A little over a year ago (a year and three days, to be exact) I graduated undergrad from my amazing Alma Mater and began the tumultuous but amazingly liberating journey that is adulting! I felt like I was on top of the world, like I could do anything and be anything that I wanted to be — and while that was true, to an extent, I got a pretty rude awakening after I had worked for a few months and financial reality set in. And one thing that I seriously struggled with was my credit score. It was never bad, per se, at least not in general terms! But I had no clue how on earth to make it go in the direction I wanted. If you had asked me then how to master your credit score, I probably would have laughed.
But after some careful (albeit recent) research, as well as some diligent time taken to observe how my spending affected it, I feel like I’ve finally gotten a handle on my credit score! So the real question is, are you ready to master your credit score? Let’s get crackin’!
Master Your Credit Score with These No-BS Tips
Check your credit score regularly.
You can’t exactly master your credit score if you don’t know what your credit score actually is, can you? That’s why the first step is ensuring that you’re always in the know in regards to your credit so you can easily make course corrections if you need to!
Now, there are three major credit bureaus from which you can get your credit report: Transunion, Experian, and Equifax. You can access your credit score on each of these websites for free once every 12 months! My recommendation? Get into the habit of checking your official credit score once every four months, cycling through each credit bureau as you go. Each one scores things a bit differently, so it’s important to look at all three to get the full picture! You can order it online through annualcreditreport.com, which, according to the Federal Trade Commission, is the only authorized website for free credit reports.
In reality, your credit score updates 1-2 times a month, sometimes as often as once every two weeks. But it’s not exactly feasible to request an official report that often, not only because it will cost you money, but also because checking your official credit reports too often can negatively impact your credit score.
The good news is that there are budgeting apps that can help you out in this regard! Most banking and credit card apps will show you what’s called your FICO Score, which is free to check and won’t affect your credit score by checking it. Your FICO score is based on a soft pull of your Experian credit report and will update monthly. Other budgeting apps, such as Mint (which is what I use!) will also do soft pulls of your credit report from other credit bureaus. Mint, for instance, updates every two weeks and is based on a soft pull of your Transunion credit report.
Staying on top of your credit reports is absolutely the best way to master your credit score and empower you to make better, more informed choices about your credit. So if you haven’t already started checking your credit score, I’d suggest getting into that habit now!Leaving yourself in the dark in regards to your #creditscore is the best way to screw up. Make sure to check your credit regularly so that you can catch bad trends before they make a huge impact! #finances Click To Tweet
Make your minimum payments on time.
Come y’all, this is an obvious way you can help yourself master your credit score. Actually make your payments! On time or early, every month! How hard can it be? But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s break down what comprises your credit card payments and statements.
So you have what’s called a statement period, which is the period of time that your credit card company will look at to generate how much money you owe them. Every company has a different time frame, so make sure to check yours! The amount of money that you spend during your statement period will then comprise your statement balance which your credit card company will issue to you at the end of your statement period along with a due date. If you pay off your statement balance in full by that due date, you’re good to go!
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But sometime, we can’t afford to pay off our entire statement balance by the due date. That’s okay! Because your credit card company will also issue you your minimum required payment. What does this mean? Basically, so long as you complete your minimum by the due date, your credit score won’t be negatively affected. Overtime, your credit score will go up so long as you pay the minimum on time every month!
Any balance that you leave on your card by the time the due date passes will generate interest, which the credit card company charges to your card as a fee for lending you money. The more of a balance you leave on your card, the more interest you generate each month, so be careful!
While it may seem really daunting to pay off your balance each month, don’t get tempted forgo payments altogether! Even if you’re having a hard month! Put in that extra effort to always make your minimum payment by the due date so that you don’t negatively affect your credit score. Here’s a great tip: so long as you put in the effort to pay off a bit of your credit card statement with each paycheck, you’ll never miss your due date and you’ll master your credit score in no time!
Keep a high credit limit and low credit utilization.
Now, you may not know what those mean, but that’s okay! I got you! Basically, your credit limit is your spending power. It’s the amount of money that your credit card companies trust you to pay back to them, and the higher the number, the more trusted you are! While each individual card has a different credit limit, your credit score looks at your credit limit as a whole. Meaning your total combined spending power across all your cards!
Having a high credit limit isn’t enough, though. Your credit score wants to see that companies trust you enough to lend you large amounts of money, but that by the end of each month, you’re not using a ton of it. That’s where your credit utilization comes in. Basically, it’s the percentage of your credit limit that appears in your monthly statements!
