Credit is crucial in our modern world, and you really can't do much as an adult without having some form of established credit. You will need it to get a credit card, get a car loan, rent an apartment, or even get a mortgage. If you don't have any established credit, it can take some time with credit products to even be able to calculate your score.
If you don't have any established credit, it can take about six months of data being reported from multiple credit lines to build a credit history and be able to calculate a FICO score. If you are trying to change an existing score, how long will depend on exactly what changes and how you make them.
Being able to quickly and effectively build a credit score is vital to leading a successful life, and if you don't have a credit history, it can take some time before your data even begins to populate in the reports. In the case of repairing bad credit and building better credit, it can take months or even years, depending on the severity of the damage. We will look at everything you need to know about getting a credit score, and keeping it looking as good as possible.
How Long Does It Take To Build Credit
For those who are building credit from scratch, you will need to get credit to build credit. It may be challenging at first since it presents a catch-22, but often there are products available to those with a limited credit history that will act as stepping stones to building credit. These will include options like secured credit cards, credit builder loans, and credit cards.
Once you have products or payments that are being reported to the credit bureaus, it will take at least six months of consistent credit activity and reporting to develop enough history for a FICO score to be possible. The FICO scoring model is used in 9 out of 10 lending decisions, and the scores range from 300 to 850, with any credit score over 700 being generally considered as "good."
The important thing to remember is that when you are building a credit score from scratch, the first score you see will not be very impressive, even if you haven't missed a single payment. You not only have to establish your credit history enough to have a score be possible, but then you need to maintain and even improve your credit standing to continue to improve your overall credit score. By the time you can advance to "good" or "excellent" credit, you'll have invested at least a full year, likely more, in having a solid payment history and credit background.
How Long Does It Take To Get A Good Credit Score
The time it takes to get to a "good" credit score can vary tremendously, depending on the consumer, their debt, and many other factors. It will also be highly dependent on the severity of the credit damage that occurred before the consumer decides to repair it.
If your credit is only borderline subpar, you may not need much work to get it looking good again. This can be much easier if you still have active lines of credit that you're making payments on since your payment history is one of the most significant factors in your credit score. By making all of your payments on time going forward, you'll begin to see a rapid increase in your score over the next 3-6 months, with more drastic improvements the longer a solid payment history is maintained.
If your credit has been severely damaged, there may be much more extensive repair efforts needed to get it back to a reasonable score. If your credit report is composed of large amounts of high-interest debt, like credit cards and payday loans, you may need to focus on paying down the debt before repairing the credit since you'll need to be able to keep up with payments once you start the repairs.
Repairing a credit score can take years if damaged badly enough. Moderate adjustments to payment history and credit utilization can often see an increase of 20-80 points per year. With additional measures, the annual increase could become 100 points or more, but the difficulty in raising the credit score will also scale with the consumer's credit score. This means it will be much easier to move a score from 500 to 525 than it will be to move the same person's score from 800 to 825.
Additional reading: What Happens If You Don't Pay Your Credit Card?
How Is A Credit Score Calculated?
Credit scores, whether calculated using the FICO or VantageScore models, rely upon several different criteria for calculation. While the exact formulas aren't publicly available, some things are well-known for affecting a credit score. Those criteria will be assigned different weights based on which scoring model is used to obtain the score.
Payment history is one of the most significant contributors to your credit score in any method of calculation. Your payment history is kept for each one of your credit accounts and contains information on the payment amount, the payment date, whether the payment was on time, and if not, how late it was. This is not only one of the most heavily weighted factors in calculating a credit score, but it is considered one of the overall prime indicators of risk for default when a lender looks at credit history.
The number and type of credit accounts open are also factors in the calculation of the credit score. Too many new accounts can bring your score down significantly, like applying for multiple "pre-approved" card offers that you may be sent after crossing credit score thresholds. You may also be denied when applying for credit if you already have too many similar lines of credit, or if those lines are not in good standing. For example, you may be denied a credit card if you just opened three credit cards last month.
Ways To Improve Your Credit Score
There are many different strategies for improving credit scores, and in many cases, you will need to leverage more than one single technique to get the credit scores you want.
Wait It Out
One way that is becoming more popular is simply waiting out the clock. Negative credit information can only be reported for so long before it must be removed from the consumer's credit report. For seven years, most negative credit items will be on your report, while some bankruptcies can stick around for 10.
Offer To Settle
You can also offer to settle some of your other debt, and if you can make a good enough case to the creditor that accepting your settlement offer is going to be easier than trying to collect, you may just strike yourself a deal. This can be a powerful tactic for medical debt and other debt that may take you years to pay off otherwise, and you may be able to pay it off in a single payment for pennies on the dollar. Be sure you get the settlement offer in writing before you commit, and make sure it contains wording that the item will be reported as paid as agreed to by the credit bureaus.
By law, your credit report must not contain any inaccurate information. This means that if you comb through your credit report and find an old debt you've already squared up or an old account that was already settled, you can dispute the error. You are allowed a free copy of your credit report from each of the major bureaus each year, so that you can monitor for changes yourself, or you can use one of the many credit monitoring apps or services.
Most credit monitoring apps, like Credit Karma, even have built-in credit item dispute functions and allow the consumer to submit a dispute directly to the credit bureau. The bureau must then verify the validity of the debt, correct the information, or remove the item from the credit report.
Removing items can result in immediate and significant credit score adjustments. Having a single item removed entirely from a credit report can result in a 10 to 30 point increase in the score and one less derogatory item on the report. Corrections will usually generate much less drastic improvements, but correcting a payment history error, or an error with a balance owed can result in changes of several points.
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Getting Your Credit Score
It doesn't matter if you're just starting out and need to build your credit history from scratch while building good habits from the ground up, or if you're repairing the result of poor decisions and bad habits on your credit, knowing your score is vital. You need to know not only how it's calculated but what you can do to keep it at high as possible or even to raise it after a dip. With this guide, you'll have all the information you need.
Shawn Manaher is a former financial advisor, has founded 5 online businesses, and is a coach, speaker, podcast host, and author. He's been featured on Forbes, The Consults Corner on TAE Radio, The Writing Biz, What's Your Story, and more.