• Who it can help: People just starting to build credit; People with poor credit looking to improve their score.   
  • Pro tip: Look for a card that automatically reviews your on-time payments after a few months and then graduates you to a non-secured card. 
  • Finimpact score: 8 - Secured cards are an easy, reliable way to build credit, but they do require an upfront deposit, and missed monthly payments could hurt your score. 


An excellent way to re-establish credit and improve your credit score.
Some require small deposits.
Payments are reported to the credit bureaus.
Some offer rewards and cash back.
Limits spending to the amount of the deposit.


Requires an upfront deposit, sometimes of thousands of dollars.
Interest rates can be higher than unsecured credit cards.
Generally cannot be used for international transactions.
Credit limit is typically lower than unsecured cards.
May have annual fees or other fees.

A secured credit card is one of the most effective ways to improve your credit score. It’s a credit card that requires a deposit when you apply. The amount of the deposit typically sets the limit for how much you can spend on the card. Your payments are then reported to the credit bureaus, which helps to increase your credit score. 

Secured credit cards should only be used by borrowers who know they can make their monthly payments on time. If you know having access to a credit line will encourage you to spend more than you should, avoid credit cards altogether until you build better financial habits. 

2. Reduce Your Credit Utilization 

  • Who it can help: Anyone who wants to improve their score and wants to reduce their debt.  
  • Pro tip: Having a 0% credit utilization isn’t necessarily a good thing. Using credit responsibly helps you to build your score. 
  • Finimpact score: 10 - Having a low credit utilization is rarely a bad thing, it means you’ve paid off your balances regularly and keep up with your payments, all of which are easy to do if you’re using your card responsibly.


Can help improve your credit score.
Shows that you’re managing your credit responsibly.
Allows you to use less of your available credit.
Can help you qualify for better credit terms and interest rates.


Can be difficult and time-consuming.
Requires discipline and budgeting.

Credit utilization is an important factor in assessing your credit score; it measures the amount of credit you’re using in relation to the total amount of credit you have available. Your credit utilization rate is the overall amount of credit you are using, expressed as a percentage of your total credit limits. For instance, if you had two credit cards with a combined credit limit of $10,000 and you had used $4,000 of your credit, then your credit utilization rate would be 40%. 

It’s best to keep your credit utilization ratio below 30%. Generally, having a low credit utilization ratio is a positive sign that you’re managing your credit responsibly. If your credit utilization ratio is higher than 30%, this shows that you’re using more of your available credit than lenders would like to see. 

3. Take Care of Your Late Payments 

  • Who it can help: Anyone who falls behind on their payments. 
  • Pro tip: Sign up for auto pay for your credit card and bills if you find that you often forget. 
  • Finimpact score: 10 - This is the easiest way to quickly resolve issues on your credit report. 


Late payments you’ve corrected can potentially drop off your report.
Credit score should go up as you start making payments on time.


Honestly, there are no cons here. You should take care to avoid late payments altogether. And, if they do happen, do your best to resolve them as quickly as possible.

Taking care of late payments is one of the most important things you can do to improve your credit score. Late payments can have a major impact on your score and if left unchecked, can easily lead to a poor score.

The best way to make sure late payments don’t affect your credit score is to pay your bills on time and in full. You should also check your credit report regularly to identify any errors related to payment history.

If you have already missed a payment, the best thing you can do is pay it back as soon as possible. Paying late payments early won't necessarily undo the late fees, but it will show creditors that you’re trying to stay on top of your debts. 

4. Apply for a Credit-Builder Loan 

  • Who it can help: People with short credit files or poor credit scores need help building their scores. 
  • Pro tip: Missing a payment on your credit-builder loan can actually hurt your credit score. 
  • Finimpact score: 8 - These are helpful options for many borrowers looking for a safe way to borrow, but it does take time to pay down the loan and you often don’t have access to the loan until you’ve made your final payment. 


They help strengthen your credit score relatively quickly.
Help you establish a history of responsible borrowing.
Increase access to financial services.
Provide an opportunity to save money.
Help you show lenders that you're trustworthy and reliable.


Requires discipline and self-control.
Can come with high fees.
Often won’t get access to your money until you’ve paid off the loan.

