The Practical Guide to Improving Credit Fast

Advertising & Editorial DisclosureLast Updated: 8/18/2022
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Last Updated: 8/18/2022

Building your credit may seem like a mountain you’ll never be able to climb, but with just a little self-discipline, you could see an improvement in your score in a relatively short amount of time.

Having a good credit score is well worth the effort, since it’ll help you secure loans, credit cards and other financial products with better rates. This means you get the luxury of paying less over the life of your loan or if you have to carry a credit card balance.

Why Should You Build Your Credit?

The average VantageScore credit score is 698, while the average FICO score is 714. Of course, these scores will vary depending on a number of factors, such as your age and the state you live in, but this gives you a general sense of where the country currently stands. Both those scores are regarded as good or average credit.

But what about those who fall on the lower end of the credit scale? Is having bad credit really that bad? Let’s investigate.

Importance of Building and Maintaining Your Credit

Having good credit is what helps you borrow money without having to pay an arm and a leg in interest. It’s how you’ll be able to buy a house, get a car loan, take on student loans. When you have poor credit, you’re paying a much higher price (literally) compared to those with higher scores.

1

You’ll get better interest rates.

Whether you’re looking to take out an auto loan, a credit card or any other type of loan, if you have a good credit score, your interest rates will likely be lower. This means you’re paying less over the life of the loan.

2

You’ll have a better chance at getting a loan.

Besides getting good interest rates, you also stand a better chance of securing a loan in the first place. If you have good credit, you’re more likely to get approved for a credit card, for example. Plus, you’ll have access to much more rewarding credit offers (like high-end or rewards credit cards, for example).

3

You’ll pay less for insurance.

Just like you’ll get lower interest rates on loans, you’ll also save on insurance if you have a good credit score. Insurance companies see you as less of a risk, so you’ll likely get better rates.

Situations Where People Can Benefit From Improved Credit

Having a good credit score can make your financial life a lot easier. You’ll have access to better credit cards, loans, mortgage options, student loans and more. Anyone who is in need of any of the things just listed should take the time to improve their credit score, but here are a few other groups that should consider improving their score:

  • This is an icon

    Anyone who wants to rent an apartment

    Most landlords check your credit report when you apply to rent an apartment. Those with poor scores are likely disqualified, especially if there are many applicants with higher scores.

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    Those with average credit scores

    When you go from average to good credit, suddenly it becomes a whole lot easier (and cheaper) to get a loan or credit card. You’ll likely score much better interest rates, meaning you’ll pay less over the life of the loan or credit line.

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    First-time home buyers

    When you buy a home, your credit score will determine the type of mortgage you qualify for and the rates you’ll pay. The better your score, the better your chances of getting the loan you really want. Before you even start shopping for homes, consider giving your credit score a boost.

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    Anyone looking to buy a new car

    Just like home buyers, car buyers will have their credit run if they’re looking to finance a new or used car. You could save thousands on a car just by having a good score.



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BAD TO GOOD — CREDIT SCORE RANGES

Credit scores range from 300-850, with poor being the lower end and excellent credit being the higher. Where you fall depends on your financial habits and simply how long you’ve had credit for.

  • Bad (300-629): Those with bad credit likely haven’t credit long enough to build up any sort of history or have delinquent accounts come up frequently.
  • Fair (630-689): Fair credit doesn’t necessarily mean poor credit, but you won’t be qualifying for any of the best rates unless you build up your score.
  • Good (690-719): Good credit comes after a few years of making on-time payments and expanding your credit profile. You’ll secure some decent rates and have access to better credit options.
  • Excellent (720-850): When you have excellent credit, you’re sure to qualify for the best the financial world has to offer. From mortgages to auto loans to credit cards, you’ll have first-pick.

Can You Really Raise Your Credit Score Quickly?

In reality, there’s no way to truly improve your score overnight, at least not drastically. At the very least it takes six months, but it can take years to build up your score to excellent.

