Five tips to help improve your credit score

A young man uses an ATM machine.

Take action to help boost your score and keep your credit safe.

You’re in college, and you probably have some kind of credit card. Chances are you’re responsible with it, whether you’re making the monthly payments yourself or the bill is going to mom and dad.

But “credit” is so much more than the plastic card you keep in your wallet. In a nutshell, it’s borrowed money that you have to pay back. And your ability to fulfill this promise contributes to your credit history and, eventually, your credit score. Your credit score — a number that typically falls between 300 and 850 (the higher the better) — is based on a number of factors. Some of the most important factors are paying credit bills or loans on time, and your credit utilization ratio, which is how much credit you use vs. what is available to you.

Credit is so important. As you get older, a good credit score may be able to help you get a loan for a new car or approval to rent an apartment. Potential employers may even check your credit rating as a indicator of your responsibility, or if you’ll be handling finances. Here are five tips to help make sure you’re improving your score — whether you’re just getting started or have had credit for a few years.

1. Take the time to check your transactions

We’ve all seen it happen, either to us or someone we know: somehow, even if you’ve never let your card out of your sight, someone gets access to your credit card number and tries to use it. Many times, you’ll get a call or other form of notification from the card issuer, but you should still check your account activity weekly. See if your issuer offers alerts¹ for purchases above a certain dollar amount or when you are close to your credit limit, and double-check all the transactions to make sure they’re yours.

2. Check your accounts

If you signed up for a store-specific card just to get a discount a few years back, you may have forgotten or not realized that account was still open. You can get a free copy of your credit report through one of the three credit reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. It will show you your credit history with any lines of credit or credit cards you’ve had. If you see something that doesn’t appear right, like a card you don’t remember opening, dig deeper to make sure there are no problems.

3. Spend responsibly and pay your bills

This seems so simple, right? But about 65% of your credit score is determined by your payment history and the amount of debt you have in loans and on credit cards. Try not to skip payments if possible, and avoid getting close to your credit limit on your cards. It’s a good idea to keep your balance on revolving lines under 30% of your limit.

65% of your credit score is determined by your payment history and the amount of debt you have in loans and on credit cards.

4. Address any problems quickly

If you’ve had a financial emergency and find yourself in a position where you’re tight on money, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Call your credit card company and see what you can do to keep your accounts in good standing — there may be alternate payment arrangements you can make as a good faith attempt to show you’re willing to pay your debt.

5. Keep your accounts open

If you’ve had a primary credit card for a while and decide to open a new one based on a new benefit, like a higher percentage cash back offer or no annual fee, you don’t necessarily have to close the old account. Having a long history with a specific line of credit may help your credit score, as it means your total access to credit is higher. Use the old card once a year for a small purchase and pay it off that month, and you’ll keep your account active while still enjoying the benefits of your new card.

Following these simple tips could help you jump-start your credit score, which may help you now and in the future.

Put your credit knowledge to the test and learn more about building your credit on the Path to Credit.

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