health, according to a 2013 report, “The High Price of Debt,” published in the journal “Social Science & Medicine.”
Ready to improve those not-so-simple digits? Here are five power moves to boost your credit score.
PAY ALL YOUR BILLS ON TIME
FICO credit scores range from 300 to 850 points. According to officials from Fair Isaac Corp., creator of the FICO score, the single biggest factor in calculating your three-digit credit score is your payment track record.
To be exact, 35 percent of your FICO credit score is based on how well you pay your bills, like credit cards, student loans or auto notes. So make sure you always pay your financial obligations on time.
A single late payment that is 30 days past due can lower your credit score 50 to 100 points or more. Ouch!
REDUCE DEBT — NAMELY, CREDIT CARD DEBT
Although you may fret over having hefty student loans or possibly a big mortgage, as long as you’re paying those bills on time, they’re not hurting your credit score. But just carrying large credit card debt does impact your credit rating.
That’s because 30 percent of your FICO credit score is based on the amount of debt you owe — specifically your credit card debt. The FICO scoring system compares the amount of credit card debt you owe against your overall credit card limits. The result is your credit utilization rate. For example, if you’ve charged $2,500 and your credit cards’ lines total $5,000, then you have a 50 percent credit utilization rate.
Knock down some credit card balances — or better yet, pay off a credit card or two — and you’ll see your credit score rise.
ADD POSITIVE INFORMATION TO YOUR CREDIT REPORTS
One of the newer trends in the world of credit reporting and credit scoring is the growing importance of “non-traditional” data. This refers to financial obligations such as rent payments, utilities or daycare bills — items that historically weren’t shown on your credit reports.
These days that’s changing. Adding your rent payments to your credit reports is a particularly nice, fast way to give your credit score a boost. Of course, your rental payment history must be positive — as in, no late payments. If so, you’ll likely get a double-digit increase to your credit score, according to studies done by Experian and TransUnion, two of the country’s three main credit-reporting agencies.
Since about one-third of all Americans are renters and not homeowners, tens of millions of renters can potentially benefit from this strategy. If you’re among those renters who has paid rent on time, you should get credit — literally — for that.
One of the easiest ways to improve your credit score is to review your credit reports and make sure they don’t contain mistakes.
Note that you can’t add your rental data to your credit reports on your own. A third-party company has to do it in order to verify your on-time payments with your landlord. RentReporters.com and RentTrack.com are two third-party companies that will add your rental payment history to your credit reports.
DISPUTE ERRORS IN YOUR CREDIT REPORT
One of the easiest ways to improve your credit score is to review your credit reports (from TransUnion, Equifax and Experian) and make sure they don’t contain mistakes. By various estimates, up to 70 percent of all consumer credit reports have errors, so it’s possible some erroneous data could be dragging down your credit score.
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, information that is erroneous or outdated or that can’t be verified must be removed from your credit report if you dispute it. Start by getting all three of your credit reports — free of charge — at annualcreditreport.com.
USE A PERSONAL LOAN TO PAY OFF CREDIT CARD DEBT
Slashing credit card debt can boost your credit score, but can you do it if you don’t have the cash to aggressively reduce your credit card bills? Well, you can swap your credit card debt for another type of debt: a personal loan.
The credit scoring system views personal loans as “installment loans” — and that’s better for your credit rating than “revolving” debt, which is how credit cards are classified. Personal loans also often have lower interest rates than credit cards.
So if you already have fair to good credit (a score of about 650 to 750) but you’d like to have perfect credit (a score of 760 to 850 points), a personal loan can help. Traditional banks and lenders offer personal loans, as do peer-to-peer lenders and fintech companies.