Credit-builder loans are designed to help people with bad credit or no credit build their credit by borrowing money and showing a lender that they can make regular payments. Credit-builder loans are typically small-dollar loans that you pay back over a set period of time, such as 12 or 24 months. 

By successfully making regular payments on a credit-builder loan, you can show lenders you have the financial responsibility to take on more debt. Each month the loan is active, the lender will report the payments to the credit bureaus, which will eventually lead to your credit score improving. 

Credit-builder loans may not be the quickest way to improve your credit score, but they provide a great opportunity to demonstrate to lenders that you are responsible with your finances. With patience and perseverance, a credit-builder loan could put you on the path to a better credit score and your financial goals.

5. Find and Dispute Credit Report Errors

  • Who it can help: All consumers. Everyone should periodically review their credit reports for errors. 
  • Pro tip: You’re entitled to a free annual credit report from each of the credit bureaus at
  • Finimpact score: 9 - This one is fairly easy to do, but it’s not always going to up your score enough where you shouldn’t also try other tips. 


Potentially improves credit score.
Prevents errors from affecting your credit score in the future.
Ensures accuracy of your credit report.


Time-consuming process.
Possibility of errors not being corrected.

If you want to improve your credit score, start by finding and disputing errors on your credit report. These can range from inaccurate account details to incorrect payment history to incorrect personal information.

The first step is to obtain a copy of your credit report. This can be requested once a year for free through the three main credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Once you have your report, it’s time to look for errors. Carefully review the information on each of your accounts, making sure all of the details are accurate and up to date. If you find any errors, the next step is to dispute them.

You can dispute errors directly with the three credit bureaus. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has contact info and instructions on how to report 


5 Tips to Maintain a Strong Credit Score

Once you’ve built a good credit score, you’re not out of the woods. It’ll take work to maintain this score and keep it in good standing. 

1. Always Pay On Time 

Timely payment on debts, loans, and accounts is the most important factor in your credit score. Consider setting up automatic payments when possible to ensure timely payment, as any late payments can cause your credit score to plummet as much as 180 points

2. Keep Your Oldest Accounts Open 

Many consumers unknowingly close credit card accounts without realizing the effect that can have on your score. Just because you don’t use that old student credit card you had in college or your very first rewards card you got, doesn’t mean you should close them. Closing your oldest accounts can shorten your overall credit history and hurt your score.

3. Track Your Credit Utilization 

Let’s swing back to credit utilization. As a reminder, maintaining a credit utilization ratio below 30% helps you avoid a negative impact on your credit score. Maxing out your cards might get what you want in purchases, but it’ll tank your score, so make sure you’re paying off your cards in full every month, if possible. 

4. Avoid Co-Signing Agreements

When you co-sign an agreement, you’re taking on the responsibility to pay the debt if the other person is unable to make payments. If the other person fails to pay what they owe, that can have an impact on your credit score. So, only co-sign when you know the original borrower will continue making payments. 

5. Monitor Your Credit

Regularly checking your credit score to ensure that all information reported is accurate is important. Checking your own credit will not negatively impact your score and you can be alerted to any unexpected changes in your credit profile. 


How Long Does It Take to Improve Credit Score

The amount of time it takes to improve a credit score depends on a variety of factors and can vary from person to person. Generally, it can take a month to several months or longer to improve a credit score by a significant amount.

For individuals with serious financial difficulties, it could take several years to improve their credit scores significantly. However, by taking steps to improve one's credit score, like those listed above, it is possible to realize small positive changes within a few months. 

It’s important to remember that improving a credit score is a process, often a long process, and it cannot be achieved overnight. Patience and diligent effort will be key in improving a credit score over time.


Decoding Your Credit Score

The term credit score is generally easy to understand, but once you start digging, there’s a lot to understand behind the seemingly simple term. 

How Your Credit Score is Calculated

Your credit score is designed to show how reliable you are as a borrower, so it tracks five factors:

  • Payment history: 35%.
  • Amounts owed: 30%.
  • Credit history: 15%.
  • Credit mix: 10%.
  • New credit: 10%. 

