6 Steps to Boost Your Credit Score

More Americans than ever before are resolving to get financially fit in 2014 — a resolution whose popularity is second only to “losing weight” and “getting organized.”

If you’re among the many overcoming financial setbacks, exercise the following steps to get your credit healthy in the New Year:

Step 1. When you accessed the free credit report we’re all entitled to once a year, did you really read it? Review for A) errors (amounts higher than what you owe) and B) old, negative items that should have been removed from your report, typically seven years from the date of delinquency.

Step 2. Dispute errors with either A) the credit reporting agency or B) the original creditor. The former may be preferred, as instructions on how to dispute are often included with your report. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires CRAs respond within 30 days of filing.

Step 3. Rectifying errors is the fastest way to boost your score, if only a little.  If your claim was rejected, contact your CRA, so a notation may be added to your credit file as record of your disputing the item.

Step 4. Develop a plan to pay down debts. Credit repair companies may charge membership and ongoing monthly fees for the very things you can do on your own for free. Tend to delinquent accounts first. “Settling” your account is preferred to an egregious “unpaid charge-off.” With accounts in “good standing,” aggressively pay as much as possible each month toward balances on your cards — in order of highest to lowest interest rates.

Step 5. Experts frequently suggest secured cards to young folks establishing credit. Your deposit serves as both collateral and your credit limit, and financial institutions may reward good payment behavior by boosting your limit. Bankrate.com reports you’ll qualify for an unsecured (“regular”) card, on average, in a year — if you pay on time. Avoid credit card issuers with exorbitant, monthly “insurance fees.” The loan answer to the secured card, the “passbook savings loan,” enables you to withdraw money each month to pay off expenses at a low interest rate, which is reflected on your report as payments on an “installment loan.”

Step 6. Be wary of “conventional wisdom.” After reestablishing yourself, you may be tempted to close your credit accounts. But it’s best to keep it open, as it contributes favorably to your debt-to-credit ratio (which makes up 30 percent of your score). DO use it occasionally if the card is subject to “dormancy” fees. Cutting up a card whose account remains open eliminates the temptation to over-use it. Also resist removing old, closed accounts in good standing as they, too, contribute favorably toward another (albeit smaller) factor behind your score — credit age.

Most importantly, assure you never have to rebuild your credit again, via a foundation of paying on time, every time. Setting up auto-debits and payment reminders helps. If you must keep balances, stay low (experts suggest between 10 to 30 percent of your available credit). Before you know it, the credit score of your nightmares is helping you secure the car, home or future of your dreams.