smart spending

Tips for boosting your credit score

"Try to get the usage on all of them at 20 to 30 percent instead of a bunch at zero and one at 80 percent," Chung says. "You're not spending less, you're just shifting it around to different cards."

It could work, Watts from FICO says. "Transferring the balance to a card with a lower utilization could help," he says, "but it's much better to actually pay down the debt if you have the cash kicking around."

If you're really into finessing the system, check your credit report to see what day of the month your creditors send updates on payments to the credit bureaus, Chung says. They're rarely on the same cycle as your payment due date. That's why you can pay off your card every month and your credit report will show you carrying a balance. Then, make your payments several days before the reporting date.

All of these strategies generally take at least 30 days because lenders don't report payments more than once a month.

Rapid rescoring

If you're in the throes of qualifying for a mortgage and need a score boost in a hurry, you can speed the process along with rapid rescoring. If you've got legitimate negative information on your credit report, such as late payments or accounts in collections, you're out of luck. But the process of rapid rescoring can help increase your score within a few days by correcting errors or paying off account balances.

You can't do this one yourself; you'll need a lender who is a customer of a rapid rescoring service. Generally, the service will run roughly $50 for every account on your credit report that needs to be addressed, but it could save you thousands on your loan.

If a consumer can find a lender who is a customer of a rapid rescoring service, new information can be posted within 72 hours, Watts says.

Some nifty online tools are available to find out which strategies could have the most impact on your score. Fair Isaac's www.myfico.com site offers a credit score simulator when you purchase a credit score. It offers seven simulated scenarios, such as how paying down your account balances -- or not paying any of your bills on time this month -- would affect your score.

CreditXpert's "What-If" simulator lets you play with several variables, such as buying a car, paying off a student loan and opening a department store account, all at the same time. They don't sell the simulator directly to consumers, though. You can get a list of places that do sell it on the consumer page of its Web site.

The bottom line, the experts say, is that you're not powerless when it comes to your credit score.

"There are a lot of things you can do to improve your score," Chung says. "You need to understand what your credit is like now and what's influencing your score today. Then you can take an objective look at the different options available."

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