How to Get a Handle on your Credit Score

By: Jon Arnold

The experts tell us that from an economic standpoint, things are pretty good right now. If you look at mortgage rates, they are not the best they have ever been but they are affordable for most. Car loans can be had that are aggressive, and personal loans are available everywhere and are genuinely competitive.

But what about those with bad credit, are times still good? If you don't have good or excellent credit but fall into the category of having "ok" credit or perhaps really BAD credit, would you say times are still good?

It depends who you ask. If you ask the average consumer with poor credit, the response would probably be told that times are not all that good. But if you ask the savvy consumer with "ok" or bad credit who understands how loan rates are determined and approved, you would be surprised to find out they would agree that times are indeed pretty good.

The big difference is knowledge, where knowledge is king. Knowing how the credit scoring game is played and how to rack up points in it are a major advantage, as well as knowledge of what items can cause a decrease in credit scoring points.

If you have a bad credit score, there are things you can do. Or more correctly phrased, there are things you need to be doing, starting today, because you do not want to keep the label of a person with "bad credit". Find out what it is that puts you in that category, and then get it changed. Despite what some companies say, your credit score does not change overnight, but if you start showing a track record of on time payments for all your financial obligations, as well as taking other steps to improve your credit score, it will make a huge difference.

The place to start is with your credit reports. Yes, that is plural because you have three totally separate and distinct credit reports, one from each of the big three credit reporting agencies. These companies do not share information, so they each have a different view of you from a credit perspective. The thing you will very likely discover when you are going over your credit reports is that they contain errors. One of your creditors is reporting late payments, another is still reporting a loan you paid off years ago, and much more. These errors will be reported for years to come if you do not dispute the errors with the credit bureaus. Once you dispute an item, it is their legal responsibility to investigate the error with the creditor, and if it cannot be proven, it needs to be removed from your credit report. Many consumers find that their credit score can jump to the next level by just getting errors corrected in their credit reports.

Next, negotiate with your credit card issuers. If you have been a long time customer of theirs and they are still charging you 22% interest or more, then ask for a reduction in interest. If they decline, show them how much you appreciate them by closing that account. It's a competitive industry and there is no sense in allowing them to make money off you by the truckload with their high interest rates.

If you have several accounts with the same issuer, ask if you can consolidate your accounts into just one or two cards, perhaps combining the credit limits to give you a decent credit limit on one or two cards. If they won't do that, then close some of those accounts.

For the accounts you have open, try to keep your outstanding balance under approximately 30-35% of your credit limit. More than that raises red flags with credit issuers, and less than that indicates you don't use the account enough for it to be a real indication of your credit.

First and foremost, make each and every payment on time, paying more than the minimum amount when you can.

Just these simple steps can raise your credit score by an appreciable amount, and you haven't taken on any more debt to do this! Keep your credit clean and treat it with the respect that it deserves so that you can reap the benefits of having excellent credit.

Credit Matters
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