Boost your credit score fast
By Gina Freeman
Reviewed by Kimberly Rotter
Dec 27, 2023
Read time: 5 min
Credit scores can improve very quickly—probably faster than you think.
Correct errors and pay down credit card balances for the fastest improvement.
Anyone, at any income level, can improve their credit standing and keep it healthy.
You've decided to increase your credit score, and that's a brilliant move. This decision shows you're serious about improving your financial situation. While it might seem like a tough task, you've got what it takes to make it happen. You're already on the right track by looking for ways to enhance your credit. This journey is more than just about numbers. It's a commitment to bettering your financial health.
Your credit score is yours to own, and yes, there are legitimate ways to put the pedal to the metal. An action-oriented mindset is going to be your biggest asset here. With the right moves, you could improve your credit score faster than you think. We'll show you how.
Achieve is not a Credit Repair Organization and does not provide, or offer, services or advice to repair, modify, or improve your credit.
How quickly do credit scores change?
Credit scores can change the instant new information hits your file at one or more of the main credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion.
Here are some examples of score-changing events. Most have the potential to change your score quickly, but not always in the direction you want it to go.
Make a payment (the only action on this list that usually doesn't have a fast-acting effect on your score)
Miss a payment
Charge a purchase
Lower your credit card balance
Apply for new credit
Have a debt sent to collection
Close an account with a balance
Correct an error on your credit report
Go through a home foreclosure or have your vehicle repossessed
Get a higher credit limit on your credit card account
Open a new account
Here's how to identify opportunities for quick score changes that might help your credit profile.
First: get your credit reports
Checking out your credit reports helps you in two ways. First, you can look for errors. Millions of people have errors on their credit reports, and some of those errors can impact your score.
Second, reviewing your credit reports will tell you what actions to take to improve your credit standing.
You can get a free online report from each credit bureau weekly at the federal government's site AnnualCreditReport.com. Many banks and credit card companies offer free credit scores and put them on your monthly statements.
Fastest way to improve your credit score
You might already know that your payment history affects your credit score more than any other factor. The thing is, although delinquent payments can tank your score in a blink, positive payment history is something you build over time. It's not a quick fix. If you want to bump up your score quickly, the two most effective paths are credit utilization and credit report errors.
Let’s learn more.
Ways to improve your credit utilization
Credit utilization, also called "balance to limit," is the ratio of your total credit balances to your total credit limit. Credit utilization only applies to unsecured revolving accounts like credit cards—not personal loans, mortgages, or auto financing.
Credit utilization is captured in the moment. It's not something that needs to build over time, like payment history or the age of your accounts. Your credit score can change the instant your credit card balances are reported to the credit bureaus. That's why changing your credit utilization is one of the fastest ways to change your credit score.
Let's say you have a credit card with a $3,000 credit limit, and you owe $2,900. Your utilization on this account is nearly 97%. Not good for your credit standing. Accounts that are maxed out or close to maxed out ding your score, sometimes significantly.
Now let's say you make a $2,500 payment. That would bring your utilization down to around 13% and your credit score is likely to go up when your new balance is reported. (This is a simplified example that assumes no other significant changes are reported.)
Likewise, if the balance on your card is zero, you make charges that use up a significant amount of your credit limit, and you don't pay off those charges before your new balance is reported, your score is virtually guaranteed to go down when the bureaus receive that new balance. How far? It depends on your utilization and other factors influencing your score.
Paying down your credit card balances isn't the only way to improve your credit utilization. You could also:
Ask for a credit limit increase or open a new credit card account. The catch is to avoid increasing your debt. If the above credit card has a $2,900 balance and a $5,000 limit, your utilization drops to 58%.
Pay off your credit card balances with a consolidation loan. This doesn't reduce the amount you owe, but it'll lower your utilization ratio if you move the debt from credit cards to an installment loan. The catch is to avoid racking up new balances on those paid-off credit cards.
People with good credit scores tend to keep utilization below 30%, and those with the best credit keep it near zero. Credit scores look at your utilization across all of your accounts and on each individual account. If you need your credit score to be at its best for a loan application, spread out your debt across your accounts, and pay your bill early after charging purchases (so a higher balance doesn't get reported on the statement closing date).