Credit Score Ranges 

Taking the factors measured above, the credit bureaus calculate a score ranging from 300 - 850. The closer to 300, the worse your score, and the closer to 850, the better your score. Here’s how the numbers break down:

  • 300 - 499 = Very poor.
  • 500 - 600 = Poor.
  • 601 - 660 = Fair.
  • 661 - 780 = Good. 
  • 781 - 850 = Exceptional. 

Checking Your Credit Score

Checking your credit score has gotten incredibly easy over the last few years. Now, you can sign-up for free credit monitoring services like Credit Karma or Credit Wise, which show you your updated score each week or month. 

Additionally, you can go to each year to get a full report from all three bureaus.


Why Your Credit Score is Important 

Having a good credit score is essential to living an economically secure life. It can affect a person’s ability to obtain a loan, set up utilities, get into an apartment, obtain employment, and even open up a checking account. It serves as proof of a person's financial capability

Here are a few reasons why your credit score is important:

  • Lenders use your credit score to determine if they will lend you money or offer you a loan. In order to get a loan or line of credit with favorable terms, it’s important to have a good credit score. 
  • Your credit score can affect the cost of your insurance premiums. Insurance companies use credit scores to determine whether or not to insure you and how much your premiums will be.
  • A strong credit score can also help you obtain a lower interest rate on major purchases like new homes or vehicles, saving you money in the long run. 
  • It’s not just lenders who look at credit scores. Your credit score is often used by employers to determine whether or not you’re a reliable and trustworthy applicant. 
  • Your credit score is a reflection of your financial management and responsibility. A good score can open many doors.


Real-Life Success Stories: How These Individuals Improved Their Credit Score

Christopher Murray’s Credit Journey

Christopher Murray is a professional personal finance writer at Finimpact

I won’t lie, I didn’t think about my credit score once before I got my first writing gig in the personal finance space. So, imagine my surprise when I checked my score for the first time while writing an article and it was in the low 400s. 

At that point, years ago, as a recent college grad, I was still living with my parents and was desperate to get a place of my own. A 400 credit score wasn’t going to cut it, a lesson I learned the hard way after being denied for the first three apartments I applied for. 

Thankfully, and somewhat uniquely, I was learning the skills I needed to improve my personal credit while working my 9-5 as a personal finance writer. The first few steps I took straight out of the credit repair gate were:

  • Signing up for Credit Wise. I was already a Capital One member, so I chose the easy path and took the 30 seconds needed to activate Credit Wise, and started getting weekly updates to my score. AND Capital One explains why your score changes in an easy-to-understand way. 
  • Got a secured credit card. I’ll admit, I was anxious to get a credit card. I had ignored all the student credit card offers I had gotten in college because I knew I wasn’t the best at saying no to impulse purchases. But, a secured credit card held me accountable. First of all, I had to cough up $200 to start a credit line, which made me very aware of how much I was spending. After just a few months of on-time payments, my credit card lender (again, I’m a big fan of Capital One), bumped me up to a non-secured card I still use to this day. Plus, my score jumped significantly. 
  • Started paying my student loans early. The reason I didn’t have a good score was that I had never had any sort of account that reported payments to the credit bureaus, so there was nothing for them to base my score on. Student loan accounts count towards your score, so on-time payments help build your score. I decided to tackle them before my grace period ended, giving me a new positive account on my score. 

It took me about six months to jump my score enough to qualify as having good credit. It was simple, really. By adding a few new accounts and keeping up with my payments, my score ticked up little by little. 

Others Who Have Improved Their Scores

I’m far from the only one who has struggled with credit. Sometimes, things we don’t expect have an unexpected effect on our scores. Matt Schmidt, CEO of Diabetes Life Solutions, told Business Insider that he decided to pay off his student loan debt in full in preparation for buying his first home. He explained:

“My student loan was my only type of 'installment' debt. Even though I paid off my debt, FICO penalized me for not having installment debt.”

In response to his paid-off loan, his score dropped 40 - 50 points. 

