When I first started house hunting at 25, I knew my credit score was too low for a mortgage. A year earlier, I’d barely been able to snag a loan for my car. Instead of giving up, I dug into my credit score using Credit Karma.
I discovered errors in my credit, like a bill in collections from a doctor whose services I hadn’t scheduled or received. Multiple accounts were missing from my report. Using a tool on the Credit Karma website, I reported the errors to TransUnion and Equifax. I paid down my balances as much as I could on my miniscule teacher’s salary.
While this credit makeover may sound too good to be true, these experts agree with me. And since then, I’ve even discovered even more hacks to raise my credit score. Follow our tips if you’re looking to improve your credit score in less than 30 days:
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Improve your credit utilization
Your utilization rate is the percentage of credit you’re using out of the total amount creditors have offered. Utilization makes up about one-third of your credit score, so if you’re looking to fix your credit, utilization is the place to start.
“When working with clients who are looking to get a mortgage, but their credit score is negatively affecting their options, the first thing I suggest is to pay down any credit cards with balances close to the limit,” says Lesley Tenaglia, mortgage agent for Lesley’s Mortgages. A good utilization rate is generally recommended to be less than 30 percent—though lower is aways better.
If you can’t pay down your accounts very much, but you have a good payment history, consider asking for a credit limit increase.
“Call your credit card company and see if you’re eligible for a credit line increase,” says Lauren Anastasio, associate financial planner at SoFi. “Many lenders will make this decision based on your payment history and not your current balance, and typically will not conduct any type of credit inquiry. When carrying a balance, increasing your credit line helps reduce your utilization rate.”
If you have more than a month to raise your credit score, consider opening a new account.
“If you open new credit cards with higher credit limits, but keep your credit usage very low, your overall credit score will increase,” says Lou Havery, a CFA with Financial Analyst Insider. “Your score will take a small hit with the new card, but will end up increasing over the next six months.”
Remove errors in your score
Even though it may seem like credit bureaus will double check your records, it’s likely you have errors in your credit score if you don’t keep tabs on it often.
“If there are errors, I encourage my client to get them removed ASAP to improve the score,” says Tenaglia. “Your credit is not a passive element in your life. You must maintain a good history and continue to monitor it monthly to ensure correct reporting and no fraudulent activity.
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Become an authorized user
If you need a big credit score boost quickly, becoming an authorized user may be your best option. However, you’ll need to have someone close enough to you that they’ll trust you with their own credit.
“Becoming an authorized user allows you to piggyback on the main cardholder’s credit limit and timely payments,” states Priyanka Prakash, a lending and credit expert at Fundera. You’ll get an immediate boost to your credit score of 30 to 100 points simply as a result of having more credit available to you, reducing your overall credit utilization.
This is a great option for people who are starting with a very thin credit history. Just one 30-day credit cycle is enough to improve your credit score. Just be sure to choose the main cardholder wisely. If the main cardholder falls behind on payments, that can hurt your credit score.
Don’t Close Your Accounts
Whatever you do, don’t close your accounts—even the ones you aren’t using.
“If you’ve had a card for a long time and don’t use it anymore, consider keeping it open if there’s no annual fee,” says Anastasio. “Closing cards can increase your utilization rate by lowering your overall available credit as well as shorten your average length of credit history, another component of your credit score.”
Additionally, don’t be too quick to pay off your loans—an old debt gives you a longer credit history. Not fun fact: Paying off your student loans can actually end up lowering your score (for a bit) because it usually erases your longest open installment account.
If you’re in over your head…
Seek professional help. No, really!
“The best hack I know for raising your credit score is the same hack you should do if you’ve tried all the diet fads and have failed,” says Howard Dvorkin, certified public accountant and chairman of Debt.com. “Get professional help. For your finances, that’s actually cheaper than consulting a diet expert. That’s because there’s something called ‘credit counseling.’ You can get a free debt analysis from a nonprofit credit counseling agency. They might recommend something called a ‘debt management program,’ in which the nonprofit partners with your creditors and they work out a repayment plan that can cut your monthly payments by up to 30 or even 50 percent.”
Don’t fix it and forget it
After you rehab your credit, it’s tempting to put it aside. But ultimately, the best way to maintain a high credit score is to keep tabs on your credit score on a monthly basis.
“You can’t speed your way to good credit,” says Michael Cetera, a credit analyst for FitSmallBusiness.com. “The best way to improve your credit is to be a responsible card user over time. This means paying your bills on time every month and keeping your balances low relative to how much credit you have available to you.”