Get a credit card if you don’t have one.
Having and using a credit card or two can really build your scores. If you can’t qualify for a regular credit card, consider a secured credit card, where the issuing bank gives you a credit line equal to the deposit you make. Look for a card that reports to all three credit bureaus.
Add an installment loan to the mix
You’ll get the fastest improvement in your scores if you show you’re responsible with both major kinds of credit: revolving (credit cards) and installment (personal loans, auto, mortgages and student loans). If you don’t already have one on your credit reports, consider adding a small personal loan that you can pay back over time.
Pay down your credit cards
Paying down credit cards is a fast way to increase your credit score. Lenders like to see a big gap between the amount of credit you are using and your available credit limits. Getting your balances below 30% of the credit limit on each card can really help; getting balances below 10% is even better. Pay down the loans that are closest to your limits.
Use your Cards Lightly
You often can increase your scores by limiting your charges to 30% or less of a card’s limit; 10% is even better. If you’re having trouble keeping track, you can set up email or text alerts with your credit card companies to let you know when you’re approaching a limit you’ve set. If you regularly use more than half your limit on a card, consider using other cards to ease the load or try making a payment before the statement closing date to reduce the balance that’s reported to the bureaus.
Get some goodwill
If you’ve been a good customer, a lender might agree to simply erase that one late payment from your credit history. You usually have to make the request in writing, and your chances for a “goodwill adjustment” improve the better your record with the company (and the better your credit in general). But it can’t hurt to ask.
A longer-term solution for more-troubled accounts is to ask that they be “re-aged”. If the account is still open, the lender might erase previous delinquencies if you make a series of 12 or so on-time payments.
Dispute old negatives
Say that fight with your phone company over an unfair bill a few years ago resulted in a collections account. You can continue protesting that the charge was unjust, or you can try disputing the account with the credit bureaus as “not mine.” The older and smaller a collection account, the more likely the collection agency won’t bother to verify it when the credit bureau investigates your dispute.
Blitz significant errors
Your credit scores are calculated based on the information in your credit reports, so certain errors there can really cost you. But not everything that’s reported in your files matters to your scores.