One of the top questions people ask me is how to improve their credit score. I often reply “All you have to do is ask.” They look at me, confused, and say, “I just DID ask. What’s the answer?” I apologize for the lame consumer reporter humor and explain that I mean they should ask their CREDITORS for three things that can almost instantly improve their credit score.
First of all, get a baseline score so you’ll know if your efforts were worthwhile. The credit score that matters most is still the FICO score, and you can get it straight from the source, here. (By the way, a one-time score is plenty. You don’t need to sign up for monthly reports or any of that jazz.)
Once you know your score, here are the three “asks” that can improve it:
1. Ask for a higher credit limit. One of the key factors in your credit score is your “credit utilization ratio,” the ratio of how much credit you use compared to how much you have available to you. If you had one credit card with a $10,000 limit and $1,000 worth of debt on that card, your credit utilization ratio would be 10 percent. You want that ratio to be as low as possible. The best way to change the ratio is to pay off debt —the top number in the ratio— but if you’re not in a position to do that, why not attack the bottom number instead? You can do that by simply asking your creditors to raise your credit limit on credit cards or other loans. In years of experimenting, I have found they often say yes to keep your business. Important caveat: once you have this additional credit, DON’T use it! That would just ruin the new, lower ratio you have worked to attain!
2. Ask for positive reports. Your credit score, a 3-digit number between 300 and 850, is calculated based on information in your credit report. Your credit report is like a biography of your handling of all your credit accounts over time. But just like any written history, it could be missing some details of what really happened. And if those details are flattering to you —like timely payments or payoffs— the oversight could be hurting your credit score. Other times the creditor could have the information but may not have reported it to all three of the major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. So go to annualcreditreport.com, the free credit report website set up by the federal government, and get your reports. Then scan each and compare them against each other to see if there’s positive information missing. If there is, contact the creditors involved and politely ask them to report this good news about you.
3. Ask for negative deletions. Just as creditors have the power to add positive information to your credit report, they also have the ability to delete negative information. They won’t do this willy nilly, but if you can show that you are a steady, stable customer who made one glaring error, you’ve got a great argument. If your error was caused by some sympathetic situation like a hospitalization or a death in the family, slather that on thick as well. The crucial key here is to be able to show that the mistake that is dragging your score down is out of character. So gather your documentation, then simply call up —and ask. If you reach an unhelpful low-level employee, don’t get snippy. Rather, praise them for being so helpful, but say you want to speak to a supervisor because you know what you’re asking is unusual. If you’re a large and longtime customer, never be afraid to remind them of how much they should value your business and all the offers you get to go elsewhere.
Now wait about a month and go back in and re-check your score. See an improvement? Share your experience asking creditors for these favors and whether your score went up in the comments section below.