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Dear Credit Card Adviser,

Will my credit score go up if I pay my credit card balance before I even get a bill, or do I have to wait for a bill to arrive?

— Cameron

Dear Cameron,

It’s likely to help your credit score if you pay off purchases before your bill arrives.

You won’t get extra points for being an early bird. Credit-scoring models generally care about only whether you’ve made the minimum payment before your statement’s due date. But you will ensure that a big balance doesn’t inadvertently skew your credit utilization rate.

Credit card issuers generally report to the 3 credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — once a month. They’ll tell them whether your account is in good standing (have you made monthly payments on time?), and they’ll also report whatever balance is on the card.

The balance that gets reported is the one at your statement’s closing date. If you pay all your purchases down before that time comes and goes, your score should benefit.

Quick recap: Your credit utilization rate is determined essentially by how much debt you are carrying versus how much credit — generally and on each individual card — has been extended to you. It accounts for 30% of the popular FICO credit score. For best results, it’s generally recommended you keep your utilization below 30%. The lower, the better.

You should be able to find your closing date on a recent statement, but you can also call your issuer to confirm or ask when any balance is going to be reported.

Personally, I like to pay down my credit card purchases as I go via a linked debit card account. Popping in to pay down the balance every day, or at least once a week, ensures a big number never winds up on my credit report. (You can check the current status of your credit card debts by checking your credit report for free at myBankrate.)

Plus, it’s a great way to stay on budget because you’re monitoring how much money is in your bank account and you’ll be less inclined to spend more than what’s available.

Good luck!

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