Improving your credit score is an important financial goal for many consumers. Your credit score impacts your ability to get approved for loans and credit cards and influences the interest rates you’ll pay. Going from a poor credit score to an excellent one takes time and diligent effort. But it’s possible if you understand what impacts your score and take specific actions to improve it.
What is a poor credit score?
Your credit scores range from 300 to 850. Scores below 579 are considered poor. This means creditors see you as a high risk and are less likely to approve you for new credit. You’ll also get stuck with high interest rates which cost you more money over time.
Some key factors that lead to a poor credit score include:
- A history of late payments on your loans and credit cards
- High balances carried on credit cards compared to your credit limits
- Collection accounts on your credit reports
- Past bankruptcies or foreclosures
- A limited credit history
Fixing these types of problems and building a positive credit history takes time. Generally, the lower your starting score, the longer it takes to reach excellent credit.
What is an excellent credit score?
An excellent credit score is 760 or higher. At this level, you’ll qualify for the best interest rates from lenders – often even lower than advertised rates. You’ll also likely get approved for just about any loan or credit card you apply for.
Here are some things that help you achieve excellent credit:
- Always paying bills on time
- Keeping credit card balances low
- Having a mix of credit types including installment loans and credit cards
- Avoiding new credit inquiries by limiting applications for new credit
- Having an established credit history of 10 years or more
Maintaining these habits over time allows your score to benefit from the positive payment history and length of credit history.
How long does it take to go from poor to fair credit?
Improving from a poor score to a fair or average one in the 580-669 range can take around 6 months.
Some steps to take include:
- Pay all your bills on time – set up autopay if needed
- Pay down balances on credit cards and reduce usage
- Have any errors on your credit reports corrected by disputing them
- Don’t apply for any new credit during this period
As you build a track record of on-time payments and reduce balances, you’ll start to see improvements in your score. Just 6 months of positive behavior can remove some of the negative impact of previous late payments or collections accounts.
How long does it take to go from fair to good credit?
Moving from a fair score to the good credit range of 670-739 can take about 12-18 months.
Keep up your positive habits and add strategies like:
- Paying down installment loan balances like student loans or auto loans
- Becoming an authorized user on someone else’s credit card if they have excellent credit
- Limiting new credit applications to only 1 or 2 new accounts
- Leaving old accounts open to build up average account age
You’ll also have more time for the impact of previous negatives to fade. As you continue making on-time payments, negative items like late payments or collections have less influence on your score.
With a year to 18 months of diligent credit habits, your score can jump into the good range.
How long does it take to go from good to excellent credit?
Going from good credit to the top excellent score band takes about 2 years. Here are some tips to get there faster:
- Have a mix of credit types – credit cards, installment loans, and a mortgage
- Keep balances low on credit cards below 30% of the limit
- Don’t close your oldest credit card accounts
- Limit credit applications to no more than 3-4 per year
- Build savings so you rely less on credit
- Pay all bills on or before the due date
The average age of your credit history also has a significant impact on your score. Having an established credit history of 10+ years helps your score. Avoid opening a bunch of new accounts you don’t need. Letting your longest accounts age and build history improves your scores.
With consistent good credit management, your scores can reach that excellent mark around the 2 year point.
How can you track your credit score progress?
Tracking your credit score helps you monitor improvement and spot any reporting issues early. You can check your scores from all three credit bureaus monthly for free at AnnualCreditReport.com.
Many credit cards also include free FICO scores on monthly statements. And apps like Credit Karma offer free credit monitoring and scores updated weekly, using the VantageScore model.
Tracking scores frequently lets you calibrate your credit habits to achieve the fastest improvement. It helps you know when negative items are set to drop off your reports based on the 7-10 year reporting periods. Monitoring your scores ensures you stay on track to reach that excellent credit tier.
Tips for speeding up your credit score improvement
Here are some additional tactics to accelerate your credit score gains:
- Get current on past due accounts by contacting lenders to arrange payoff plans
- Pay down balances below 10% of the credit limit on cards
- Become an authorized user on a spouse or partner’s account if they have excellent credit
- Limit card applications to no more than 2-3 new accounts per year
- Enroll in credit monitoring through your bank or a service like Credit Karma
- Consider credit counseling if you’re struggling with debt
- Consolidate debt through a lower interest balance transfer card or loan
The faster you improve repayment habits and build positive history, the quicker your scores recover.
