Created in collaboration with the credit experts at Experian
Your credit report and credit scores are the keys to unlocking financial opportunity. Understanding how to build a strong credit report and get good credit scores will help you qualify for low interest rates on loans and credit cards, saving you money and helping you to get the things you want and need.
Knowing how to take care of your credit report and credit scores can also play a part in renting an apartment, lowering your security deposit on utilities like gas and electricity, reducing your insurance rates, and getting the cell phone you want.
Montgomery Ward, a leading retailer, and Experian, a national credit reporting company, created this guide so you will have the information necessary to improve your credit report and scores over time. Our goal is to empower you to get the credit scores you need to achieve your financial goals.
- explain how long it takes to improve your credit score
- provide tips for improving your credit score
- describe how to maintain your credit score
In addition to your credit report and scores, you can learn more in the guide about these important life events that can affect your credit:
How Long Does It Take to Improve Your Credit Score?
Time is a critical element to building credit scores if you are just beginning to establish your credit. It’s an equally important factor if your credit scores have taken a tumble because of financial challenges.
Just how much time it will take to establish or rebuild your credit scores depends on your unique credit history.
Establishing Credit for the First Time
Credit scores require a minimum of three months, and more commonly six months, of activity on new accounts before they can be included in the calculation. If you’ve never had credit before, you will need to use your first account for several months before a score can be calculated at all. Use your accounts well and your credit scores will continue to improve over time as your credit history gets longer.
Rebuilding Credit after Financial Difficulty
If you have an established credit history damaged by financial challenges, the length of time it will take to bring your credit scores back up depends on how serious the issues are. The more serious your credit challenges, the longer it will take.
It may only take a billing cycle or two to recover if you have only a single late payment in an otherwise excellent credit history. If you’ve never missed a payment before, ask your lender if they can remove it from your credit report. They might be willing to do so. If so, when the late payment is removed your scores should bounce back up.
On the other hand, if you have a series of late payments, charged off accounts, collection accounts or bankruptcy, it will take much longer to restore your credit scores. In the case of bankruptcy, it could take years for your credit scores to fully recover.
Don’t give up, though.
You can restore your creditworthiness.
An important part of doing so is to have at least one account with a positive payment history. A Montgomery Ward Credit account can help. As you make purchases and make on time payments each month, the positive information in your credit report will help offset the negative issues of the past.
How Do You Improve Your Credit Score?
Everyone’s credit history is different, so the answer to what you personally need to do to improve your credit score depends on your unique credit history. However, there are some basic steps that everyone can take to make their score better over time:
- Open a Montgomery Ward Credit account. A credit account will help you build your credit history and improve credit scores a bit faster. With a Wards Credit account, you decide how much to charge each month and payments are as low as $10 a month. This gives lenders a better sense of how you will manage credit. If you don’t qualify for a credit account with Montgomery Ward, ask your bank or credit union if it’s possible to open an account with a low credit limit.
- Apply for a secured credit card. Unlike a traditional credit card, a secured card is linked to a savings account. The credit limit for the secured card is usually a percentage of the savings account balance. The savings account ensures that the lender won’t lose money if you fail to pay back what you charge on the account, so the lender is “secured.” If you make all your payments on time and demonstrate that you are able to use the card responsibly, your creditor may be willing to convert the account into a traditional credit card account. Some lenders do not report secured accounts to Experian or other credit reporting agencies, so be sure to ask if they do before opening the account.
- Ask a family member or close friend to add you to one of their credit card accounts. When you are added as an authorized user or joint account holder on another person’s credit card, the account may be included in your credit report, too.
- Take out a small personal loan in your name. A loan for just a few hundred dollars from your bank, credit union or local retail store can help you build credit if it is reported to Experian. Just be sure to make all the payments on time until it is paid off.
How to Maintain Your Credit Score?
Once you have established a strong credit history and good credit scores, you need to take steps to maintain them. There are just a few things you have to do to keep good credit scores.
- Make all of your payments on time. Your payment history is the most important factor in credit scores. It counts for up to 35% of your credit score. Late payments will hurt your credit scores more than anything else. Utility and cell phone payments are not typically included in a credit report, but failing to pay these bills when they are due could lead to your accounts being sold to collections. The collection account would then appear on your credit report and damage your credit scores.
- Keep your “utilization rate” as low as possible. Your utilization rate is simply the total of all your credit card balances divided by the total of your credit limits. The higher your utilization rate is, the more it will hurt your credit scores.
- To improve your credit scores, you should keep the balances on credit cards as low as possible. Ideally you should pay off the balances in full each month. If it’s not possible to pay your balance off in full each month, try to keep your maximum balances across all your cards at less than 30%. Pay off any past due debts. Catch up on late payments and pay off any past due debts, such as charge offs and collection accounts, as quickly as you can. Some new credit scoring systems will not include paid collection accounts in the calculation, so you can help your credit scores immediately by paying them off.
- Check your Experian credit report and score at least once a year. You can get a free credit report from Experian and the other national credit reporting companies. Visit www.annualcreditreport.com to request it. You can also order a credit score after getting your free report. It will include the number, an explanation of what it means in terms of credit risk, and a list of the factors from your credit report that most affected the number. You can use the risk factors to identify what you need to work on to make your scores better.
Building a strong credit history for the first time or recovering from financial challenges will take time, but you can eventually get the scores you need. The tips above and throughout this guide will help you make the right decisions along the way.
Montgomery Ward and Experian are proud to have worked together to provide the information you need to build or restore your credit, and to navigate life events that can derail your credit when you might need it most. We hope you will use this guide to get your credit back on track and to keep it there.