With the U.S. unemployment rate at a 16-year low, and the job market healthy, an increasing number of folks are obtaining and using credit cards to pay for their expenses. A total of 171 million consumers hold at least one credit card, the highest number since 2005, with each consumer averaging 2.7 cards apiece.

While some will use their cards for sundry items like groceries and dinners out, plus the occasional larger purchase like plane tickets and major electronics, other folks will run into an unexpected household emergency that requires an outlay greater than what their credit card limit will allow.

It’s a pretty likely scenario and, after encountering this dilemma a few times over, some may need to know how to increase credit limits on one or more of their credit cards.

If you fall into this bucket, it’s important to bring your spending behaviors into line with what lenders will be looking for when evaluating your ability to handle more credit. Here’s what you need to know.

Make sure you have a history of paying your bills on time.

It’s pretty simple: In determining a credit limit, a credit card issuer will look at whether or not you have paid your bills on time to help gauge your ability to do so in the future. Folks who show consistent missed or late payments are called a “non-payment threat” and are considered likelier to skip out on payments moving forward.

Get your balances down so your credit utilization rate is low.

Your credit utilization rate is the ratio of your outstanding balance to your total credit limit. The goal is to keep this ratio as low as possible.

A lower credit utilization ratio signals to a lender that you are more likely to be able to pay your balance than if you had higher utilization, which could be more onerous to pay off. Like your payment history, a consistently low credit utilization ratio may suggest to lenders that you are worthy of a credit limit increase due to your ability to keep your spending at responsible levels.

Cut expenses where you can, to increase discretionary income.

The ability to pay your bills goes beyond your credit utilization rate. Lenders look to salary and monthly expenses, such as housing costs, when arriving at the amount of credit to assign to cardholders. Having access to more discretionary income, or a higher salary and lower housing costs, is a positive indicator of one’s ability to pay their bills. To increase yours, cut your spending to get your discretionary income to a healthy level.

Avoid applying for multiple lines of credit at the same time.

It might be tempting to test your luck with an assortment of lenders, hoping an extra line of credit or two will help meet your financial needs. This is a mistake.

By applying for multiple lines of credit within a small window of time, you are signaling to lenders that you are a higher risk. What’s more, each so-called hard inquiry on your credit report serves to slightly lower your credit score, a key component lenders use to gauge your creditworthiness for a higher credit limit on the card you have.

When you understand how to increase credit limits — that is, the factors that are important to the credit card issuer — and act on that knowledge, you may stand a better chance of having your own limit increased when you inquire.

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