Your credit score is something you don’t think about until you really need it. Maybe it’s when you’re standing in line for the new iPhone and find out you’ll be required to pay a deposit because of poor credit. Cue sad face emoji. 😢

While it may be tempting to sign up for another store credit card to save 20 percent on your purchase, or let a bill payment slip by, remember that everything from the rates and terms you receive on loans to car insurance premiums can all be affected by your credit score.

So much depends on having good credit that it leaves many people asking, “how can I improve my score?” While there is no overnight fix, here are four of the most important steps you can take to start improving your credit score today.

Keep It Below 30

Credit utilization (or the amount you owe) is one of the biggest determining factors of your score. According to myFICO, 30 percent of your score is based on credit utilization alone, which is the ratio of your credit card balances to your credit limits. For example, if your balance is $500 and your limit is $1,000, your credit utilization for that card is 50 percent. Simply put, the lower your credit card balances, the better the score.

Experts recommend that credit utilization should be below 30 percent. So how can you ensure your credit card/lines of credit balances are under that threshold? You have three options:

1) pay your balances down and keep them low (the best option).

2) transfer balances to another credit account that’s also well below 30 percent utilization (this may not be possible if your credit accounts are with different institutions).

3) request a credit line increase.

If you opt for no. 3 (requesting a credit line increase), don’t spend your new credit. That defeats the purpose entirely. Of course, we would always advise paying down your credit cards first. And while this may take some time, a tax return or other windfall may help knock out a large portion quickly.

Bonus Tip: To help keep your utilization in check, most credit card companies offer email or texts for balances updates and alerts when your balance is nearing a pre-determined limit.

Pay Bills On Time Every Time

Payment history accounts for thirty-five percent of your credit score, so keeping accounts up-to-date is vital to improving a credit score. According to FICO, a single 30-day late payment can drop a good score (around 780) by 90 to 110 points.

Late payments have the ability to stay on your report for 7 seven years before falling off, however, the quicker your account is in good standing and regular payments resume, the less this faux pas will continue to affect your score.

Bonus Tip: Sign up for Bill Pay through your bank and schedule recurring payments to all your accounts so you never miss a due date again. Or sign up for due date reminders from issuers.

Consider Paying Twice a Month

Creditors only report balances to the credit bureaus once a month. So if you use your entire credit limit or run up big balances each month, yet still pay them off or down, it’s very likely—due to sheer timing—that your credit company is still reporting a higher balance and utilization. You can alleviate that problem by breaking up your payments twice a month to keep your balances running low and ensure more accurate reporting.

Bonus Tip: If you make a large purchase on your credit card, and have the cash on hand, pay that amount off ASAP. Try to make that a common practice for optimal results.

Check Your Credit Report for Inaccuracies

Did you know that about 1 in 5 credit reports contain errors that may negatively impact scores? All the more reason to request a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the major credit-reporting agencies: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. The good news is you have the right to dispute errors found in your report and have them removed which, in turn, can help improve your score.

Bonus Tip: Consider a credit monitoring service that can provide insight on your score, recent inquiries, and even help with identity theft protection. There are some sites offering this service free or subscription-based sites with a more comprehensive look into your credit. One of your current credit cards may also offer a certain level of monitoring for free too. Compare all your options and see what works best for you.

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