It takes about six months to start seeing improvements to your credit score, although some positive items can start showing up after just three months.
If excellent credit is your goal, you’ll need to work at improving your score for about a year.
Let’s take a look at how long it takes to build credit, and some tips for boosting your credit score and understanding how your score is calculated.
How long does it take to build credit?
If you follow good credit best practices, such as always paying your bills on time, you can start to see positive changes to your score in as little as three months.
In most cases, however, it’ll take around six months to see significant movement in your score—and perhaps a bit longer if you’ve accumulated multiple negative items.
You have to remember that building credit is something you have to work at.
Unfortunately, it’s not instantaneous, which can be frustrating when your credit score is low or you don’t have a credit history to speak of.
The length of time required to build your credit also depends on any negative items on your credit report.
For example, late payments will stick around for seven years, and bankruptcy can stay on your credit report for up to 10 years.
5 reasons why having good credit is important
Like it or not, your credit score has a big impact on your life.
A bad score can hang over you like a dark cloud, making it tough to buy a car, rent an apartment, or even get a job.
Here are five reasons why having good credit matters.
1. Get better credit card terms
Credit card lenders look at your credit score before agreeing to extend you credit, and if your score is low, they’re likely to perceive you as a risk.
In some cases, they might deny your credit application altogether, which will limit your purchasing options.
If they do extend you credit, they’ll probably offer unfavorable terms, such as a low credit limit and a higher interest rate.
2. Upgrade your apartment
Landlords are another type of lender, and they use your credit score to assess what kind of risk you pose.
If you have a habit of paying your bills late, a potential landlord might worry that you’ll be late on your rent, too—this is how a bad credit score can stop you from renting an apartment or moving to a nicer place.
Even if a landlord okays your lease agreement, a low credit score could mean paying a higher security deposit or scrambling to find a co-signer.
3. Qualify for better interest rates
Lenders offset their risk by charging higher interest rates to people with bad credit.
If your credit score is low, you can expect to pay more for the privilege of using credit, which can make your monthly payments higher, affecting your entire budget.
4. Land a good job
A growing number of employers check a job applicant’s credit score before extending a job offer.
As the logic goes, if you can’t handle the responsibility of your own finances, how reliable will you be as an employee?
Shoddy payment history can put the brakes on your career advancement, which can make it difficult for you to improve your lifestyle.
5. Buy a new house
It’s not as easy to get a mortgage as it used to be.
The last recession, which started around 2008, impacted the housing market in a big way, and it made mortgage lenders cautious about approving loans.
If your credit score is low, or you lack a credit history, you can expect a struggle when it comes to qualifying for a mortgage.
What’s a good credit score to begin with?
The definition of a “good credit score” varies, but it generally includes anything between 690 and 719.
But different lenders have different ideas of what counts as “good” or “excellent.”
Generally, if your credit score is 720 or above, you can expect to receive low-interest rates and favorable terms on credit cards and loans.
This is the kind of credit score you should aspire to, and the reason you’ll sometimes see references to a “720 club.”
For those truly dedicated to summiting the Everest of credit scores, there’s also an “800 club.”
Credit score ranges
There are a number of credit scoring systems out there, but the two most commonly used by lenders include VantageScore and FICO®. These are the two scoring systems you’ll see most often.
Image via FICO.com
The most recent version of the VantageScore model includes a range of 300 to 850, while the FICO® score ranges from 300 to 850, with some FICO® models going up to 900.
Know where you’re starting from
If you’re committed to repairing your credit score, your first step should be finding out where your score stands now.
You can check your credit score for free, and it only takes about five minutes.
5 ways to build credit
Whether you’re starting from scratch or rehabilitating your credit score, you should take a multi-prong approach to boost your credit.
By attacking it from a few different angles, you can expect to see faster results.
Here are five strategies to try.
1. Secured credit card
With a secured credit card, you put down money upfront as collateral. This mitigates the risk to the lender, and it allows you to build a positive payment history by making your monthly payments on time and having them reported to the credit bureaus..
2. Authorized user
If you know someone with good credit, you can piggyback on their positive credit history by becoming an authorized user on one of their accounts. Just make sure the creditor reports your activity to the credit bureaus.
3. Credit builder loan
A credit builder loan is a good way to make a fresh start if you have bad credit. With this type of loan, the money you borrow is placed in a savings account, and you make payments toward the balance. When you pay the total amount, you get the amount of the loan, plus any accrued interest.
4. Rent payments
Most landlords don’t report their tenants’ payments to the credit bureaus, but you can change this by signing up for a rent-reporting service. There’s usually a small fee involved, and you’ll need to make sure the service reports to all three major credit bureaus.
5. Pay on time
It sounds simple, but paying your bills on time is one of the best ways to build credit. Even a single late payment can stay on your credit report for seven years, pulling down your score and making it tough to qualify for the best terms and interest rates.
It’s easier to ruin your credit than to build it
If you’ve ever tried to slim down for beach season, you know that gaining weight is easier (and more fun) than losing it.
The same thing is true for your credit score—it’s much easier to ruin your credit than it is to build it, and it’s also possible to tank your score in a relatively short period of time.
Here are five credit mistakes to avoid.
- Paying late. Because your payment history makes up 35 percent of your credit score, late payments are one of the worst credit mistakes you can make.
- Accumulating charge-offs. When a bill is several months past due, you might think it’s easier to give up and let the creditor write off the debt, but this is a credit mistake that can keep your score low for a long time. Charge-offs stay on your credit report for up to seven years, and they can prevent you from getting credit in the future. Worse, you still owe the money, as a charge-off doesn’t make the debt disappear.
- Closing accounts. If you’ve paid off a credit card, or you don’t use the card anymore, don’t close your account. Instead, keep it open and simply cut up your card. If you close the account, you deprive yourself of valuable credit history, which is a factor in calculating your credit score.
- Using too much credit. Your credit utilization is the ratio of your available credit compared to how much of it you’re using. If you’re close to maxing out your available credit, you’ll see your score drop.
- Filing bankruptcy. Bankruptcy might give you a clean slate, but it comes at a serious cost. Namely, the bankruptcy will stay on your credit report for 10 years (for Chapter 7). While bankruptcy is sometimes necessary depending on your financial situation, you should think carefully before you file, as the damage to your credit will stick around for a long time. If you’re already in a financial hole, bankruptcy might not be the way out you’re looking for.
Understanding the 5 credit score factors
Many people go into the credit repair process blind—that is, they don’t really understand how their score is calculated.
If you approach credit repair or credit building this way, you’ll probably get frustrated when you don’t see your score improve, which can make you give up and assume you just have to live with bad credit!
But you don’t.
We’ve already talked about getting your free credit report as the first step in building your credit.
The next step is understanding the five factors that determine your score. They’re all important, but some are weighted more heavily than others.
- Payment history (35%). Your payment history is the biggest factor in your credit score, which is why it’s so important to pay your bills on time.
- Credit utilization (30%). Your available credit, versus how much of it you’re using.
- Credit history (15%). Your credit history is different from your payment history. Rather than measuring whether you pay on time, your credit history is a tally of how long you’ve been using credit altogether.
- Credit mix (10%). The different types of credit you have. A good credit mix includes a healthy span of various accounts rather than just one or two credit types.
- New credit (10%). How often you open new credit accounts. Your credit score can suffer if you apply for too much credit all at once or within a relatively short period of time.
Building credit takes time, but it shouldn’t take more than a few months to start seeing positive upward momentum.
If you make a habit of following good credit strategies, and you avoid credit mistakes, your credit score should reflect your efforts in about six months on average.