James Garvey, CEO of Self Lender, also told Business Insider of his unexpected drop in score, explaining how he and his wife had decided to take a honeymoon in Argentina, so he set up autopay on all of the bills they’d have to pay while they were gone. I’m betting you can see where this is going…

Turns out, not all of these bills were fully switched to autopay, leaving a credit card bill unpaid for a few months. Garvey commented:

“As a result, my credit score was damaged for years. After this experience, I founded a company to help people responsibly build credit and save money, Self Lender.”

Most of us have struggled with understanding our credit scores at some point. Thankfully, fixing it doesn’t have to be difficult. With a few calculated moves, you too can up your score, and have something to brag about at parties. 


Final Word

Improving your credit score takes effort, dedication, and patience. While there are no magic formulas that can instantly improve your score, following the steps outlined above can help to improve your overall financial health, and increase your credit score over time.

If you need professional guidance, consider working with a credit counseling service, financial advisor, or credit repair company. Having a good credit score puts you in the driver’s seat when it comes to dealing with lenders, and gives you more access to excellent credit loans with the best rates and terms. Taking the time to learn and understand the basics of credit health and of credit scoring, and taking proactive steps to improve your score, can put you in great financial shape.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

How do you know if you need to improve your credit score?

If you want to be approved for a loan, an apartment, or a phone plan, you may want to check your credit score to determine whether you need to improve it. A good credit score is generally considered to be a score of 661 or higher. If your score is below this threshold, you may need to work on improving it.

How hard is it to get a perfect credit score?

Getting a perfect credit score can be very difficult and almost impossible to achieve. In fact, less than 2% of credit scores hit 850, according to Experian

Getting to this high of a score involves consistently paying all credit obligations on time and in full, as well as actively managing your credit utilization rate and credit inquiries. Additionally, a long credit history with no negative marks on your credit report is also important for achieving a perfect credit score.

What is the fastest way to build credit?

The fastest way to improve credit is by making all monthly payments on time, eliminating unnecessary debts, and using only a small portion of available credit. Paying off overdue debts and maintaining a low balance on credit cards will also help improve credit scores over time.

How can I raise my credit score in 30 days?

Improving a credit score in 30 days is challenging but possible. Here are a few steps you can take to reach your goal:

  1. Check your credit report and disputed errors. Obtain copies of your credit reports from all three reporting bureaus and look for errors. If any are found, dispute them immediately. 
  2. Make on-time payments. Late payments are one of the biggest contributors to a low credit score, so ensure that all future payments are made on time. 
  3. Lower your credit utilization. Credit utilization is simply the amount of available credit you are using in comparison to your total available credit limit. You should aim to keep it below 30%. 
  4. Reduce your overall debt. The amount of debt you owe makes up the biggest portion of a credit score. Try to pay off as much debt as you can in the thirty days, even if it is just the minimum payment. 
  5. Keep new credit to a minimum. Do not open any new credit lines over the 30-day period. Opening a new credit card can temporarily lower your credit score. 
How to get a credit score from 580 to 700?

To get your credit score from 580 to 700, you need to work on improving your credit habits. Pay your bills on time and always make payments in full every month. Avoid taking on new debt and keep your credit card and other loan balances low. Check your credit report regularly to make sure there are no errors that could be hurting your score. Finally, consider using credit-building tools, such as a secured credit card, to start rebuilding your credit.


  • Free Credit Reports: Free credit reports allow people to review their credit histories and identify potential risks such as fraudulent activity, identity theft, and errors in the information reported by creditors. 
  • Free Resources to Help Improve Your Credit: There are a variety of free resources available to help individuals improve their credit. These resources may include credit counseling, budgeting classes, consumer education courses, and budget-tracking tools. 
  • National Foundation for Credit Counseling: The National Foundation for Credit Counseling is a nonprofit organization that provides education and services to consumers who are struggling with debt or credit issues. They offer a variety of services including consumer credit counseling, debt management, and financial education.
  • Personal Financial Literacy Programs:  Personal financial literacy programs are designed to teach people about financial management and literacy. These programs often provide information about budgeting, budgeting strategies, debt management, and investments.

About the Authors

Christopher Murray

Written by: Christopher Murray

Personal Finance Expert

Christopher Murray is a professional personal finance and sustainability writer and editor who enjoys writing about everything from budgeting and saving to unique investing options like SRI and cryptocurrency.

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