In order to increase your score, you need to commit to building better money habits for the long-run. Pay bills on time, decrease your debt, avoid taking on more debt — all of these things need to happen in order for you to reach a good, yet alone, excellent score.

Building Your Credit Is a Marathon

Improving your credit is going to require some patience, but it’ll be worth it. Plus, many of the steps you can take don’t require too much effort on your part, just some organization and perseverance.

Depending on where you’re starting on the credit spectrum, you’ll have to put in a different amount of time. Those with poorer scores will have to develop some more patience than those on the edge of good credit.

Factors That Affect Credit Score

There are a number of factors that go into your credit score. To have a truly good or excellent score, you need to show that you’ve handled money well in the past. The credit bureaus consider the following when calculating your score:

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    Payment history

    Making on-time monthly payments on all of your bills is one of the number one things that will help your credit score. If you don’t pay your bills on time, lenders have no reason to believe that you're trustworthy with their money.

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    Length of credit

    The longer you’ve been working on your credit the better. Those who have been taking on credit for years and regularly paying back loans and making credit card payments have proven to be responsible borrowers.

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    Accrued debt

    While having a diverse catalog of debt isn’t always bad, when you have too many maxed-out credit cards, a mortgage, student loan payments and a hefty car bill, your score is going to suffer. Again, lenders start to get worried when they see that you have too many other loans, it can make it seem like you’re not entirely responsible with your money.

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    Varying credit types

    Believe it or not, lenders want to see that you’re comfortable handling multiple types of credit. If you have just student loans, your score may not be as high as someone who also regularly pays their credit cards, mortgage and auto loan on time.

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    Number of credit inquiries

    If you’ve taken out a ton of debt all within a short span of time, this alerts the credit bureaus to the fact that you're in need of a lot of money you may not have the means to pay back.

How Long Will It Take to Improve Your Credit?

Typically, if you have no credit, it’ll take you about six months of using credit responsibly to build a score. This can mean getting a secured credit and paying off your balance in full. It can mean regularly paying your student loan on time. It can mean taking out an auto loan and making your monthly payments on-time.

The six months number comes from the fact FICO requires you to have at least one credit account open for six months before your score registers with the credit agencies.

Recovering From Poor to Fair Credit

Raising your poor score won’t happen overnight, but you can get to fair or good credit within a year if you make a few financial moves, including:

  • Making your payments on time
  • Don’t apply for more credit
  • Don’t keep racking up debt
  • Events
    Recovery Time
  • Bankruptcy
    If you’re starting with a score in the 500s, it’ll likely take you about a year to start seeing a change in your report, as long as you’re not taking on any more debt and/or ignoring payments. If you’re closer to the 300s, it could take a year to two years to see a change.
  • Not paying your bills on time
    If you fail to make payments, whether with your utility companies, your credit card companies, your mortgage lender, etc., you’ll see your score take a dip. Once those get sent to collections, that derogatory mark stays on your credit report for up to seven years.
  • Defaulting on loans
    If you fail to pay your loans back, you will see a serious effect on your credit. Those delinquent accounts will also stay on your report for seven or more years.
  • Credit card debt
    Having a lot of credit card debt not only wreaks havoc on your day-to-day financial life, but it has a serious effect on your credit score. When you have a ton of debt you’re more likely to miss payments and it signals to the credit bureaus that you’re already in over your head.
  • Closing credit cards
    Your first instinct after overcoming credit card debt may be to cancel the credit cards that got you there in the first place. By doing that, though, you’re eliminating your total available credit, which can raise your debt-utilization-ratio (DTI). Having a high DTI can lower your score.
An illustrative image of a man using a binoculars and climbing stairs of credit score.

​​Do Credit-Building Shortcuts Work?

There are no real shortcuts to building or repairing your credit. Being responsible with your money over time is the key to getting your score to a better place.

That being said, there are a few reputable companies that can help you boost your score by a couple of points. That’s perfect for those who are on the edge of fair or good credit. In addition, there are agencies and programs you can check out that, for the right person, can help you learn how to improve your score.

