Credit Score Improving Your Score

The Quickest Way To Skyrocket Your Credit Score

Written by Hank Coleman

It’s not always easy to boost your credit score quickly. Often, it takes some time and a little bit of work. But, if you have one or more maxed out credit cards or you run a high balance on your credit cards, then these simple tactics can boost your credit score fast.

The problem with having high balance is your debt ratio or sometimes what the credit bureaus call the utilization ratio.

Your debt ratio accounts for 30% of your overall credit score according to models used by the nation’s three credit bureaus and the Fair Isaac Corporation, which created the industry standard, FICO Score. The debt ratio is the second most important factor the credit bureaus use to calculate your credit score behind making your payments on time.

The good news is that improving your debt ratio is very easy to fix, and it is actually the quickest “credit killer” you can fix that will have the most impact on your score.

So what exactly is that the debt ratio? The credit bureaus determine your debt ratio by dividing your available credit limit and how much of your credit cards’ limits you use.

Let’s say you have a credit card limit of $10,000. If you use $5,000 of that credit limit, you have a 50% utilization ratio. Now, that’s not too bad, but it’s not great either. Ideally, you want your utilization rate to be below 30%. Below 10% is even better.

So how do you accomplish getting your utilization rate below 30%, let alone below 10%? There are a couple of ways to get your utilization rate down fast.

First, you can transfer the balance of one of your credit cards to a new or existing credit card. By moving a high balance credit card to a lower balance credit card, you are lowering your use of available credit.

Of course, this isn’t really changing your utilization rate. The three credit bureaus– TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian– look at your total available credit and credit card balances. Moving balances from one credit card to another won’t change your total debt balance and credit limits; it simply shifts them around. But, you might see a change for a month while your credit report catches up to new data provided by your lenders depending on who reports first.

Quick side note: if you have any existing debt this can actually help you save on your APR as well.

Another way to lower your utilization rate is to pay down the balance that you run on your credit card. Paying down your balances can take longer, and you won’t see your score boost quite as quickly. However, it’s an effective long-term strategy to reducing your utilization rate and raising your credit score.

Realistically, taking care of your debt ratio is the highest leverage point in your credit. Why? Because with some parts of your credit it takes a certain period to improve them no matter what. That’s just the way it is. For example, a negative report on your credit score such as a late payment or bankruptcy stays on your credit report for seven years.

About the author

Hank Coleman

Hank Coleman is the publisher or the popular personal finance blog, Money Q&A. He’s also a freelance journalist specializing in retirement planning, investing, and personal finance. You can also find him on Twitter @MoneyQandA.

81 Comments

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  • I really don’t want to leave a comment that can be read by everyone, but here it is. Ten years ago, I had a complete breakdown. After several hospitalizations, etc., it is only about the last six months that I feel clear minded and have a desire to see what my credit scores are. That sounds crazy, but I was and I did not recover overnight! It has taken almost a decade to get into an emotional position to even face life! Not funny, but very true. Anyway, I was horrified. I am 67, but don’t like feeling like a loser and would now like to be able to move into a respectable apartment (I moved into an efficiency because of a limited income) but when I checked my credit reports, I was flabbergasted. Most I did not understand or remember. One was definitely wrong, as I do remember the circumstances. I know I am rambling, but I really don’t know where to begin. I have a report from the 3 credit bureaus, but they are 606,527,532. I pay my rent, utilities, and credit cards on time, but it doesn’t seem to have much difference although my cards are all maxed. I don’t know where to go to begin to straighten things out. Any suggestions?

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    • The credit agencies are generally run by financial institutions. They take security very seriously.

      A hacker would have to be able to access their systems, make a modification and then delete all evidence that the modification has been made. Possible, but not easy – it could easily be months of work looking for a security flaw, and they would still need a way of ensuring the change was saved. Most hackers are low level ‘script kiddies’, and this is completely out of their league.

      An insider in the agency or one of their data feed partners would have a far easier time. Assuming they had system access and the rights to make changes, they could add false information such as a fake loan with regular repayments, or wiping old missed payment information.

      It’s unlikely they could get around the logging systems, so it’s going to be picked up sooner or later if they do it more than once, so not something you could do ‘for hire’. They would then be fired and face possible criminal charges, as it would be clear who they were.

  • Paying off balance on my 2 cards with Capital One worked well with Trans Union and Equifax – score went back up over 46 points in 1 month – but my score with Experian stays almost 100 points below the other two. Anybody knows how to fix it?

