Deciphering the factors that contribute to a credit score and the ways to improve that magic financial number might seem intimidating, but achieving the great credit score of your dreams is a somewhat simple matter of discipline and attention.

Whether your score is poor or on the verge of great, you know you want to improve it because you've already checked it. Understanding what constitutes your score means more than knowing the number, though. There are three major bureaus that report your credit: Equifax (yes, that Equifax), Experian and TransUnion. It's smart to check all three reports annually for errors or inaccurate information.

A credit score is based on payment history, credit utilization, length of history, credit mix and the amount of inquiries on your accounts.

Some of these factors are worth more than others and the two highest-weighted factors are your payment history and credit utilization. To optimize your score, you'll need to manage all of these factors carefully. Here are the best tips to improve your credit score.


Pay all bills in full and on time

This includes credit cards, utilities, rent and loan payments. Any balance that carries over to the next month or any late penalties incurred will hurt your score and quickly undo the work you've begun. Paying off debt contributes 30% to a FICO Score while your payment history contributes 35%. If you've let a payment go by accidentally, you can ask for the company to forgive the mistake, convince them not to report it to the credit agencies, or, at least, ask them to waive any late fees. A person with a history of on-time payments will have more bargaining power to try to earn this forgiveness but it's always worth a shot.

To avoid late payments, see if the credit or utility company offers payment reminders and turn them on if they do. And, for an extra level of protection, set up automatic payments from a checking or savings account. Be sure that the company will pull the full balance that's due and not just the minimum payment amount. Late payments will remain on your reports for years but older mistakes count for less and less toward your score as they age. Every positive step builds good credit and, simultaneously, reduces the effects of the older, bad credit. The faster you take charge of your future credit, the faster you'll earn forgiveness for the past.

Credit utilization

Credit utilization is the amount of your credit limit you spend each month. If a credit card offers a $3,000 limit and you spend half of it in one month, then your credit utilization for that month is 50%. The magic number according to most experts is 30%; keeping your usage under 30% (optimally, around 10%) will raise your score more quickly, as it evidences responsible borrowing.

The most obvious way to lower your utilization is to reduce overall spending but this might not be immediately possible. Paying off some of your balance before it's due will show the credit company a lower utilization when they close the statement. Opening another line of credit can increase your credit limit but do not open several lines in a short amount of time. This will sound like a warning alarm to the reporting agencies.

It's worth mentioning that closing old credit cards might not actually benefit you, though it sounds like the logical thing to do if you've stopped using a card. Some reports take into account the age of your oldest open account, and closing those unused cards might shorten your credit history and negatively affect your score.

Hard inquiries

Any time a company requests access to your credit report—such as for a car loan or mortgage—it is called a hard inquiry. Whether or not you are approved by the company, the hard inquiry affects your credit score. Several hard inquiries in rapid succession will negatively impact your credit. However, checking your own score has no effect.

Recovering from bad credit

All of the above steps are important long-term choices for healthy credit. But you might be trying to recover quickly from a major financial loss, like a foreclosure, short sale or bankruptcy, which could drop your score by up to 150 points. Unfortunately, these long-term methods are still the best ways to heal even the worst credit. One slightly more immediate action is to apply for a secured credit card. With a cash deposit—often $200—some banks will offer an equal or greater line of credit with which you can begin, carefully, to grow that magic number.

The keys in every case are discipline, diligence and patience. Improvement will happen gradually but it will happen. The more care you put into your financial decisions, the more quickly you'll boost and secure your credit health.

Tom Twardzik is a writer covering personal finance, productivity and investing for Paypath. He also contributes pop culture reviews for Popdust and travel writing for The Journiest. Read more on his website and follow him on Twitter.



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I thought I had a pretty good handle on my finances out of school. I worked several jobs while attending university and had little to no problem managing my income. However, once I graduated, I realized how much more complicated personal accounting could really be.

There were so many variables I needed to keep track of. Biweekly bills, monthly charges, and general necessities amounted to a heap of confusing numbers that were often impossible to decipher. The funniest part was that I was actually trying to do this by hand (I don't know what I was trying to prove to myself, either).

After messing up for the 17th time, I decided to give Microsoft Excel a shot. I used Excel a bit in school and I knew all the big-wig finance people used it, so what could I possibly have to lose? The answer is about six hours of my precious time. Excel isn't much of an improvement over handwriting and it's still dependent on the user to manually input all of the information. It's like doing everything by hand with the slightest help, meaning that it still required a tremendous amount of time and concentration. Well that was all for nothing, I guess.

It's sort of funny. I was certain that I could manage my personal finances with ease, when it's practically a full-time job. I was already stressed out enough with my first job and I knew I didn't have enough time to give my finances the attention it deserved.

That's why I decided to try out a budgeting app. My best friend told me that he uses an app called Truebill to manage his finances. "What does it even mean to manage your finances?" I asked him. He told me that Truebill was the personal financial assistant I wished I could have. It could aggregate all of my account information into one place and give me specific insights and actions.

