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Building A Good Credit Score: 5 Tips

Building A Good Credit Score: 5 Tips

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    Having a solid credit score has been important for quite a while now, but it’s actually becoming more important these days as lending tightens up. There’s a reason that the Fair Isaac Corporation — the organization that calculates the credit score that most major lenders rely on — has been changing the way that credit scores are calculated. All of these circumstances add up to the fact that even someone who is confident that their credit score is good should be making sure it stays that way. There are some relatively simple steps, though, that you can take to help yourself build up your credit score, as well as maintain it.

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    1. Get A Copy of Your Credit Report

    Although you can’t get your exact credit score for free, you can get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) once each year. To do so, visit AnnualCreditReport.com and request a report. AnnualCreditReport.com, by the way, is actually the only way to get your reports for free — the site was created in response to federal legislation requiring that the three national credit reporting companies inform consumers about their status. Despite their catchy commercials, companies like FreeCreditReport.com actually wind up charging you for expenses related to obtaining your credit report.

    2. Make Sure You’re Aware of Any Existing Accounts

    Typically, your credit report will show any accounts you have open — although different companies report to different credit bureaus, and some companies don’t seem to report at all. It’s easy to forget about credit accounts that you don’t actually use, like credit cards you stopped using but chose not to close the account ‘just in case.’ These credit accounts can easily represent the most likely upcoming dings to your credit: card companies and other lenders have started closing inactive accounts in order to limit their liability. As the amount of credit a person has goes down, so does their credit score. I’m not suggesting that you should start charging items to those inactive accounts, though — instead, it’s enough to be aware of them so that if your accounts do close, you won’t be taken by surprise.

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    3. Set Up Automatic Payments

    One of the easiest credit score factors you can control is how good you are about making payments on your current balances. Even if you don’t usually carry a balance, making a payment or two late can cause a preventable dip in your credit score. A simple slip up, like forgetting to send a payment, can have some major consequences. While FICO scores will be offering more leniency for someone who misses only one payment, automatic payments can be a simple way of avoiding even one late payment and any problem at all. Late and missed payments can have ripple affects beyond your actual credit score as well — in some cases, including credit cards, a missed payment on one account can lead to a higher interest rate on another account.

    4. Get Serious About Your Balances

    One of the factors in a good credit score is how much credit you have available. That means that reducing your current balances has a direct connection to helping your credit score. That doesn’t mean that you have to pay off your entire balance immediately to improve your credit score, though: while it’s a good overall goal, just adding a few dollars to your minimum monthly payment is enough to at least get you started on an upwards trend. Moving around debt, say to a zero-interest credit card, doesn’t actually help with your overall credit score. While it may make the amount easier to pay off, it can be reflected in your credit score as an inability to manage your existing credit.

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    5. Keep Your Number of Cards Constant

    While your available credit is a key factor in your credit score, opening a bunch of new credit cards just to increase the amount of credit you have available won’t really help. Instead, the system used to determine credit scores reads such a move as a need for more credit: if you open several cards in a short time span, credit reporting agencies assume that you plan to use that credit and might even be planning to get yourself into some trouble with it. Closing unused credit cards can also have a negative impact on your credit, so keeping your number of cards constant is usually the best compromise between getting the best credit card options and maintaining your good credit score. Your account age can also play into things, by the way. That first credit card you ever got, with its awful interest rate, may be an important part of your credit score. Think carefully before closing such an account.

    Your Credit Score and You

    Despite many ads to the contrary, there is really no way to fix your credit score in a hurry. The Fair Isaac Corporation works hard to make sure that credit scores indicate how you use credit over time, and the company knows what it’s doing. That means that you have to work on maintaining a good credit score long before you want to make a big purchase, like a house or a car. Since it’s not always predictable exactly when a person is going make those large purchases, it makes sense to make a good credit score an ongoing priority.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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