    • That’s interesting. Each credit bureau is a proprietary algorithm. Experian’s seems to value paying off cards less than the other two if all things remain equal. You might want to try another tactic to boost that score. What was the impact on your FICO score? That’s the one you should care about more than the others. 90% of all lenders use FICO, not the other three’s scores.

  • My ex-husband is constantly late paying the mortgage on the house we bought together. My name is still on the loan. I am still waiting on my divorce settlement and to get my name off the loan. Because of his late payments, my score has dropped well over 100 pts. I stay current on all my bills and am even paying extra and trying to become debt free. What else can I do to prevent my score dropping anymore because of his carelessness?

  • Mike, You can not be more accurate on anything than you are on this article.

    Each month I run my card up charging everything on my card instead of using cash or debit cards. I keep my cash available and I MAKE CERTAIN I MONTHLY PAY MY CREDIT CARD DOWN TO BETWEEN 1% TO 10% OF MY AVAILABLE CREDIT BEFORE THE PAYMENT DUE DATE. This keeps my Debt to Credit Ratio soundly in the lower limit of under 10% usage, the ideal sweet spot to maximize your credit score.

    I wonder why the banks simply do not put all this information in a short report and hand it to us when we open an account. Surely they want us to follow the norms and keep our credit clean or they would not make it so easy to get our credit scores maximized. The only answer I can imagine is banks must feel if we research this information on our own it makes us a better credit risk and shows our dedication to being credit worthy. In return our dedication and care to repay makes us better credit customers to carry their cards and lend money to. Think about it, makes perfect since to me.

    What does this mean for the people you help? It puts them in a unique position to be seen as one of the perfectly and determined credit worthy people they want to lend money to. This is what those who are righteous over following your advice have to look forward to, along with saving their time and effort of doing all of this on their own.

    In short there is no doubt you offer GREAT VALUE in the information you share.

    • Hey Sharon, thanks for being a reader! FICO is one company that offers a calculator to help you find your credit score. Please see the linked article for more information.

    • FICO (Fair Isaac and COmpany) is a company who first designed and offered an algorithm to analyze and output a score based on the information in your credit reports maintained by the three credit bureaus. FICO offers what has long been considered the industry standard of credit scores for many types of lending. The most common of the FICO credit scores is know as FICO-8 used for general consumer lending, personal loans and credit cards. FICO also has other algorithms for specific lending like real estate, auto loans and other purposes like housing rental. In addition to credit scores FICO offers the use of their credit scores to lenders and consumers on a fee per score basis.

      Today FICO has competitors who also produce credit scores but the score they develop most time are not the same as the FICO score. For example the VANTAGE score is similar to the FICO score but the algorithm was written as a combined effort of the three credit bureaus. I assume this was done as a cost saving method of offering a credit score to those who desired to pay the bureaus for their in-house credit score.

      Because FICO has long been the GOLD STANDARD of credit scoring, FICO is the credit score you want to rely on for the best accuracy of having similar information to what lenders have available. This is what sets FICO apart from all of the other offshoot companies who have set out to develop their own credit scoring system(s).

    • Each credit bureau is a proprietary algorithm. Each credit score can and will be a little different from one another. The FICO score is the one created by the Fair Isaac Corp, and you should care about more about it than the others. Your lenders sure do. 90% of all lenders use FICO, not the other three’s scores.

  • Mike you recommend credit pro is they as good as your credit solution. I would like to use them. I’m using one called National Credit and they don’t seem to be accomplish what I want. I have a credit score of 450 that is FICO score but with score sense it is 565, 545, and 585. By the way I just bought your Credit Solution Course.

    • Hi Herschel,
      Thank you so much for your readership! We do, indeed, recommend CreditPros. If you’re interested, give them a call at
      855-980-4898 and they can help you bring your credit back up to speed.

        • Belinda,
          You are correct! Credit Pros currently does not offer their services in Oregon, Maine, Kansas, South Carolina, Georgia, Minnesota, and California.

  • I love the information you give. It’s also great to see that alot of my common sense approaches are the exact advice you give here. Three very important things I’ve learned that make an immediate difference in raising my scores…1) I very rarely bring my cc down to zero balance. I may leave -$10-$20 on just so it shows I have control of my spending. It sounds a little backwards but it works. 2) When I do NEED to carry a balance I try to keep it below 30% utilization, most often below 10%. 3) The most important thing is the reported balance I carry over. Learning ALL the different reporting dates on all my cc/loans let’s me control what’s reported to the credit reporting agencies every month. Combined, these have really helped turn my score around. Hope this helps someone.

