Good news, America. After nearly a decade, credit scores have hit record highs, according to new data from Fair, Isaac, as reported in the Wall Street Journal (paywall). The average score in the U.S. hit 700 this past April, and haven't been at that level since 2005.
From a macro standpoint, the WSJ posits that the rise in scores means the country is on the recovery from the recent recession. On an individual level, higher credit scores all around means a leg up on the path to financial wellness.
In fact, boosting your credit score can be one of the most profitable investments that you make in your financial future. Your credit profile is a measure of your financial responsibility, and can determine whether you qualify for a mortgage, student loan, or credit card. Your credit score also may be used when you rent an apartment, buy a cell phone, or apply for insurance.
Really, it might factor into a lot of financial decisions you'll make, so it's important to be proactive in keeping your number as high as possible. Here are several steps you can take to increase your credit score, so that you can set yourself up to be in the best financial position moving forward:
1. Double check your credit report
According to the Federal Trade Commission, 5% of consumers had one or more errors on their credit report. That's enough to raise an eyebrow—and do the work of checking yours.
For a free copy of your credit report, you can visit sites like Annualcreditreport.com or Credit Karma. The three major credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax and TransUnion—collect information on your credit history and develop a credit score that lenders use to assess your riskiness as a borrower. Under federal law, you are entitled to view your credit report every 12 months from each credit bureau.
If you find an error, you should report it to the credit bureau immediately so that it can be corrected. If you do have inaccurate marks on your report, this move can help make sure they're erased and that you don't have items on your report negatively affecting your number.
2. Demonstrate your financial responsibility
To receive a high credit score, you need to develop a financial track record of consistent, responsible borrowing. Regular on-time payment history and a long account age both demonstrate financial discipline and responsibility—qualities that help keep your score high and make you more appealing to lenders.
Credit card companies, for example, closely monitor both your payment history and account age. If you have a credit card, start by making small purchases and paying off the balance in full each month. And the longer you can keep open a credit card in good standing, the better, because an extended history of good credit can have positive impacts on your score.
3. Pay off debt balances faster
You may receive offers from credit card companies to transfer your balance to another credit card. While a 0% balance transfer offer may appear financially advantageous, it's better to focus on debt repayment. Think about it this way: Balance transfers are just temporary solutions, while debt repayment is a permanent action plan to improve your credit profile. Hence, it's crucial to lower your debt balance.
One way to pay off your credit card faster—and save on interest costs—is through a personal loan. If you have existing credit card debt, you can consolidate your debt with a personal loan, and, in some cases, may be able to cut your interest rate in half.
When you consolidate your debt, you combine all your existing debt into one loan so that you can make one monthly payment instead of multiple monthly payments. The key is then to leave open your credit card account and not charge incremental debt onto it. This way, you can keep your credit utilization low (more on that below), which improves your credit score.
4. Don't erase debt from your credit report
It may sound counterintuitive, but old debt that you repaid should stay on your credit report.
Why? To strengthen your credit score, you want to be able to show a longer credit history of responsible borrowing and repayment.
So don't make a special request to a credit bureau to remove an old account from your credit report once you've repaid the debt. Simply leave old debt and good accounts on your credit report as long as possible—pretty easy move.
5. Don't open or close multiple credit cards at once
Opening multiple credit card accounts at once will result in several hard inquiries into your credit report, which can cause your credit score to drop—at least temporarily. If you're looking into getting multiple cards and having multiple balances at the same time, you'll have the added drawback of looking like a risky borrower to credit card companies.
Likewise, if you have multiple credit cards, don't close them all at once. Even better, if you have an older credit card and it doesn't have an annual fee, you should consider keeping it open to demonstrate a longer credit history, which, as mentioned above, could positively impact your credit score over time.
6. Keep your credit card utilization below 30%
Credit card utilization is the relationship between your credit limit and spending in a given month. If your credit card utilization is too high, lenders consider you higher risk, which can adversely impact credit score.
Ideally, your credit utilization show be less than 30%. For example, if you have a $10,000 credit limit on your credit card, ideally you should spend less than $3,000 in a given month. You can keep your credit card utilization low by limiting your credit card purchases and setting up automatic balance alerts to control spending.
7. Pay all your bills on time
Failing to pay your bills on time can not only result in late fees, but also hurt your credit score. And missing a payment altogether can stay on your credit report for seven years. Think about that for a moment: Seven years for one month's missed payment. It's definitely a long-reaching impact on your credit score.
The easy way to avoid a late or missing payment each month? Enroll in automatic payments for your credit cards and loans. The best part is that some companies will even reward you for doing so. (In fact, SoFi offers a 0.25% interest rate deduction when you enroll in automatic payments.) If you have a choice to enroll in autopay for your credit and loan repayments, do so to ensure that your payment arrives on time each month and that your credit score isn't negatively affected by your payments (or lack thereof).
Americans now have higher credit scores than they have for a long time, which is a great thing. Making these moves to increase your credit score is a smart way to put yourself on the path to financial wellness—and start aiming for one that's even higher than the average American's.
Want to start making moves to raise your credit score? One way to potentially increase yours is by consolidating your credit card debt using a personal loan. Check out SoFi's personal loans to see how they can help you.
Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide "credit repair" services or advice or assistance regarding "rebuilding" or "improving" your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC's website on credit.