How to Check and Improve Your Credit Score?

If you’ve never checked your credit score before don’t feel too bad.

In fact, studies believe that one in eight Americans are entirely unaware of their credit score. That’s millions of people who have no idea just what’s going on with their financial lives.

How to Check and Improve Your Credit Score?
How to Check and Improve Your Credit Score? Photo by Clay Banks

But we’re going to help you figure out how to check your score so that the next time you apply for a loan, a credit card, or even a job, you’re not blindsided by the answer.

Table of contents

Know the Difference Between a Credit Report and a Credit Score
Check Free Sources
Ask Your Institution
Use a Reputable Source
Know Your Personal Information
Just Get Started
Check Your Score
Check Again
Use It to Your Advantage
Take Advantage of Free Options
15 Methods to Improve Credit Score

Know the Difference Between a Credit Report and a Credit Score

Did you know that your credit score is different from your credit report?

Well, it is.

So, if you’ve gotten a credit report before, from any of the different free or paid sites, you haven’t gotten your official credit score.

Before you say, ‘but there was a number at the top’, that’s not a completely accurate credit score.

While it’s generally close, that number isn’t the same one that a lender is going to see when they run your credit report.

It’s still a good idea to keep an eye on that number, however, so you always have a general idea of what your score is, especially before you apply for anything.

Check Free Sources

Did you know there are some places that you can get a free credit score?

It all depends on where you have accounts. If you have a bank account at some specific institutions you may be able to get a free credit score.

Even better, you may be able to get your free credit score more than just one time. That’s because some of these institutions, and even some of your credit cards, offer free scores each time you get a statement, which means at least once a month.

Some will even give you weekly updates or give you up-to-date numbers whenever you check. Make sure you know how frequently the number updates so you can stay aware.

Ask Your Institution

You may get a free credit score automatically on your statement from an institution. If that’s the case then you don’t have to worry about anything.

You can just check what your score is each month and stay up-to-date.

On the other hand, some institutions and some credit cards make you sign up for the service, even though it may be free.

Make sure you ask if your institution has your credit score and if they provide it for free.

Make sure you specify that you want a free score (not a paid service) and that you fill out any information you may need to get it.

You may need to authorize the institution, or you may just need to check a box to say ‘yes.’

Use a Reputable Source

While you can get scores from these free sources, the best way to get access to your credit score is through one of the ‘Big 3’ credit reporting bureaus.

Keep in mind that, while these credit bureaus are required to give you a free credit report once (each) per year, they are not required to give you a free credit score.

That is something you’ll need to pay for. When you go through one of the Big 3, however, you can feel more confident you’re getting what you pay for.

If you want to get your score updated frequently you can even sign up for the monthly services or memberships that will give you access to your score whenever you want it.

And keep in mind that checking your own score doesn’t hurt your score and doesn’t count as a ‘credit check.’

Know Your Personal Information

To get your credit score (or even your credit report) you’re going to need to know some personal information. That includes your full name, address, social security number, and some information about a few of the accounts that you currently have.

This is all information that the credit bureau is going to use to verify who you are.

So, when you’re ready to get your number make sure you gather any documents you need to help you remember.

You may be asked who owns specific accounts you have open, the approximate balance, when it was opened, or other information that verifies you are who you say you are.

Just Get Started

The first part of this step is to log on to your chosen credit bureau website.

The Big 3 each offer your credit score for a fee (which is generally right around $15). That means you can choose which of the following you want to visit.

Once you’ve chosen the credit bureau you want to sign up with you just have to fill out the application.

Keep in mind that these credit bureaus offer memberships as well. With a membership, you get unlimited access to your credit report and score, but you will pay a monthly fee.

If that’s something you want, then great. But if it’s not you’ll want to be careful as you’re signing up.

Your credit report should cost you nothing one time a year from each of the 3 bureaus.

Your credit score is a set fee and you should be asked or told if you’re signing up for a membership service so you can easily cancel before the month comes due.

As you sign up for your credit report you’ll fill in all of the personal details that we mentioned. You’ll fill out your name, address, and email to create a basic account.

To actually access confidential information, you’ll need to prove who you are with details like account information, social security number, and more. This allows the credit bureau to see that you are who you say you are.