  • Incredibly useful information that has helped me take a hard look at my credit scores & build the courage to do something about it! It’s been 4 months since I’ve contacted my creditors, set up affordable payments and seen a 20 point difference in my credit scores! This plan works!!! If only I knew about credit earlier in life–I’m sharing this information with everyone I know! Thanks!

  • Hi My credit score is 705 transunion and 710 ex I have $23,000 of credit available after just after paying off all my cc only 1 shows that it has been paid off its been a month? Should I see a big jump?

  • credit agencies operate under a charter illegally approved by the US government! The use of SS numbers by any entity beside the US govt for ID purposes is ILLEGAL! Ans the laws and rules of credit rating agencies are ridiculous! Why have good credit if you are penalized for using more than 30% of it? When is paying a large balance down to zero every month less important than paying multiple payments on multiple card with multiple balances? why is is a penalty to apply for a receive new credit card based on good credit only to see you score drop? It is a SCAM!! and we are all sucked into it

  • So the card transferring the $10000 in your illustration is not considered as overstretching the debt ratio? I dont get it here.

  • Awesome…. so informative.. im cancelling credit repair. Com today…! Thanks for this mad knowledge….!!

  • Why is the credit bureaus extending dates on an item that is due to drop off just because you make an inquiry on your own report to dispute the balance.

  • Richard, I reallydont know where to start. After a chaper 11, I believe it was where as I did repay my debt. Now have no credit card and can’t seem to get one. Im retired on disability and get by ok. Have no car payment. I would like to have better credit. When I worked for the government made good money and had good credit could buy anything I felt i needed. Should I just stay the way I am with no cards or what? Please help me out. My grown kids have scores over 800. Really don’t know my next move. Thanks if you can help. Craig

    • Have your kids add you as an authorized user on their cards, you will get their good history, they keep the cards, and that will drive up the score, once score is up apply for cards at Best Buy, Marvell, and Chase

  • Mike,
    ‘Your original questionnaire didn’t have an answer that related to why I have a credit crisis.
    I was disappointed because I had hoped I may finally find a way to bring my credit rating
    back up. What was the response you left out that is the nearest to my situation?
    Defaulting on a loan.

  • Mike purchasing your program was the smartest move I made to reboot my credit and increase my purchasing power. In the first three months, paid down my high interest debt, erased 35% off my credit history due to mistakes made on credit bureaus behalf, then opened up two new credit cards paid off in 6 months, increased buying power 55% and have been building credit to purchase a home this fall. No regrets on your program. When I purchased your program, I had no credit, terrible score, and no light in my tunnel seemed possible. But after one year of your program, I now have 23 credit cards at the lowest rate possible and American Express boosted my credit immediately. I have utilized your program now for over three years and I now teach my children how to take care of credit, respect your credit score and respect your creditors. I only have three credit cards I use daily to continue to build credit. American Express has definitely heighten my score emensely. Thank you for a great program. Best money I have ever spent.

  • My husband and I really maxed out ALL of our credit cards to take a big vacation. I noticed our credit scores immediately decreased by 50-75 points. Will this permanently affect our credit scores?

    • Hi JoLynn,

      The good thing about your credit history and score is that it can always change (for better or for worse). Make sure you make at least the minimum payments on time to avoid your score dropping even lower or having the accounts sent to collections. Paying down those high balances will definitely give your score a boost–plus the faster you pay it off, the less money you will pay on the interest.

      If you can avoid creating more debt while you recover from this latest spending bump, you should see your finances and credit score start to go back to normal over the next few months.

      Abbey

  • I just want to thank you, I have raised my credit score 66 point in 2 months. I have also raised my husbands credit score 131 points, yes mine is less because I had a lot of damage. My information was being used since I was 14. Everything came back to me when I went to apply for a credit card at 35. I didn’t bother just thinking I didn’t have credit, so one day I saw the credit solution video and chose to get my free credit score and what a shock! Well to make long story short I was able to remove $10,000 dollars of debt.. A foreclosure that belong to a house I never owned, and my score boosted. Now I have a credit card that I use wisely and only as a tool to improve my score. Thank you!

