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5 tips to improve your credit score

If you've pulled your credit score and are disappointed by what you see, here are some simple things you can start doing now to improve your score. Credit counselor Bruce McClary of Richmond, Va., suggests these five ways to boost your credit score.


1. Get it right 
Accuracy is the first thing to address and the fastest way to boost your score. Find and fix any mistakes that could be pulling your score down. Your credit score is based on the information contained in your credit reports. "For someone who has never seen a credit report or hasn't checked in several years, I recommend getting all three and looking at all of them, because each contains different information," says McClary. For those who check regularly, use the free credit reports to monitor your accounts. Stagger your requests for the free reports so you see one every four months. "With ID theft running rampant, it seems like you need to check more often these days," McClary says. "Maybe once a year isn't enough anymore."

Tip: Request free credit reports from each of the three credit reporting agencies.

2. Pay your bills on time 
Paying on time helps build a healthy payment history. And, as the largest factor in determining your credit score (at 35 percent), it's the best way to rebuild damaged credit. Even if you've had credit problems in the past, depending on how many creditors were involved and how far past due your accounts were, a good 12-month payment history can usually produce noticeable results. "If you fell off for a few months, a year could get you back on track," says McClary.

Expect information about past-due payments to stay on your report for up to seven years. Your score can still improve during that time as long as you make steady, on-time payments. Seven years after the date of last activity the mark may drop off, but the avenues of collecting the money may not be closed. While the statute of limitations on reporting is seven years, the length of time for attempting to collect varies by state and a collector may file a lawsuit against you. In that case the negative mark will reappear as a judgment against you.

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Tip: This work sheet makes it simple to be timely.

3. Step away from the edge 
If you think you're doing everything right, take a look at the amount of your outstanding debt and your debt-to-credit ratio. Reducing your credit card balances will score you points and is especially important if you are flirting with the limit on any of your cards.

You never want to be maxed out, and ideally you'll be using only about 40 percent of your limit on any one card. Spreading debt between cards is better for your credit score than keeping it all in one place.

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