I loved the idea of having full control over my finances, especially during a time of financial uncertainty, and I realized that Truebill would be the easiest way to accomplish this. The user interface is incredibly simple and intuitive, so it doesn't even feel like a finance app! Truebill offers a multitude of features, with their most popular being the ability to cancel subscriptions with the press of a button.

Okay, I had no idea how many subscriptions I was still subscribed to. In fact, I wasn't even using a quarter of the subscription services I was signed up for. Subscription boxes, streaming services, my old gym, and even an old subscription to my favorite magazine--it was all there and I was livid. How could I let myself waste all of this money and how did I never catch this? Thank goodness for Truebill.

Truebill also offers bill negotiations. There is a 40% fee based on how much you save and Truebill even claims that there is an 85% chance that they'll be able to lower your bill once a negotiation is requested. Why wouldn't I take them up on this? There was zero risk and I would only have to pay once my bill was lowered (which means that I would be saving money regardless).

More standard features of Truebill include the ability to generate a credit report on-demand and even request a pay advance. I only used the pay advance feature once when I wanted to buy a gift for my mom, but didn't have enough cash in hand and Truebill automatically reimbursed itself when I got my next paycheck.

The credit report is another fantastic feature and practically taught me what good credit meant. Truebill's credit report basically shows you which financial decisions have the most significant impact on your credit score and ways that you can improve your credit month-over-month. I've never had such control over my credit and it feels good.

I'll be the first to admit that I was extremely naive coming out of school. I figured that as long as I was attentive, I could manage my finances with ease. We manage money to some extent throughout our entire lives, but once you're thrown out on your own, it's a completely different story. With Truebill, I've finally been able to take control over my finances and stay on top of all of my responsibilities.

Update: Our friends at Truebill are extending a special offer to our readers! Follow this link to sign-up for Truebill.

My buddies and I always try to make it out to a game, but we never really care which one we end up at. Obviously we have our favorite sports and teams, but it was rarely about what game we went to or who we saw playing. It was about watching the game live.

In the early months of lockdown, all we had was Korean baseball, and trust me, we loved it. The only issue was, none of us had any idea what the commentators were saying. Even then, a few of my friends weren't huge fans of baseball. They were into sports like football and basketball, ones that moved at a quicker pace with less down-time in between plays.

We decided to see if there were any other events going down and came across horse racing. Yes, horse racing. It was perfect--short, fast-paced, and most importantly, an opportunity for betting.

I had never really considered watching a horse race any time other than the Belmont Stakes, but the prospects of the sport seemed exhilarating. Even better, with horse racing we knew we could still recreate the atmosphere of a race track. Salty snacks? Check. Stale beer? Check. A simple and easy way to bet? Check.

One quick Google search later, we came across TVG, powered by FanDuel. It's an online betting platform that takes you right to the heart of the action. We were a little apprehensive about using a mobile app to place our bets, but TVG's ability to bet on live horse races from all over the world was too good to pass up.

Here are 5 reasons why we are obsessed with horse racing thanks to TVG:

1. Betting has never been easier

Use your phone or computer to watch and bet on live horse races in real-time. TVG offers a bunch of features to make betting even simpler--live odds and handicapping tips leverage recent learnings to help you make your best bet. Not to mention, TVG's exclusive race content and wagering guide offers an under-the-hood look into the strategy behind horse race betting.

2. The biggest selection of horse races out there

If you're looking to drop a little dough on a horse race, chances are your best option is your local race track. But watching the same few horses races over and over again isn't the most exciting thing. With TVG you have access to over 150 tracks worldwide with races happening consistently throughout the day.

3. Get a generous sign-up offer when you place your first bet

Once you register your account, you will be eligible for a $200 risk-free bet. All you have to do is place your first bet and you're covered. If you happen to lose, TVG will insure you for up to $200 as a sort of wagering credit. I may have been a little trigger happy when placing my first bet, so having this insurance was a great perk. There are also a bunch of promotional offers available year-round.

4. Making deposits and cashing out at the touch of button

With a ton of payment options such as PayPal, BetCash, debit/credit, wire transfers, and other third-party services, making a deposit is a breeze. But what about the payout? Depending on your deposit method, your withdrawal will be available in a few days. No more waiting in-line to collect your winnings!

5. Watching live races with your friends while betting is exhilarating

Even when we were watching Korean baseball, Zoom calls with my friends were a little dull.

With TVG, we haven't had this sort of fun in months! Every weekend we'll turn on a race and throw our bets in. After a few races, and quite a few drinks, we'll tally up our winnings to see who won the most! Sometimes it's not even about making money, but just having a good time.

TVG is the perfect way to add a little excitement to an otherwise mundane afternoon. It introduced me to the world of horse racing, a sport I never would have considered otherwise.

The races just keep ramping up and thanks to TVG, I can always get in on the fun.

UPDATE: The biggest derby in horse racing is THIS WEEKEND. Get in on the action with your $200 risk-free bet!

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