    • Hi Jade,

      Thanks for reaching out, and congrats on raising your score! Keep checking back in to let us know how it goes

      Abbey

  • How can moving a balance from one card to another lower my percentage of available credit used? No matter which card the balance is on, the percentage of credit used is still the same, is it not?

    • Hi Theresa,

      If you keep the original account open, your overall utilization ratio will drop. Think about it: if you have one credit card with a $10,000 limit and an $8,000 balance, then your utilization is 80%. If you open a new card with a $10,000 balance and transfer your balance to that card, you now have $20,000 in total credit and a total balance of $8,000, you your utilization is now only 40%.

      Since many cards do not charge interest for a period of time after the transfer, your payments will go directly toward paying down the principal during that time. If done correctly, balance transfers have the potential to help you improve your credit score and pay down your outstanding balance.

      Abbey

      • My inquiry wasn’t about opening a new card. I understand that concept. Your blog post reads: First, you can transfer the balance of one of your credit cards to a new or “existing” credit card

        • Hi Theresa,

          If you have one card that is near its limit and another card with a low balance, you spread out the amount over the two cards to lower your utilization ratio. Yes, you will be raising the utilization on the card that you are transferring the balance to, but as long as you can keep it under 30% then it shouldn’t negatively affect your credit. The card that transfer the balance from will have a lower utilization ratio, thus helping boost your score.

          Abbey

          • Larry.
            Am understanding that the transfer is not considered as a an expediture as far as utilization ratio is concerned.!!??

  • My husband and I are wishing, dreaming of buying our first house in about a year. We are both 43 yrs. old and have poor credit. For the last 6 months I have made payments on the one auto loan we have on time and my husband got a cc with a 500 limit and make payments regularly and on time. But his score hasn’t climbed not even a point what are we doing wrong. We are desperate we have lived in the same rental property for 11 years and have always paid on time, the landlord has offered to write a letter when we try for a home loan, not sure that will help or not.

    • Hi Laurie,

      Do you know if the lender who gave your husband the credit card reports to all three credit bureaus? If they don’t, then your husband’s on time payments will not affect his credit score. Make sure that any account that you have reports to the credit bureaus, and that you keep the balances below 30% and pay them in full every month. You also may want to pull copies of your credit reports and make sure there are no negative items that are holding you back–there may be errors or items that you were completely unaware of.

      You can also see if you can have your credit limits raised, which will reduce your debt credit card utilization and positively affect your score. The name of the game is a variety of accounts, all with low balances and excellent payment history.

    • Dont pay off the bal on your card in full each month. Leave about a $20 bal on the card. I had the same problem and found that because I was paying it off each month it was not helping my score so as soon as I left a bal one month it went up 24pts and still going up.

  • I have 2 retail cards paid off and one credit card paid off. I would like to close the accounts. What will closing the accounts do to my credit? Or is it better to just keep them at a zero balance? I read so many conflicting stories.

    • Hi Tori,

      As far as your credit score is concerned, in general it is best to keep your accounts open, even if you do not plan on using them. This is because the age of your credit accounts makes up 15% of your overall credit score. By closing your older accounts, you eliminate them from being included in the calculation. If you cannot (or don’t want to) pay the high annual fees associated with your cards, that is one thing to consider. But if it isn’t costing you anything to keep these accounts open, it is probably best to keep them as they are, and not take the hit to your credit score.

      Abbey

  • I have been in a chapter 13 a little over 1 year ago. I have a home still that I am paying for. My credit score went down to the 450 range. I went to a credit repair company to help me get my score up to buy another home. It seem that they was doing what I was paying them for, until I went to a auto dealer and they pull my credit score and it was less then what I started with before paying for help with trying to get it up. Do I have a case of legal robbery?

    • Hi Robert,

      Although credit repair companies seem like they can wave a magic want and fix your credit report, many fail to deliver results even close to this. Most of these companies charge for services that you could perform yourself for free, like identifying negative items on your credit report and disputing them with the credit reporting agencies to have them removed. You don’t need a professional to accomplish this, you can get started on it right now for free by watching this video that Mike made to help explain the process: https://thecreditsolutionprogram.com/staging/education/full-video-series/

      Some credit repair companies even offer to give you a completely new “credit identity,” and most of these methods are just flat-out illegal. Your personal credit is very important, and no one will care about it as much as you do. If you are paying good money and not receiving what you were promised, it may be time to look into other options.

