Your credit health is kind of like your physical health -- there's no fast lane to a perfect credit score or perfect health; it's a long-term journey. But just like you can make healthy diet and exercise choices today, you can do the same for your credit.
Here are five things you can try right now to boost your credit health.
Task: Ask for a higher credit limit.
Benefit: Lowers your credit card utilization.
Time: 10 minutes
Tactic: Calling up your credit card company might seem like a daunting task, but if it could help your credit health, shouldn't you do it? Most companies review credit limits on an every-six-months basis. If it's been a while since you've received a credit limit increase, you can try requesting one.
First of all, know that this tactic will likely only work if you've had an excellent record with your credit card company. Find your creditor's phone number on your latest statement or by searching online. Call them up and get an agent on the phone. Once you're talking to someone, tell them how good of a customer you've been, how you've always made your payments on time, and how you've enjoyed using the card. After this initial framework, tell them that you'd like to request a credit limit increase.
Watch out for: Sometimes, credit limit increase requests can come with a new hard inquiry to your credit. Make sure to ask first if this will happen so that you know what to expect and if you'd still like to go through with your request.
Task: Write a "Goodwill adjustment letter" for a past late payment.
Benefit: Removes a late payment from an otherwise good-looking credit report.
Time: 15 minutes
Tactic: If you've recently made a late bill payment when you're ordinarily on top of things, asking to have that one, small black mark removed could work for you. In your letter, you'll make a case for why the delinquency should be removed. Show what a loyal customer you've been and how much you've improved your financial situation since this one mistake. Model your letter after this example and wait about 30 days before following up, if you haven't heard anything.
Watch out for: Remember that your credit card company doesn't have to remove the delinquency, so be prepared for that instance.
Task: Make a plan to pay down your credit card debt at a faster rate.
Benefit: Lowers your credit card utilization.
Time: 30 minutes to an hour
Tactic: If you tend to carry balances on your credit cards from month to month, work out a plan to pay down your debts faster so you can get your credit card utilization rate to lower than 30 percent -- that's the rate that credit experts recommend.
First, see where you stand by calculating your current credit utilization rate. You can do this by taking your total credit card balances and dividing that number by your total credit card limits. Then, use the same strategy to find out your utilization rate on individual credit cards. For the cards reporting more than 30 percent, work on those first. If you've only been making the minimum payments on those cards, increase that repayment rate so you can steadily decrease your utilization rate.
Watch out for: While you're working on lowering your balances, avoid using your credit cards with high utilization rates by leaving them behind when you leave the house. Otherwise, you'll just reverse all of your hard repayment work.
Task: Transfer your credit card balances.
Benefit: Lowers your credit card utilization and increases your total number of accounts.
Time: 15 minutes (then 7-10 days, typically)
Tactic: When you have lots of different credit cards with varying balances to repay, making multiple payments each month can seem tricky. There are several cards that offer introductory balance transfer rates, meaning if you transfer all or some of your other cards' balances, you won't pay any interest on those balances for a year or two (depending on the card). For instance, with the Discover It card, you'll have 14 months to pay down your transferred balances interest-free. You'll also decrease your credit card utilization in the process.
Watch out for: In most cases, if you don't pay off your balance transfer completely during the introductory period, you'll have to pay interest on the entire transferred amount when that period is up. So this tactic is good for you if you're really ready to tackle your credit card debt.
Task: Get rid of credit report errors.
Benefit: Gives you a more accurate credit score.
Time: 1 hour (then up to 30 days)
Tactic: While some credit report errors don't affect your credit score at all (like inaccuracies in your personal information), others can severely impact your ability to get approved for credit (like inaccurate derogatory marks). Bottom line: Cleaning up your credit report should be a top priority. Use the step-by-step guide in How to Dispute an Error on Your Credit Report to help you through the process of cleaning up your reports.
Watch out for: While some credit repair companies will tell you they can remove all negative information from your credit report through this process, that's simply not true. Accurate negative items on your report cannot be removed. Before you hire a company to help you dispute your credit report errors, read through our blog post on How to Spot a Credit Repair Scam.
Bethy Hardeman writes on credit, personal finance and the economy for CreditKarma.com, a free credit management website that helps more than 10 million people access their credit score for free. Find her on Google Plus and Twitter.
This article originally appeared on CreditKarma.com.
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