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Now, when I got my first credit card, I had no idea that credit limits worked like that. I thought I would keep myself safe from debt if I only allowed myself to have a credit limit equivalent to what I made in a month on my measly RA stipend. Yeah, I definitely had no clue how to master my credit score then!
Moral of the story? Either keep your spending to a minimum each month or ensure that you have a good amount of credit limit under your belt! And if you realize that you need a higher credit limit than you have? Call your credit card company and ask them to raise it, but be wary of hard credit checks! Not sure what those are? See below!Opting for a lower credit limit could trap you with a lower #creditscore because of your utilization. Make sure you don't use a high percentage of your credit each month, or have your credit limit raised! #finances Click To Tweet
Start your credit accounts early to keep the average age of your accounts older.
The first step to master your credit score is starting your credit accounts early. I know this may sound counter-intuitive, but in reality, the best time to open a credit card is when you’re not strapped for cash. The longer that you’ve had your accounts, the more time you’ve had to prove that companies can trust you to make your payments on time!
Your credit score takes into account the average age of your credit history with each credit company. In fact, it’s one of the strongest factors to consider if you want to master your credit score. The longer the relationship that you can stand on, the better! But this also means that you can seriously hurt yourself if you open too many new lines of credit at once, which brings down the average age of your accounts.
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I’ll be frank, you’ll have the hardest time improving this aspect of your credit score if you don’t start early. The only thing that can improve the average age of your accounts is, obviously, time. And we can’t speed that up any more than we can travel to the past!
But another thing to consider is not closing any of your credit accounts, especially the older ones that you own. Even if you never use a credit card anymore, even if you finished financing your mattress this month, make sure to keep that card open. Not only will it contribute to the average age of your accounts in the long run, which will go a long way towards helping you master your credit score, but it will also give your credit limit a good boost!
Gradually diversify the types of credit you hold.
Creditors like to see that you have a good mix of different types of credit. While having one credit card is great, especially if that’s all you need, it doesn’t necessarily help you master your credit score at all. The wider variety of credit you have, the better.
And I’m not just talking different types of credit cards, either. Sure, having an everyday cash back card, a travel card, and a financing card looks good, depending on the age of the accounts. But you should also have a good mix of loans thrown in there, too. No worries, though! I know the word “loans” sounds scary, especially to those of us who have just started to get familiar with credit. But there are plenty of different types of loans that you probably have, or might have soon, that can help you.
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For instance, if you’ve thought about possibly financing or leasing a car in the near future, guess what? That’s considered a loan in terms of your credit score, since your dealership will generally help you apply through an outside company to qualify. And if you’ve garnered some student loans from the time you were in school? Yup, those count too!
This focus on diversity in types of credit is why you should always look into taking a financing option for a big purchase, like a car or a condo, instead of paying for it outright, even if you have the money to pay for it now. The more accounts that you have, the better your credit will look. But not so fast! Don’t go opening a ton of accounts all at once. While the number of accounts you have plays a role, the average age of your accounts weighs way heavier on your credit score!Even if you can afford to buy something outright, financing is a great way to master your credit score and can help you get a better interest rate for a bigger investment (like a house) in the future! #financiallylit Click To Tweet
Don’t have too many hard credit checks at once.
Occasionally, in order to determine if you qualify for a specific type of credit account, a company will run what’s called a hard credit check on you. This means they reach out to one of the major credit bureaus, with your permission, and request access to your credit report to determine whether you meet their minimum requirements. Now, this in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if they approve you! But what you want to avoid is having too many hard credit checks at once.
Hard credit checks work similar to points on your license: once you get one, it won’t leave your credit report for two years. While the number of hard checks on your credit doesn’t weigh very highly on your credit score, it’s still something to take into consideration.
Now, a company may ask to do a hard credit check on your account in any number of instances. In order to your master your credit score you need to specifically ask them if they’ll require a hard credit check in order to complete any of your requests. For instance, if you’ve raised your credit limit within the past four months and you would like them to raise it again, that’s something that could require a hard check, and it will be up to you to authorize them to do that! A company might also ask to do a hard credit check if you want to transfer your credit card type from a “secured” card — one with a lower interest rate and low credit limit specifically designed to help you build credit, like a college cash back card — to a different card without such restrictions.
Overall, the most important rule is to remember is that you need to be smart when working with credit companies to master your credit score. If your request will require a hard credit check, ask what you can do to avoid it, and consider holding off until you’re sure you need what you ask for!
What tips do you follow to help you master your credit score? Let me know in the comments below!