      Abbey

  • Thank u …. I was just cleaning out my email subscriptions…. Thank God I read yours 1st! I will keep it.. Makes perfect sense. Thank U again…

  • Thank you for all the wonderful advice and tips!! I am learning so much about credit that I wish I did a long time ago!!

  • Can you tell me how to improve all three credit bureaus scores? Equifax is the highest. I essentially would like to have 800 across the board.
    Thanks
    Karen P.

    • Hi Karen,

      Each of the 3 credit bureaus uses a slightly different formula to calculate your credit score, and unfortunately they keep that information to themselves. What we do know is what factors affect our credit scores the most–this means that you can improve each area to see your score rise overall. You can find out more about the basics of a credit score to help you get started here: https://thecreditsolutionprogram.com/staging/what-are-credit-scores/

      Abbey

  • A very clear, informative and useful article! All the previous things I’ve seen written about this never were this clear about the details of “how it works”. Very useful, I’ll get right on it!

  • I have 2 good line of credits use n pay off to keep the cr open. I pay all my notes (mortgage) on time and months ahead my credit cards I do as you say use them but pay them off every month and I still can’t get my credit score over 645!!! What am I doing wrong?

    • Hi Elaine,

      I wish that credit scores were a simple thing to master, but unfortunately they aren’t. There are 5 factors that are used to calculate your credit score, and a change in any of them can raise or lower your score. You can find out more about how your credit score is calculated here: https://thecreditsolutionprogram.com/staging/what-are-credit-scores/.

      Although paying on time is responsible for 35% of your credit score, you probably need to work on the other 4 factors that make up the rest of your score.

      As the article describes, decreasing your credit utilization ratio is a great way to raise your score quickly. You can ask your bank to raise your credit limits, while keeping your balances below 30%. You may also want to add another type of credit, like an installment loan, in addition to the revolving credit accounts you already have.

      Don’t be discouraged because your score is stagnant, and congratulate yourself on taking the time and energy to put towards improving your credit score. By making gradual changes, you should start to see an increase over the following months.

      Abbey

  • I have learned so much from you, thank you for sharing so much of you knowledge. I was always a cash person and never worried about credit. Today credit is everything.

    • Hi Diana,

      So true–unfortunately just paying your bills on time is not enough to build a strong credit history. Luckily you can make credit cards work for you if you keep your balances low and pay them off in full every month.

      Abbey

  • Still a bit confused…if I transfer x amount of debt from card A to card B, how exactly does that improve my debt ratio?

    • Hi Tony,

      Your credit utilization ratio compares your total balances to the total amount of credit available to you. So, by transferring a high balance to a new or low balance card, you are increasing your total available credit. With more available credit, your utilization ratio decreases.

      Abbey

  • this is great but what if your almost maxed out on all your credit cards and none of them will reduce your interest rate or increase your limit???

    • Hi Jay,

      If you have no more wiggle room on your cards, these tactics may not work for you right now. Another approach that may work better for you would be to try to pay off your lowest balance card. Eliminating that debt will raise your total amount of available credit, as well as free up some more cash for you to put towards paying down your other balances.

      You can also try opening another credit card and transfer a balance to that one. If the new card has a better interest rate, that will give you more available money to pay down your balances. If you want to try this tactic, be very careful that you use this new card only as a tool to help you pay down your total debt. Maxing out another card will only set you further back.

      Abbey

  • Thanks! This is the best information I have received that can help me with my own personal credit cards/Debt Ratio.

  • I recently had a two month set back in finances. After those two months I caught things up, but last week I got a letter that the credit limit on one of my credit cards had been reduced to a $1.00 above my balance because of a periodic check they do on credit. I was no where near my credit limit, and this wasn’t even one of the cards that was affected by the previous issue.
    I don’t think they should be allowed to do this if in doing so it further hurts your credit.

    • Hi Bev,

      Credit card companies have been known to unexpectedly lower customers’ limits to decrease their risk of losing money if their customers default. It may not be fair, but it happens. You should first call your lender and see if you can convince them to return your limit to where it was before. Calmly explain that you have gotten your payments back on track, and point to anything like a salary increase that makes you less of a risk for default.

      Whatever you do, don’t close your account in frustration; this will only further hurt your credit score. If you cannot get your limit increased, it may be time to shop around for another card that offers you what you are looking for.

      Good luck!

      Abbey

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