4 Simple Steps to Improve Your Credit Score

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Cell phone app showing a person's credit score
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FICO score, VantageScore, scores, scores, scores.

You may already know that credit scores come in many different forms and flavors. And you've probably heard that having a good credit score is important. But did you know there are some surefire moves to getting a good score or improving one … regardless of who is doing the scoring or which scoring methodology is being used?

It's not rocket science, but simple doesn't necessarily mean it's easy. Here they are: Four simple steps to a better credit score.

  1. Be in the Game. To improve your credit score, you have to actually have one. This typically starts with getting a credit card or a loan from an institution that will report it to the credit bureaus. It might begin as being an authorized user on your parents' card or with an easier-to-acquire store card. For credit newbies, a secured credit card also could be a good way to get in the game.
  2. Be on Time. Your credit score is designed to inform potential lenders how risky it might be to lend you money. Will you pay them back or just take the money and run? Because of this, you'll want your payment history to be impeccable, no matter which scoring model is being used. Never, never, ever be late with your payments. Be on time every time ... and better yet, pay early.
  3. Be Debt-Averse. Did you know you can demonstrate creditworthiness by demonstrating restraint? Backward though it may seem, if you use too much of the credit extended to you at any point in time, you'll hurt your score rather than help it. So don't carry balances on credit cards or lines of credit and, if you do, keep the balance to less than 20% of what's available. You have to be in the game, but not up to your ears.
  4. Be Patient. Credit history includes the word history for a reason. Potential lenders want to know that you'll be a good borrower in good times and bad, and building or rebuilding that image of reliability takes time. Who cares if you're a good borrower for a month? But a few years or a decade? That's a bigger deal.

If you'd like to explore the fine print on how credit scoring works, check out the information available on the FICO and/or VantageScore websites and in the USAA advice center. But if details aren't your thing, faithfully executing these tips should have you headed in the right direction.

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