Using App Boosts

Mobile phone apps such as Experian Boost and Self offer two very different ways to quickly jump your score by a couple of points. And with some boost options being free, they’re well worth checking out.

  • App Boost
    Cost
    Benefits
  • Free

    Simply connect the bank account
    you pay your bills through,
    verify your positive payment
    history and you could
    see an instant boost to your
    credit score.

  • $25-$150 depending on the
    plan you choose

    Credit builder loans offered to
    help you quickly and easily
    build credit. Plus, get access
    to the Self Visa® Credit
    Card, a credit-building
    credit card.

  • In the pilot phase — sign up to
    be one of the first to try it

    If you’re a responsible banker,
    connect your savings, checking
    or MMA account and UltraFICO™
    can increase your score by
    proving a trustworthy banking
    history.

Credit Repair Agencies

Credit repair agencies won’t be the magic answer to jumping your score by 200 points, but they can help raise your score some. These companies help you sort through your credit report and find errors. They’ll then dispute any errors with the credit bureaus on your behalf.

As far as cost goes, legitimate credit repair agencies may charge anywhere between $50-$150 per month and also typically tack on a startup fee. Considering you’ll likely work with them for a few months, you could end up paying quite a bit.

You may be better off taking your own steps to improve your credit first. You can dispute the costs yourself, you can monitor your credit and pay down debt. These few things alone can better your score.

An illustrative image of a scammer.

Avoiding Credit Repair Scam

While there are many legitimate credit repair companies, there are even more scams out there. Companies will promise “new credit identities” when they call and make it seem like they’re the answer to all your credit score problems, but they’re really there to steal your personal information such as your Social Security number (SSN).

Let’s run through a few do’s and don’ts that can help you make sure you don’t fall for one of these scams.

Do's & Don'ts to Help You Prevent Scams

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Do‘s
  • Ask about your legal rights. If a credit repair company is legit, they’ll happily explain the whole credit repair process and your rights within that process.
  • Report suspected fraud. If there’s anything fishy about the people that contact you, report it to your state’s Attorney General and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
  • Hang up if you’re not comfortable. If at any time the person claiming to be a credit repair agency seems angry or keeps pressuring you to make certain moves with your money, listen to your gut and hang up.
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Don’ts
  • Do not pay any money in advance. Credit repair companies are only legally allowed to collect money from you after they have helped you repair your credit.
  • Blindly dispute something on your report you know is correct. Some of these scammers will try to get you to incorrectly dispute items on your report. This can cause a huge issue with the credit bureaus if you lie.
  • Give any false info on a loan application. If the scammer asks you to take out a loan or credit card and add false information to those applications, never do it. It’s a crime on your part, and no reputable financial company would ever ask you to do this.

Ways to Build Your Score Faster

Improving your credit score takes some planning. You’ll want to keep a close eye on your score while you start paying down debt and getting your finances in order.

Let’s review some of the key money moves you can make in order to build your score relatively quickly.

Try a Balance Transfer or Secured Credit Card

While it may sound counterintuitive to get a credit card when you have bad credit, it is a way for you to build your score. If you’re new to credit, a secured credit card is the right choice. Many companies don’t require a high score to get these cards because you’ll end up putting down a deposit equal to your credit line. This means the credit card company isn’t on the hook if you don’t pay, you are, because they’ll just use your deposit to pay your bill.

On the other hand, if you’re trying to get out of debt, a balance transfer credit card may be the way to go. You can transfer your balances from other credit cards or loans onto one 0% APR credit card and have anywhere between 12-18 months to pay off the balance in full before you start accruing interest.

Monitor Your Credit Score

Monitoring your credit score is the only way to keep up to date with how your score is doing. Most credit monitoring services are completely free, some are even attached to your credit card.

As you monitor your score, you can see how little financial changes can make a big difference. Plus, you’ll be able to see any big dips that might signal an error or fraud on your report.

