As a credit cardholder, one of the things you may be interested in is improving your credit score quickly. Raise your credit score by making your credit card payments on time and, when possible, in full. Ideally, you would not be carrying a balance on your credit cards, but if you’re unable to do that, keep your balance as low as possible.

Consider these factors and tips when working on your credit score:

Identify Why Your Score May Have Dropped

A good first step toward bettering your credit is checking your credit reports. You’re entitled to free credit reports once a year from each of the three credit bureaus. You can check the report for mistakes to flag, such as a bill you paid but is mislabeled as unpaid, or someone else’s information mixed with yours.

These errors could be dinging your credit score through no fault of your own. Reporting those errors may result in some big gains.

Here are five other common reasons why your credit score may have dropped recently.

  • A missed or late payment. A payment on a credit card bill or loan that’s more than 30 days late could shave points from your credit score. Payment history is a large component of a credit score, so any missed payments will hurt.
  • A high carried balance. Using a high percentage of your available credit might negatively impact your credit score. Your credit utilization ratio, which measures how much of your available credit you are using, forms a significant piece of your credit score.
  • Credit inquiries. Applying for new credit racks up hard inquiries, or instances when potential creditors look at your credit report. These can count against you since a consumer adding credit may be adding debt.
  • You canceled a card. Retaining an old card may be more valuable than closing the account, because length of credit history impacts your credit score. Nixing a card also lowers your available credit, which can raise your credit utilization ratio.
  • A creditor cancelled a card or lowered the limit. When this happens, a creditor may be concerned you’re a heightened credit risk. Similarly, asking for a lower credit limit to help you manage spending may negatively impact your credit score.

Get Credit

A good way to build up your credit score is, well, having a line of credit in the first place. If you’ve never had a credit card before, consider applying. A no-fee credit card, like a Discover card, is a good place to start. If your lack of credit history leads to rejections from credit card companies, you have two options.

First, look into secured credit cards. These come with an up-front cash deposit (say, $500), which gives you a credit limit equal to that deposit. Paying the secured credit card in full and on time will build your credit score in a beginner-friendly way.

Then, you may be able to improve your score by signing on as an authorized user on someone else’s card. This allows you to piggyback on an existing line of credit. But, a warning: If you run up charges you can’t pay, you risk damaging the credit of the relative or friend who generously allowed you to become an authorized user on his or her account. If you’re not disciplined enough to handle this, don’t do it. But if you can keep up with your payments, this method may help you transition from no credit score to a decent one.

Pay on Time

Remember that your payment history accounts for a sizable part your credit score, so you might boost that score by paying bills in full, on time, every time.

If you’re trapped in a cycle of missed payments, consider seriously evaluating your spending and setting a tight budget until you get your credit card balance under control.

Also, credit card companies typically don’t report a late payment to the credit bureaus until you make one that’s more than 30 days late. If you paid a bill a few days or weeks late and were hit with a late fee, you may ask the credit card company immediately for “goodwill adjustment” to reverse the late fee. This usually isn’t a problem if you have a history of on-time payments.

You may also be curious about what date a credit card issuer reports your activity to the credit bureaus. Typically, card issuers report to the credit bureaus on your statement closing date, according to Credit Karma, and you can find information relating to your specific credit card(s) on your credit card statement. Discover cardmembers can find this information under the Credit Reporting section of their statement. Log in to view your statement and more.

Don’t Max Out Your Credit

While you want your credit score to be high, you want your debt-utilization ratio to be low. That ratio is the percentage of your available credit that you spend. Look at it this way: If you have a credit limit of $1,000 and you spend $500 before you pay the bill, that’s a debt utilization ratio of 50 percent.

But, not using credit at all often doesn’t help, since you aren’t building a track record of responsible credit usage. Generally, using 30 percent of your available credit is a financially health marker, although some research has called that into question.

Here are some tips to keep that ratio low:

  • Ask for more credit. If your credit limit goes up but your spending stays flat, your debt-utilization ratio will fall.
  • Pay your bill more often. Rather than racking up a larger bill that you pay each month, you can pay in smaller installments multiple times per month. This keeps the balance that your credit card company reports to the credit bureaus lower.
  • Charge less on your card. A simple way to keep that credit utilization low is to minimize how much you’re charging each month.

Be Patient

Of course, it’s easy to list steps with concrete deadlines and goals, like 30 percent debt utilization ratios or paying bills on time. Harder is examining the habits that might have kicked off poor credit cycles, and then turning those around.

Once you’ve tackled the steps above, consider devoting some serious thought to your next moves:

  • First, structure your budget so you pay your bills on or near the first of the month, or whenever you get paid. You can get the payment out of the way while your bank account is flush. Set reminders on your phone or calendar for the monthly due dates. Many credit cards allow you to set up email alerts as well. Also, consider using an autopay option if you pay about the same amount each month.
  • Then, take some time to research your credit card options for future cards, or balance transfers that can lower your interest rates. Choose them like you would a business partner: with research, selectivity and a solid understanding of how they can help you succeed. The best cards on the market have low APRs, low (or no) fees and added benefits such as fraud protection and rewards programs that suit your lifestyle.
  • Finally, review your budget and spending habits over the past few months and try not to spend more than you have. This is often easier said than done, as it can involve tracking your spending, making a budget, and hewing to it. Creating an emergency fund is often a good idea, too. And making savings goals for big purchases, instead of just jumping on sales or desires. Purchasing your new TV will feel even sweeter when you leave the store with it paid for free and clear.

When it comes to your credit score, unfortunately, the positive changes you make don’t increase your score overnight. But you should begin to see a change in a month or two.

Originally published June 10, 2016.

Updated February 25, 2020.

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