Chris Bridges, Founder and CEO, VITAL Card Inc.
A healthy credit score can open doors to many financial opportunities. Whether you’re in the market for a rewards credit card or aiming to buy a car or home, a strong credit score can take you one step closer to achieving these goals.
The fundamentals of how to maintain a good credit score include understanding what a credit score is and what factors can affect your overall credit. Even if you don’t need credit right now, it is crucial to eventually establish and cultivate good credit for your future financial growth.
What is a credit score?
In the United States, Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian are the three primary credit bureaus that collect financial information on consumers and generate credit scores based on the data. Credit card issuers and other lenders use credit scores to decide if they should extend a line of credit, such as a loan or credit card, to a consumer.
In general, a good credit score shows that a consumer is responsible with her personal finances and that creditors can trust her to pay back what she borrows.
Though multiple different types of credit scoring models exist, the most commonly used options score consumers using a number between 300 and 850. There are different tiers within this range, with scores of 579 and below considered “very poor” credit and scores of 670 and higher considered “good,” “very good,” or “exceptional” credit.
A higher score typically reflects a great credit history, which in turn allows lenders to be more confident in your ability to repay loans. This can save you money in the long run by allowing you to take advantage of favorable terms like lower interest rates and higher credit limits on loans and credit cards.
Plus, having a decent credit score can qualify you for rewards cards such as VITAL Card’s, which offer cardholders 1.5% cash back rewards on all purchases.
What are the different types of credit scores?
The most common credit scoring models are FICO and VantageScore.
There are different versions within these two scoring models, including FICO Score 9 and Bankcard Score 10, as well as VantageScore 3.0 and 4.0. In addition, FICO offers industry-specific scores designed for certain sectors, such as the auto or mortgage industry.
While each version is calculated using distinct algorithms and slightly different ranges, all of these scoring models serve the same purpose of measuring a consumer’s creditworthiness.
How can you check your credit score?
One way to check your credit score is to request your credit report from the major credit bureaus — TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian.
Every 12 months, you can obtain a free credit report from each of these credit reporting agencies online through AnnualCreditReport.com. Alternatively, you can receive your free annual credit report by mailing a form to the Annual Credit Report Request Service or calling the service’s toll-free phone number.
Another way to check your credit score is to sign up for a credit monitoring service. Many companies offer this service, and they usually charge a nominal monthly fee.
Credit monitoring services may also send you alerts if there are any changes to your credit report and provide you with regular updates on your credit score.
Lastly, certain credit card companies offer free access to check your credit score if you are a cardholder. Simply log into your credit card account to take advantage of this useful feature.
How do the credit bureaus calculate your credit score?
Credit reporting agencies consider a variety of factors when calculating credit scores. These can range from the length of your credit history to negative information such as late payments or bankruptcies.
Establishing a long history of on-time payments is important when it comes to maintaining a good credit score. Credit scoring models also take into account your credit mix, or the types of credit you carry.
As a result, having both revolving credit (such as credit cards) and installment debt (such as car loans and personal loans) can demonstrate to lenders that you’re able to manage different types of debt responsibly.
Not to mention, the amount of debt you have also affects your credit score. This includes not only the total amount of debt but also how much of your available credit you are using relative to your credit score, a ratio also known as your credit utilization.
Excessive credit inquiries can also adversely impact your score. For instance, if you apply for several new lines of credit within a short period of time, the influx of hard inquiries could cause your credit score to drop temporarily.
Note that each of the credit scoring models weighs these factors differently. Take FICO Scores as an example: The two most significant components in determining your FICO credit score are your outstanding debts and payment history, which account for approximately 65% of the calculation.
How to maintain a good credit score
A high credit score can indicate to lenders that you’re a reliable and trustworthy borrower who is likely to repay your debts on time. This can save you money in the form of lower interest rates and late payment fees.
Here are practical tips that can help you maintain a good credit score:
- Always pay bills on time: Make payments on all loan and credit card balances on or before their due date to avoid late payment fees and penalties. These can not only cost you money but also points from your credit score.
- Diversify your credit mix: A mix of credit can include installment debt, such as student loans, and revolving lines of credit, like credit cards. Having multiple types of credit can support your overall credit health.
- Maintain a low credit utilization ratio: This is a substantial factor that credit bureaus consider when calculating credit scores. As a general best practice, try to keep your credit usage below 30% of your available credit.
- Monitor your credit score: Regularly check your credit reports to find and resolve any mistakes or discrepancies, such as new accounts you do not recognize, with the credit bureaus. This could potentially help you catch and stop identity theft.
- Keep your credit history long: Lenders tend to favor borrowers with a long credit history, so keep this in mind before you decide to close an old credit card account.
- Avoid applying for too many lines of credit: Submitting a lot of applications for new credit cards or personal loans within a short window of time can temporarily affect your credit score, thanks to the proceeding hard inquiries.
- Do not max out your credit cards: When you use all of your available credit, you may appear riskier to lenders.
In addition, if you have any collection accounts, aim to pay them off as soon as possible. Collection accounts can stay on your credit report for up to seven years, even after they’re paid off.
Can you build credit if you have a limited or bad credit history?
It can be difficult and time-consuming to build credit if you have no credit history or poor credit, but it is possible. One of the most common methods is to apply for a secured credit card.
This type of credit card is backed by a cash deposit that you make up front, and your credit limit is equal to the amount of money you put down. Because the lender knows they will get their money back even if you don’t make your payments, they are generally more likely to approve you for a secured card.
You can use a secured card just like any other credit card. In addition, as long as you pay your credit card bill on time and in full each month, you can start to build up a good payment history.
Another option is to become an authorized user on someone else’s credit card account. This means that the primary account holder, which could be a parent or another relative, agrees to allow you access to their credit card account.
Ideally, the primary account holder should have good credit, pay their bills on time, and stay below 30% of their credit limit. If this is the case for the primary account holder, the authorized user can potentially increase his own credit score.
There are also specialized credit builder loans designed for people with bad or limited credit histories. These loans may have higher interest rates than conventional loans, but they can still help support your credit over time.
What are effective strategies for paying down credit card debt?
The right way for you to pay off credit card debt depends on your unique personal finances and situation. One popular strategy is the debt snowball method, which involves eliminating your smallest debts first, then working your way up to the larger ones. The idea is that by giving yourself small victories early on, you’ll stay motivated to keep paying down your debt until it’s all gone.
Another strategy is called the debt avalanche method. This is when you focus on paying off your debts with the highest interest rates first. An upside to this approach is that you may accrue less interest on your remaining debt and pay less overall.
Setting up automatic payments can also help make sure you don’t miss any due dates. Ultimately, the most effective strategy for knocking out credit card debt is the one that works for you.
The bottom line on how to maintain a good credit score
Credit scores serve as an indicator of your creditworthiness. A healthy credit score is essential for a wide variety of reasons, from getting approved for loans and mortgages to obtaining the best rates on insurance policies.
Making monthly payments in full and on time is a major way to help maintain a good credit score. This includes any credit card payments, auto loans, and other financial obligations.
After all, a single missed payment can hurt your credit score, so be diligent about your personal finances. In addition, try to keep your credit utilization low — don’t max out your credit cards or open too many lines of credit at once.
By following these simple tips, you should be able to maintain a good credit score for years to come. For more financial tips and information, check out the rest of our blog.
VITAL Card blog posts are intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered financial or any other type of advice.