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3 steps to grow your credit score without making major lifestyle changes, according to an expert
Pay your bills on time, get credit for doing so and keep an eye on your credit report.
Your credit score holds a lot of power when it comes to accomplishing life's big milestones, such as buying a new car or taking out a mortgage on your first home. Lenders rely a lot on your credit score when deciding whether to approve you for a new financial product.
Because credit scores carry so much weight, improving yours may seem like a daunting task. But it doesn't have to be. In fact, there are a few smart financial habits you can easily build into your everyday life that will have a positive, long-term effect on your credit score.
"For many, your credit score is something you think about only when you experience a life milestone or make large purchases," Rod Griffin, senior director of public education and advocacy at Experian, tells Select. "[But] establishing good credit is something that you can, and should, slowly build and maintain over time."
Below, Griffin shares three "smart credit growth tactics" that you can adopt without having to make a major lifestyle change.
1. Pay your bills on time
Your payment history — whether or not you pay your bills on time — has the biggest impact on your credit score. It's also something that lenders pay close attention to when they pull your credit report before approving you for a loan or new credit card.
"When lenders review your credit report and see your credit score, they're interested in how reliably you pay your bills," Griffin says. "That's because past payment performance is proven to be a good predictor of future performance." In other words, paying your bills on time shows that you are more likely to pay your future ones on time, too.
Griffin identifies on-time monthly payments as the most important step in improving your credit score. Not to mention, late payments or completely missed payments will likely ding your score over time (not to mention all you'll pay in late fees and interest charges).
Even if you can't pay your full balance, aim to pay at least the minimum by the due date each month. Use calendar reminders and set up autopay to help you remember.
2. Get credit for paying your bills
Already paying your bills on time each month? You might as well get credit for it.
Consumers can potentially improve their credit score by factoring in their on-time cell phone, internet, cable, utility (gas, electricity, water) and streaming payments like Netflix®, HBO™, Hulu™ and Disney+™ through a free platform called *Experian Boost™.
This free tool allows consumers to connect their bank accounts or credit cards to identify positive utility and telecom payment history and add it to their Experian credit report. (Experian is one of the three main credit bureaus in the U.S.) And, according to Experian's website, average users reported a 13-point increase in their FICO® Score.
"By incorporating non-traditional data into a credit score, lenders will have a fuller, clearer picture of one's creditworthiness than what was previously available," Griffin says.
Average credit score increase
13 points, though results vary
Credit report affected
Credit scoring model used
Results will vary. See website for details.
How to sign up for Experian Boost:
- Connect the bank account(s) you use to pay your bills
- Choose and verify the positive payment data you want added to your Experian credit file
- Receive an updated FICO® Score
Learn more about eligible payments and how Experian Boost works.
3. Dispute any inaccuracies on your credit report
Lastly, Griffin suggests making a habit of reviewing your credit report regularly for any inaccurate information or signs of fraud, which hurt your credit. About a quarter of Americans have an error on their credit reports, so it happens more than you may think.
"Verify that the accounts listed on your reports are correct and are not the result of credit fraud," he says. "If you find information you believe is fraudulent, dispute it and get it corrected right away. Disputing information is free and does not hurt your credit scores."
Start by pulling your credit report for free from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion at AnnualCreditReport.com. During the pandemic, consumers can pull their credit report from each bureau for free on a weekly basis.
A credit monitoring service can keep an eye on your credit report when you aren't looking. Most will automatically alert you in real-time of any changes to your credit or potential fraud.
Select's top picks of those offering free credit monitoring alerts include the below:
- Best overall free service: CreditWise® from Capital One
- Runner-up: Discover Credit Scorecard
- Best for setting goals to boost your credit score: American Express® MyCredit Guide
- Best for identity theft insurance: Chase Credit Journey
- Best from a credit bureau: Experian free credit monitoring
*Results may vary. Some may not see improved scores or approval odds. Not all lenders use Experian credit files, and not all lenders use scores impacted by Experian Boost.