Check Your Score

Once you’ve filled out all of the information you should get a confirmation in your email.

This confirmation ensures that you really do own the email address that you provided. And it lets you sign back into your account.

Once you do, you’re going to have access to all of the information that you paid for.

It used to be that you would have to wait several days or even weeks to get your credit score sent to you in the mail.

With the increase in online services and features, however, the credit bureaus can now provide you with your credit report and credit score within minutes either within your account or directly to your email.

Check Again

You don’t need to keep checking your credit score, but it’s a good idea to have an idea of what your score is whenever you’re planning to apply for something big.

If you’re about six months out from applying for a big loan, a car loan, nor a mortgage, you should check into your credit score to find out if it’s going to help you or hurt you.

That gives you enough time to make some changes and improve your score before you’re ready to apply.

You also have the option to check your score at other credit bureaus, which will be similar but not necessarily identical to each other.

Use It to Your Advantage

Checking your score is only one part of the equation.

Once you know what your credit score is, you can start making some changes in the way you handle your debt and credit.

If your score is good, you can make some changes and get it to great.

If your score isn’t so good, this is where you’ll want to start looking at some of the options for improving it.

Knowing your credit score is half the battle, and it already puts you ahead of most Americans.

But actually doing something about it and making sure that your credit score is working for you is going to help you get approved for anything that you need in the future.

Take Advantage of Free Options

Did you know that you are also entitled to a free copy of your credit report and the score used to make a decision any time you are refused credit?

If you apply for a loan and you are denied, you are entitled to the information that was used to make that decision.

Take advantage of these opportunities to get a free copy of your score and see how you can improve it.

Just like that, you’ve checked your credit score and you have a better idea of whether you’ll be approved for that next credit card or loan.

You’ll learn everything you need to know about good and bad credit, what your credit score is, how to improve it, and a whole lot more.

15 Methods to Improve Credit Score

  1. Know what your credit score is. The first step to being able to fix your credit score is to know where you’re starting from.
  2. Know that all of your credit counts. If you have a loan, a credit card, or even utility bills, those are all going to affect your credit score.
  3. Pay your bills on time. If you pay all of your bills on time (including credit card and loan payments) it’s going to look better to the credit reporting bureaus.
  4. Pay bills before they’re due. If you get a statement, that means the balance on your statement is the amount reported to the credit bureau. If you make a payment before that, the credit bureau gets a lower number, which shows a smaller debt ratio.
  5. Don’t have too much debt. Credit reporting bureaus can see your available credit and how much credit you’re using. When you use too much, it makes you look like a risk.
  6. Avoid bankruptcy. Bankruptcy, judgments, collections, and charge-offs are all extremely negative events that you never want to have on your account.
  7. Avoid multiple negative events. If you can’t avoid bankruptcy, judgment, collection, etc., or you already have them on your account, avoid getting another one.
  8. Wait it out. Everything on your credit report will gradually stop being as important. And it will gradually fall off your report.
  9. Use credit. This may sound counterintuitive, but using credit is actually a good way to improve your credit–as long as you can do it responsibly and show the credit bureau you’re on top of things.
  10. Keep your old accounts. If you still have the very first credit card you ever got, that’s great. Your age of credit history is probably doing pretty good.
  11. Don’t get new credit. New credit affects your score in multiple ways, by dinging your score when you apply and by lowering your age of credit history.
  12. Only apply if you’ll get approved (or you have to). Apply only for credit that you absolutely need and only when you’re sure you’ll get approved. That way, you get fewer dings for the application.
  13. Dispute the problems. Your credit report is supposed to be 100% accurate, but it might not be. Dispute anything on the report that is false that could be hurting your score.
  14. Use secured credit. If you don’t have credit, or you have bad credit that won’t let you get approved, then a secured credit card can help you.
  15. Negotiate the negative. If you are facing a negative event on your credit report try to negotiate with lenders to get a ‘paid in full’ report rather than a ‘settled for less than owed,’ ‘charge-off,’ or ‘collection.’

Published by Jeannette Scott

, a wellness coach specializing in stress management and quality of life. She’s covered topics from nutrition to psychology, from sexuality to autoimmune diseases and cancer.