So you’re not too proud of your credit — join the club. More people would rather reveal their weight than their credit score, according to a 2014 poll by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
But credit scores aren’t fixed, so there’s always an opportunity to build yours. The time it takes to move your “fair” credit to “good” depends on how low your score is and what steps you take.
‘Fair credit’ vs. ‘good credit’: Why it matters
A fair FICO score (or VantageScore, its main competitor) is 630-689, and a good credit score is 690-719. However, these ranges aren’t absolute. Every issuer or lender can determine what credit scores it deems acceptable for a given loan or credit card.
If you have so-so credit, you aren’t doomed; there are credit cards for fair credit that will still give you rewards and sign-up bonuses. But if you boost your credit above 690, you will be eligible for a much wider range of rewards, balance-transfer, cash-back and low-interest cards.
Start by checking your credit score; several credit card issuers and many personal finance websites, like NerdWallet, offer free credit scores.
Then find out what’s holding your score down. Check your credit report information via NerdWallet, or you can request a free report once a year from each of the three major credit bureaus — TransUnion, Experian and Equifax.
How to build your credit
A quick way to build your credit is to find an error in your credit report and dispute it. Once the reporting agency corrects it, you could see improvement within a month or two.
Unfortunately, other factors that may be weighing down your credit score can take much longer to remove.
Inquiries, or requests from lenders to examine your credit, stay on your report for two years.
While you wait for those negative marks to disappear from your report, take these basic steps to ensure your credit score doesn’t slide any further:
- Pay off any outstanding credit card debt ASAP. When possible, pay more than your minimum payments to erase the debt faster.
- Automate your credit card payments. This will prevent you from forgetting another payment.
- Charge less to your credit card. It’s harmful to your credit to even approach your maximum limit.
- Negotiate down your annual percentage rate. A lower APR could save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars in interest, so a successful renegotiation can help you repay your debt more quickly.
No matter how desperate you are to improve your credit fast, the Federal Trade Commission warns not to give in to scams that promise to eliminate bad credit or remove negative parts of your credit report. These ads are likely written by fraudsters out to take your money.
Updated Sept. 12, 2016.