How long does negative information impact your credit scores?
Negative credit information doesn’t stay on your credit reports forever. Here’s how long it takes for different derogatory marks to fall off:
- Late payments – 7 years
- Charge-offs and collections – 7 years from the date of first delinquency
- Public record bankruptcy filings – 10 years from filing date
- Foreclosures – 7 years
- Settled debt – Remains for 7 years from the date of settlement
- Hard credit inquiries – 2 years
As these items age off your reports, they have less impact on your credit scores. You can write dispute letters to credit bureaus to request removal of inaccurate information. But most items fall off a report automatically once the reporting time limit is reached.
Should you pay off collection accounts?
Old collection accounts really drag down credit scores. Paying off collections won’t remove them from your credit reports. However, it can speed up score improvements in some cases.
Here are some smart ways to handle collections:
- Pay small old debts under $100 to possibly improve scores faster
- Only pay larger balances if the collector agrees in writing to remove from credit bureaus
- Don’t re-age old collections by making payments or agreeing to a payment plan
- Be sure collectors send notification to credit bureaus if paid
- Get collector payment agreements in writing before paying
Paying off collections is often worthwhile – just be strategic in how you approach it to maximize score benefits.
Should you close unused credit card accounts?
Closing unused credit cards can actually hurt your credit scores in some cases. Here’s how:
- It reduces your total available credit which increases your credit utilization ratio
- Closing your oldest accounts shortens your length of credit history
Unless a card has an expensive annual fee, it’s often better to keep old accounts open. Just be sure to use them occasionally to avoid inactivity closure. An unused card still contributes positively to your credit age and mix of accounts.
How can you rebuild credit after bankruptcy or foreclosure?
A bankruptcy or foreclosure can wreck your credit scores by several hundred points. Here are some recovery tips:
- Open new credit accounts slowly – wait at least 6 months after discharge
- Become an authorized user on a spouse or partner’s credit card
- Get a secured credit card and use responsibly to build positive history
- Continue paying other credit accounts on time
- Wait for the bankruptcy public record to fade after 10 years
Bankruptcies fall off your credit report after 10 years. But credit scores can start to rebound much sooner through diligent habits. Getting approved for mortgages or top-tier credit may take several years. An experienced credit counseling agency can help analyze your reports and recommend a rebuilding plan.
Does getting married impact your credit?
Marriage itself doesn’t directly change your credit scores. However, joining finances with a partner often leads to credit report changes:
- Your credit records don’t merge when you get married
- You can become an authorized user on a spouse’s credit card
- Joint accounts like mortgages appear on both reports
- Divorce can require separating joint accounts
- A spouse’s negative history won’t directly affect your scores
Managing credit jointly requires communication and trust. As your financial lives merge, discuss credit history and accounts to ensure good habits continue. Monitor your own credit as well as any shared accounts.
Will checking your own credit reports hurt your scores?
Checking your own credit reports does not lower your scores. Reviewing your credit reports from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion is in fact recommended.
Here are some credit report check tips:
- Checking your own reports has no impact – this is a soft inquiry
- Credit checks by others for loans are hard inquiries that can lower scores
- Check reports from AnnualCreditReport.com for free weekly
- Dispute any errors with the credit bureaus in writing
- Monitor cards and loans for identity theft
There’s no penalty or downside to checking your credit frequently. Be sure to review reports from all three bureaus given they each can contain unique information. Ongoing monitoring ensures you spot any suspicious activity early.
How can you improve credit without a credit card?
There are options to build credit without a credit card:
- Open a credit builder account or loan – makes payments to yourself
- Ask to be added as an authorized user on someone else’s card
- Apply for a secured credit card – requires a cash deposit as security
- Take out an installment loan for a major purchase and make on-time payments
- Report rent payments to services like Experian RentBureau to build history
Get creative with these alternatives to establish positive payment records. Having a mix of installment loan and credit card accounts is ideal. But even just making on-time loan payments builds fundamental credit history.
Raising your credit score from poor to excellent takes years of diligent money management. But noticeable improvements can happen in just months. Stick to paying all bills on time, lowering balances, and periodically reviewing your reports. Be patient and persistent as you build positive history month by month. With a strategic approach, you can track steady progress towards those top tier credit scores.