There are two key terms to know about the world of credit: credit reports and credit scores.
Your credit report is a compilation of your credit lines and payment history.
In other words, it’s an all-encompassing assessment of your financial life. The three major credit reporting bureaus — Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax — are responsible for compiling these official reports.
Your credit score, on the other hand, is a simplified version of your larger credit report. It’s a three-digit number that lenders may use to determine your eligibility for credit products.
FICO® scores range from 300 to 850, with scores under 580 receiving a “*Poor*” rating that “*demonstrates to lenders that the borrower may be a risk.*”
Conversely, FICO® scores over 670 are considered to be “Good,” and therefore “most lenders consider this a good score.”
Your credit score is derived from five key factors:
- Your payment history, or how consistently you make payments on or before their due date. This accounts for 35% of your score.
- Your credit utilization ratio, or how much money you owe compared to your total credit limits. This accounts for 30% of your score.
- Your length of credit history, or the average age of all your accounts. This accounts for 15% of your score.
- Your credit mix, or how many credit products you’re using (i.e. auto loans and mortgages). This accounts for 10% of your score.
- Your use of new credit, or how much new credit you’ve applied for recently. This accounts for 10% of your score.
Though credit scores may seem complicated, they’re ultimately bound by a simple truth: paying bills on time and limiting credit utilization are essential to building strong credit.
So… How Long Does it Take?
The honest answer is, it depends.
As seen above, there are numerous variables at play like your current score, your outstanding debt balance, and your payment history.
And while it takes months (and even years) of healthy habits to build credit, it only takes a few missteps to harm it.
According to FICO®, it can take up to three years for your score to fully recover from one 30-day late payment. For 90-day late payments, it can take even longer.
Events like bankruptcies can stay on your credit report for up to ten years.
But here’s the good news: even in the event of bankruptcy, you can still begin improving your credit score in twelve months to two years.
You simply need the right habits — repeatable habits — to get back on track.
Note: New to credit? Don’t worry.
Once you open an account — whether through a credit card or a personal loan — try to make payments on time and wait a few months. According to Experian, you will need to have an open and active account for three to six months before your credit score will be calculated.
4 Ways to Improve Your Credit
If you’re reading this, then chances are you want to do more than wait.
You understand that building credit takes time, but you also want to get actively engaged with the process.
To help you get started — whether you’re new to credit or want to raise your score — consider implementing these four quick tips:
First, get a (free) copy of your credit report:
Federal law entitles every American to one free credit report from each of the three bureaus — every 12 months . And while we’re still in the pandemic, they can receive a free credit report every week from the three major credit bureaus.
Knowledge is power, and you deserve to know what’s on your credit report, especially if it’s inaccurate.
Unfortunately, more than one-third of Americans found at least one error on their credit report. Such mistakes can negatively affect your credit score and must be fixed as soon as possible.
Go to AnnualCreditReport.com to request a free credit report today.
Pay your bills on time (every time):
Though we probably sound like a broken record, it bears repeating: pay your bills on time.
This is one of the most important things you can do to preserve your financial health and protect your credit score.
Struggling with timely payments? Aim to automate the process so you never have to worry about it again.
Lower your credit utilization ratio to 30% or less:
Financial experts encourage consumers to borrow no more than 30% of their total available credit limit.
For example, if you have $1,000 in available credit, try not to use more than $300 of it.
Note: your credit utilization ratio encompasses all of your current accounts. So if you have a total of $5,000 in credit across multiple cards, limit expenses to $1,500 to stay at the 30% threshold.
You Can Do This!
Building credit takes time, and building good credit takes even longer.
Rather than rush to the finish line, keep your eye on the horizon, stick to your plan, and enjoy the ride to stronger credit.
You’ll reach the promised land before you know it.
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