You may have been offered a credit score when you took advantage of the free credit report offer. CNN is offering tips for boosting that score. But first a note. Often, credit scores offered by the credit reporting agency are not true FICO scores — the ones mortgage companies use when contemplating your credit risk, for example. I’ve heard some people boasting a credit score of 870 when the highest possible FICO score is 850. The best way to get your true FICO scores is through MyFICO.com.
Now that you have your correct FICO scores — one from each credit reporting bureau, obtained through the Fair Isaac Corporation — let’s work on raising the scores.
* Pay your bills on time. If you’re more than 30 days delinquent on any bill, it will negatively affect your score. Pay them on time.
* Keep credit card balances low. The ratio of debt to available credit affects your score; the higher the ratio, the higher your score. Keep this in mind if you consolidate multiple credit cards to fewer. This can result in the same level of debt but a lower level of available credit.
* Don’t open unnecessary accounts. I know from personal experience that being at a sales counter in a store and being offered a 10% discount “just for applying” for a store credit card can be enticing. 10% is a good discount! On the other hand, opening credit card accounts lowers your FICO score.
* Manage your credit cards responsibly. Using cards properly by paying off the balances quickly and taking care of installment loans builds up credit history. Banks will see someone with a favorable credit history as less risk as an individual with no history.
* Closing an account doesn’t help. If you made mistakes in the past, they won’t go away from the credit report simply by closing the account. Some items can stay on the report (and be factored into your score) long after you’ve reformed your ways.
Updated August 4, 2014 and originally published September 22, 2005.