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Establishing a good credit score isn't a complex process, but it's a vital piece of your financial picture. Having a high score gives you access to the best credit cards, a lower interest rate on personal loans and can even come into play when you apply for a new job or rent an apartment.
It's important to raise your credit score so you receive the best rates and can qualify for more credit cards. If you're building credit, secured cards, such as the Discover it® Secured, are often your best option, but once you work your way up to good or excellent credit, you may qualify for cards with generous welcome bonuses and robust rewards programs, such as the American Express® Gold Card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, two of CNBC Select's top-rated rewards cards. Thankfully, there are some easy and proactive steps you can take to improve your credit score.
Read on for CNBC Select's six easy tips to help you raise your credit score.
Paying your bills on time is the most important thing you can do to help raise your score. FICO and VantageScore, which are two of the main credit card scoring models, both view payment history as the most influential factors when determining a person's credit score. For lenders, a person's ability to keep up with their credit card payments indicates that they are capable of taking out a loan and paying it back.
But your credit score isn't just impacted by your credit card bills. You need to pay all your bills on time. That includes all your utilities, student loan debt and any medical bills you might have.
If you struggle to remember to pay your bills each month (so many different due dates, so little time), there's an easy fix: autopay. If you're not sure you'll be able to pay your bill in full, you can set it so you just pay the minimum. And the same goes with your utilities: Most major providers will let you set up autopay that withdraws automatically each month from your checking or savings account (or charges your credit card). In the case of student loan companies, some give you a discount on your interest rate if you set up autopay.
If you don't want to use autopay, another easy option is setting up a payment reminder. Many banks and card issuers will let you schedule reminders through their websites, including sending you email reminders or push notifications (or both). You can also set up Google or Outlook calendar invites or make a note of the due date on a physical calendar. It doesn't really matter what notification system you use so long as you pay on time.
The sooner you start paying on time, the sooner your score will begin to improve. And just as a bit of motivation, older credit penalties, such as late payments, matter less as time passes. So start now and stay consistent.
FICO and VantageScore look at the number of credit inquiries, such as applications for new financial products or requests for credit limit increases, as well as the number of new account openings. Making these kinds of inquiries frequently dings your credit, so only apply for what you really need in order to avoid damaging your score.
If you want a new card, but you're not sure you'll qualify, you can submit a pre-qualification form online. You can submit as many pre-qualification forms as you want, as they won't impact your credit score.
If you are already responsible about making your utility and cell phone payments on time, then you should check out Experian Boost. It's a free and easy way for consumers to improve their credit scores. The way Experian Boost works is simple: Connect your bank account(s) to Experian Boost so it can identify your utility, telecom and streaming service payment history. Once you verify the data and confirm you want it added to your Experian credit file, you'll get an updated FICO score delivered to you in real time.
Visit Experian to read more and register. By signing up, you will receive a free credit report and FICO score instantly.
It's smart to look over your credit reports from each of the three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. You can proactively monitor your credit and receive three free credit reports (one from each bureau) annually at annualcreditreport.com.
Be sure to check for errors on your credit reports that could be hurting your score. While it may seem unlikely that your reports would be flawed, 26% of participants in a study by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) found at least one error on their reports that could make them appear riskier to lenders.
Common mistakes, according to My FICO, occur when a person applies for credit cards under different names, if a clerical error is made when information is typed from a hand-written application or if an ex-spouse's information remains on a person's report. If you spot an error, you should then gather any supporting evidence and dispute the mistake either online or by phone with the respective bureau who issued the incorrect report.
Your credit utilization rate (CUR) is your total credit card balance divided by your total available credit. For instance, the average American has a credit limit of $22,589 on four cards and a $6,028 balance, according to Experian. That results in a CUR of about 27%. Experts typically recommend keeping your total CUR below 30%, and below 10% is even better.
If your CUR is above 30% and you have no problem paying your bills on time and in full, you can call your card issuer and ask for a credit increase. If you're struggling to pay off your bills and you have a high CUR, it's smarter to figure out some areas where you can cut back your spending.
FICO Scores and VantageScore credit scores both range from 300 to 850 — but they classify good credit differently. Here's how the two companies classify good credit, according Experian:
While this information is helpful, just know that ranges vary depending on the credit scoring model used and what the lender perceives as good credit. For example, a credit score of 680 is considered good by FICO, but not by VantageScore. And your lender may have another idea of what credit score is good.
Another thing to consider is the credit scoring versions that lenders use during the application process — FICO has 19 that are most commonly used by lenders. The different versions are broken up into two main categories: base FICO Scores and industry-specific FICO Scores.
Base FICO Scores, such as FICO® Score 8, predict your chances of not paying as agreed in the future on any credit product, such as a mortgage, credit card or student loan. Industry-specific FICO® Scores, such as FICO® Auto Score 8, are more in-depth and also provide lenders a detailed credit risk assessment tailored to the specific type of credit you're applying for, such as an auto loan.
Even if your credit score falls within the "good" range, there is no guarantee you'll be approved for a financial product that requires good credit. During the application process, lenders consider numerous factors beyond your credit score, such as income and monthly housing payments.
Information about the Discover cards has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.