Make a Plan to Pay Off Your Debt

If you paid off all your debt tomorrow, your score would take a huge jump up. But that’s probably not going to happen unless you win the lottery or suddenly come into an inheritance. If you make a plan now and start paying off your debts one by one, you’ll see your score steadily increase.

Consider either the debt avalanche or snowball method. With the avalanche method you’re tackling debts with the highest interest rates first, but with the snowball method you start with the lowest balance debt and work your way up.

Don’t Cancel Your Credit Cards, Freeze Them Instead

Canceling your credit cards can actually hurt your score because the entire credit limit you just had now drops off your report, so you have less available credit in your name. The credit bureaus don’t hate it if you have multiple lines of credit open, they just don’t like it when you’ve maxed out all of those lines of credit.

If you’re canceling your card in order to prevent yourself from spending more on it, you can simply freeze or lock your card instead. This will ensure you can’t spend more.

Look for Any Errors on Your Report

Disputing errors on your report can help improve your credit immediately. Once you can get any derogatory marks off your report that shouldn’t be there, you can get a more realistic picture of why your score is what it is. You can also request a copy of your full report once a year from annualcreditreport.com

An illustrative image of a skyrocketing credit score.

Journey to Great Credit: Real Examples of Repairing Bad Credit

We talked with a few experts in the financial industry that have repaired their own credit. They shared their insight and experience to help folks in similar situations find a way out.

  1. What was the hardest part?
  2. Do you have any advice for folks in a similar situation?
Kamyar K. Shah
Kamyar K. Shah

CEO at World Consulting Group

Mitchel Harad
Mitchel Harad

Financial Analyst at Overdraft Apps

Expert Insight on Improving Credit Fast

MoneyGeek spoke with a few industry professionals on how to improve your score quickly. Plus, we discussed what causes the most damage to your score.

  1. What is the "fastest" way to raise your credit score?
  2. What financial move can be the worst for your credit score?
Lyle David Solomon
Lyle David Solomon

Principal Attorney at the Oak View Law Group

Matthew L. Alden
Matthew L. Alden

Bankruptcy and Debt Relief Attorney at Luftman, Heck & Associates LLP

Kate Hao
Kate Hao

Founder and CEO of Happy Mango Credit

Resources

There are a number of different resources available to help you build your credit score. Even if you’re starting from the lowest score possible (300), using some of these tools can help you understand how to dig yourself out of a bad credit hole or better manage your finances.

  • CreditRepair.com: With over nine years experience helping send over 23+ million disputes to credit bureaus, CreditRepair.com is a reputable company that has helped 830,000 people increase their scores an average 40 points.
  • Credit Score Simulator: When you use TransUnion’s credit monitoring service, you’ll get access to their credit score simulator, an invaluable tool that can help you understand how certain money moves (buying a house, paying off debt, etc.) will affect your score.
  • Free credit score estimator: myFICO offers this free tool to help you understand what your credit score is. They’ll also suggest recommendations for products that can help you boost your score.
  • Improving Credit While Experiencing Poverty: For those living in low-income households or experiencing poverty or homelessness, a good credit score may not be as easy to achieve. Learn how to get out of debt, build credit and set savings goals.
  • InCharge Debt Solutions: InCharge is another nonprofit that focuses on debt counseling and education. Besides credit repair solutions, they also offer housing counseling and offer regular free courses to help folks understand their credit situation.
  • National Credit Educational Services: The NCES is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people repair their credit. They offer credit counseling, credit education and more.
  • Types of Debt: Understand more about debt, including the various types and how to better manage it, can ultimately help you pay it off.

About the Author


Christopher Murray is a professional personal finance and sustainability writer who enjoys writing about everything from budgeting to unique investing options like SRI and cryptocurrency. He also focuses on how sustainability is the best savings tool around. He has a bachelor's degree in both English literature and gender studies. You can find his work on sites like MoneyGeek, Money Under 30 and ChooseFI.


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