Pay Early and Often (or at Least, On Time)
Once you know what you have to work with, make sure that all of your accounts are current, and up to date. Were you a little tardy paying that MasterCard bill last month? Well, this will go on your credit report and lower your credit rating. The longer and more often you do not make bill payments on time, the lower your credit rating will become.
And many lenders won’t give credit to people with a history of recently missed payments on other credit accounts (with “recently” translating to two years back). Missing enough payments that your account is turned over to a collection agency is another sure way to tank your score, not to mention limiting your access to affordable credit – or make it cost more than it should.
Credit reports record your payment habits on all type of bills and credit extended, not just credit cards. And sometimes these items show up on one bureau’s report, but not another’s. Old, unpaid gym dues that only appear on one report could be affecting your score without you even realizing it. If you rent a house or apartment, some credit agencies count the history of those payments in their credit score calculations (assuming the landlord reports it to them). For example, credit rating giant Experian began including positive rental payment histories in its credit score ratings in 2010. TransUnion also figures positive rental payments into its credit calculations (look for it under “tradeline expense” on your credit report.)
Over one-third of your score depends on whether you pay your creditors on time. So, make sure you pay all your bills by their due dates, keep receipts, canceled checks or reference numbers to prove you did so. While utility and phone bills aren’t normally figured into your credit score, they may appear on a credit report when they’re delinquent, especially if the provider has sent your account to a collection agency and forwarded that information to the bureaus.
You don’t have to pay your bill in full to have your payment count as on-time; you only have to pay the minimum (though that isn’t there to do you any favors – it’s there to keep you in debt: You’ll be paying lots of interest, and paying off your balance for years). However, if it’s all you can afford, you’re better off making the minimum payment on time than not making a payment at all. The important thing to remember here is that a consistent history of on-time payments will cause your credit rating to rise.
Some folks swear by setting automatic payments using their bank’s online bill-paying system or their creditor’s automatic-payment system. If you prefer more control, at least sign up for automatic payment alerts from your lender, via email or text. Then set up a place in your house where you always pay bills, and get an accordion file that enables you to arrange the statements by due dates. Be sure to time your payment so the check or electronic funds transfer will arrive on time.