It’s never too early to think about holiday gift shopping, but know that you can take some steps to mitigate this annual budget-busting situation. While significantly improving your credit can take years of responsible financial management, there may be smaller changes that will help you prep your credit in advance of the holidays.
Dispute Inaccurate Credit Information
Under federal law, you have a right to request that information inaccurately reported to the bureaus be removed from your credit report in a timely fashion. Removing even one account that’s past the allowable reporting period, or fixing an account incorrectly listing late payments, may immediately improve your credit score. TransUnion makes it easy for consumers to dispute report information and most investigations conclude within 30 days. The Fair Credit Reporting Act entitles you to one free report every 12 months, so order your credit report and dispute any inaccurate data. This simple step can help you qualify for the best credit card rewards and offers during the holidays.
Check Credit Limits
Use your free annual credit report to verify that the credit limits for all accounts are listed accurately. The size of your credit card debt compared to your available credit factors into your credit score. If it looks like you’ve maxed out all your lines of credit, your score would probably suffer. Occasionally, a card issuer forgets to inform the credit reporting agencies that it bumped up your credit limit.
Request a Credit Limit Increase
Consider contacting one or two of your credit card issuers and requesting a credit limit increase. Unlike a credit card balance transfer that might damage your credit score if not managed responsibly, a credit limit increase simply increases your available credit, making your current credit balances seem comparatively lower. In some cases this could result in a hard inquiry. At the time you ask for an increase, your credit should be so good that there’s no doubt you won’t get it. Just know your credit utilization has a far greater impact on your score than most hard inquiries.
Automate Your Payments
Your history of making payments on credit accounts can comprise a significant portion of your score. If you’re forgetful about paying bills, register for an automated payment service now. Even six months of on-time payments may boost your credit score in time for the holidays.
Don’t Open or Close Accounts
Many people think closing unused credit accounts improves their credit outlook, but that’s often not the case. Closing accounts changes your level of available credit, while opening new accounts can make it look as if you’re overextended. Especially with credit accounts you’ve had open for a long time, closing them also reduces the average amount of time your accounts have been open. That’s another thing that may be harmful to your credit.
Mix Up Your Credit Types
Using your credit card isn’t the only way to build good credit. Taking out a small personal loan from a credit union or buying a piece of furniture or large appliance on installment can result in a slight boost to your score. Maybe it’s time you finally get that sleeper sofa to fit all your relatives this holiday? If you’re paying in installments, look for deals that offer 0 percent APR for the first year and only make big purchases you know you can pay off without getting hit with high interest rates.
Negotiate with Creditors
If you have any accounts past due, also known as “delinquent” accounts, a quick way to help improve your score is to negotiate a settlement with the creditor for the amount you owe. The negative information won’t disappear from your credit report, but you can request that the creditor mark it “paid as agreed,” which may be considerably better for your credit score than an open collection account.
Smart spending and saving now will help when the festive season does come around so you won’t end up with a holiday credit hangover.