Credit reporting errors that hold your score down
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says these are the most common credit reporting errors, and many can drop your credit scores:
Errors in your identity information, such as the wrong name, phone number, or address
Having accounts mixed up with someone with a similar name (a "mixed file")
Fraudulent accounts from someone stealing your identity
Accounts with an incorrect status, like saying they are open when they are actually closed
Being reported as the owner of an account when you are an authorized user (and therefore not responsible for payments)
Accounts reported as late or delinquent when they aren't
Incorrect dates for the last payment, date opened, or date of first delinquency
Incorrect information that reappears in your file after it was corrected
Accounts appearing multiple times with different creditors listed, especially if they are delinquent or in collections
Errors in the current balance or credit limit of your accounts
When you get your credit reports—it's good to do this once or twice a year—look over the details. If you find errors, dispute them, even if they seem inconsequential. You can usually start the process by clicking a dispute button while viewing your credit report online. Some errors require more effort. If the credit bureau corrects an error that was knocking points off, the result should be immediate improvement in your score.
Another quick boost for your credit score
If you don't have any credit accounts in your credit file and therefore have no score, there's another strategy you could use. You could apply for a credit builder loan (typically offered by credit unions). Although it's a loan, you don't get the money up front. You get it back after you make the payments. You'll pay interest and possibly a lender fee, and the lender reports the account as an installment loan. If you make your payments on time, you could have significant credit score improvement within six months.
Playing the long game: 5 strategies for excellent credit
You can maintain excellent credit year after year by establishing good financial habits.
Pay bills on time. Set up automatic payments or reminders to protect your credit.
Apply for credit only when you need it. Most people naturally add a variety of credit accounts to their credit file over time, like a student loan, a credit card, a car loan, or a mortgage. Don't try to force it. Applying too often can hurt your score.
Use a service to get your utility and rent payments reported to credit bureaus. This information is called alternative credit data, and it won't affect your FICO score. But it could show a creditor that you're creditworthy. Alternative credit data may also include information from your bank and your employer's payroll department that can help you gain points. You can add your utility and cell phone payments to your credit history for free using Experian Boost. You or your landlord will need to sign up (and pay) for a service if you want your rent payments reported.
Become an authorized user on a friend or relative's account. Their payment history on that account is reported to your credit file, so only do this if they have excellent credit.
Avoid carrying credit card balances if you can. The best way to use credit cards is for rewards or convenience, but without carrying the balance and paying interest. If you have to put an expense on a credit card, prioritize paying it off as soon as possible.
Building and protecting good credit isn't a one-and-done exercise. It's a life-long process that will also improve your financial health.
You're on the right track! Your next steps to a better credit score are:
Order your credit reports from the credit bureaus' websites or annualcreditreport.com.
Examine each report for errors and dispute them, no matter how small.
Calculate your credit utilization ratio and decide how to lower it if you need to.
If your credit history is limited or damaged, you can turn that around, starting now. Track your progress, and don't forget to celebrate your wins.
Gina Freeman has been covering personal finance topics for over 20 years. She loves helping consumers understand tough topics and make confident decisions. Her professional history includes mortgage lending, credit scoring, taxes, and bankruptcy. Gina has a BS in financial management from the University of Nevada.
Kimberly is Achieve’s senior editor. She is a financial counselor accredited by the Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education®, and a mortgage expert for The Motley Fool. She owns and manages a 350-writer content agency.
Frequently asked questions
What’s a rapid rescore?
Rapid rescore is a service that helps people update their credit reports and scores quickly—typically in two to three days. Many mortgage lenders offer this service to help clients improve their loan approval chances. If high credit utilization or a reporting error is hurting your credit score, for instance, you’d pay down credit balances or supply proof of the error. Your lender would take it from there and request a rapid rescore. There's no guarantee that rescoring will improve your score.
What’s the quickest fix for a low credit score?
It depends on the reason for the low score. If it’s a lack of credit, authorized user accounts or credit-building services can help. If it’s high credit utilization, then paying down debt, increasing available credit, or replacing revolving accounts with installment loans can do the job fast. If the problem is credit reporting errors, disputing and clearing them is your best bet.
Bad payment history takes the longest to overcome. But you can be proactive and add good payment history with a new account:
Secured credit card. You pay a deposit that’s held by the card issuer. You use the account like a regular credit card. If you charge anything, you’ll need to pay it back. If you carry a balance, you’ll be charged interest. After a period of responsible use, you can request your deposit back (or it may be returned to you automatically).
Second chance credit card. You don’t have to pay an upfront deposit, but you’ll probably pay an annual fee for the card instead.
Be an authorized user. You can ask someone you know if they’ll add you as an authorized user on their account. Make sure it’s someone who has great credit and no bad marks in their payment history. Their payment history, account age, and utilization will be reported on your credit report as well. You don’t even have to use the account.
In all of these examples, paying on time consistently is the best way to get past old credit blemishes.
Should I dispute all the negative items in my credit report?
Dispute only negative information that isn’t true. Accurate information can’t be taken away permanently, and any credit repair service that claims to wipe out accurate data is shady at best, and fraudulent at worst. Over time, the impact of negative history fades. Eventually, new, good information offsets bad stuff from the past.