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How to Find Out Your Credit Score and Improve It

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Your credit score is that all-important number that indicates your creditworthiness to potential lenders. It is used almost every time you need to make a major financial decision, from renting or buying a home to taking out a car loan. The higher your credit score, the more you are viewed as someone lenders want to loan money to. And these days, your credit score can have an impact beyond your finances - there’s even a dating service that brings people with good credit together!

So... do you know your credit score? If you don’t know it yet, don’t worry - it’s easy to find out. Just keep reading to learn how (and some tips on how to improve your score):

How to Find Your Credit Score For Free

In the "old days" it was hard to find out your credit score without paying for it. However, now there are ways to get this information online without paying. You can first start by getting your credit report, which contains all the information that the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) use to calculate your credit score. By law, American consumers can receive a free credit report every 12 months. The centralized website for this service is AnnualCreditReport.com.

Once you get your credit report and look it over, then you can get your credit score. There are a few websites, including CreditKarma.com and Credit.com, that give you your credit score for free. There are other sites that offer credit scores, but before using them make sure there is no requirement that you sign up for any paid service.

When you get your score, you should understand how these scores are created. The three major credit bureaus that do credit score calculations may each have a slightly different score for you, based on the information and credit history that they have compiled. In most cases, though, the scores should be similar.

Understand What Factors Are Involved With Your Credit Score

If you want to raise your credit score, you’ll need to know what goes into calculating that magic number. According to FICO, the five factors involved are: payment history (35%), amounts owed (30%), length of credit history (15%), type of credit used (10%), and amount of new credit opened (10%). Obviously, the two most important factors are payment history and amounts owed, so in order to raise your credit score, concentrate on improving those two factors:

Tip #1: Avoid late payments and collections  

The most important thing you can do to raise your credit score is to avoid being late with your payments. It’s that simple. Even one late payment can hurt your credit score. So do whatever you need to make it easier on yourself to pay your bills on time.

Set up online or automatic bill payments so you don’t have to go through the hassle of writing out checks and hunting for stamps. Make it a habit to pay off your bills once a month, particularly the all-important credit card bill. Being late on that bill will result in both exorbitant fees and a negative impact on your credit score.

For other types of debt (like medical debt) it’s still important to pay on time. If you don’t have the money to pay off a bill all at once, request setting up a payment plan. For example, health care providers are usually open to setting up payment plans. Just ask. You might be surprised at how willing they are to help, and it’ll take the pressure off to make a large payment.

Tip #2: Raise Your Total Credit Card Limit

About a year and a half ago, I opened a new credit card with a fairly low credit limit. After a few months of steadily paying off the balance, my bank gave me the option of raising the limit by another $1000. This higher limit contributed to boosting my credit score since I was now utilizing a much small percentage of my available credit (which makes up a big part of your score).

While you can wait for your credit card company to make an offer to increase your limit, you can also take the initiative by asking. The worst they can say is no. If you have already established a history of on time payments with your credit card company, you’ll be in a much better position to ask.

Tip #3: Make Sure There Are No Errors on Your Report

It’s also a good idea to look through your report carefully to make sure there are no errors. Every once in awhile, one of the credit bureaus will have something inaccurate on your report and in that case you’ll need to fix it or else you’ll risk having a lower credit score due to that bad info. How do you fix it? Well, you need to contact the credit bureaus and/or your lenders to clear up the confusion. This guide to do-it-yourself credit repair can help you get started.

With these tips, you can take charge of one of the most significant aspects of your financial health.

Related Topics

Personal Finances

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Contributor

Fiona Lee is a personal finance writer for ReadyForZero, a website that helps people get out of debt faster on their own. She is a frugalista who loves discovering new ways to save money, especially in expensive cities. After living in New York and Beijing, she now makes her home in San Francisco. You can follow @ReadyForZero and @moderntime on Twitter.

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