How fast can you improve your credit score? If you need to borrow money but have poor credit – or no credit score at all – it can feel like an eternity before the number is acceptable to lenders. Still, with positive changes in your credit managing habits, you can see credit score improvements occur in as little as one month.
But exactly how long does it take to repair credit or even build credit from scratch? Here’s what you need to know.
How Long Does It Take to Build Credit From Nothing?
There are a few reasons why you might not have a credit score. First, you might not have any experience using credit yet; if you haven’t opened a credit card or taken out a loan in the past, then you have what’s known as a “thin credit file.” This means there isn’t enough information available to generate a credit score for you. This can also happen if it’s been a very long time since you last used credit, you’re a new immigrant to the U.S. or you have been recently widowed or divorced.
That might leave you wondering, how long does it take to build a credit score? At the very least, it will take six months to establish a credit score from nothing. FICO, the credit score company, requires that you have a minimum of one credit account that’s been open for six months or more and at least one account with activity that’s been reported to the credit agencies within the past six months. It’s possible for one account to satisfy both of those requirements.
FICO’s third requirement for generating a credit score is that there can’t be any indication on your credit reports that you are deceased. That might sound strange, but it can happen if you shared an account with someone who was reported deceased. If you satisfy all three requirements, you should have a credit score within six months. Then you can work on the next step – improving your score.
These are the FICO score ranges:
- Poor: 300-579.
- Fair: 580-669.
- Good: 670-739.
- Very good: 740-799.
- Exceptional: 800-850.
How long it takes to build good credit will depend on how many accounts you open, as well as how much you’re using your credit, says Leslie H. Tayne, debt resolution attorney at Tayne Law Group in New York and author of the money management book “Life & Debt.”
Good credit is based on several factors that have to do with your behaviors as a borrower, making it tough to nail down an exact timeline. However, in order to build good credit as fast as possible, you should focus on the most impactful credit score factors.
“When you’re first building credit, it’s important to start off on the right foot, so make sure you can make all your payments on time every time and try to pay down your balances in full,” Tayne says. Overextending yourself right off the bat will only lengthen the credit-building process.
How Long Does It Take to Improve Your Credit Score?
Say you have a credit score, but it’s not in great shape. Now the question is, how long does it take to get good credit? The timeline can be tricky for improving a bad credit score. It will largely depend on how bad your credit is to start. “If you’re dealing with some serious damage, it could take several years to build it back up,” Tayne says.
For example, serious negative marks such as a collection account, foreclosure or bankruptcy will stay on your record for about seven years. Even so, their impact will fade with time. A collection account that is 5 years old, for instance, will drag down your score much less than one that’s just 5 months old, according to FICO.
Below is a look at how long it typically takes to fully recover from various negative credit actions, according to VantageScore data. (VantageScore is the other main credit score company.) Keep in mind that the recovery times should be similar for FICO scores, since VantageScore and FICO employ similar credit scoring parameters.
The good news is that when your score is low, each positive change you make is likely to have a significant impact. For instance, going from a poor credit score of around 500 to a fair credit score (in the 580-669 range) takes around 12 to 18 months of responsible credit use.
Once you’ve made it to the good credit zone (670-739), don’t expect your credit to continue rising as steadily. “It can be more challenging to improve your score the higher it gets,” Tayne says. “Once you’re into the 700 to 800 tier, you’ve established very good credit habits, and, therefore, it can be more difficult to have actions that drastically change that – you don’t have as much room for improvement, so to speak.”
On the other hand, it’s much easier for your credit score to drop a tier once you’re at a stable score, so keep up those good habits.
The Fastest Ways to Improve Your Credit Score
Whether you’ve never had a credit score before or would like to see your score improve, there are steps you can take to give your credit a boost. It might seem overwhelming, but tackling one area of focus at a time can help you see continued improvement.
“There are a lot of moving parts in your credit score, which means there are a lot of opportunities to improve your score,” says Richard Best, personal finance expert for DontPayFull, a money management and education site. In fact, some of these strategies can help you see improvement in your score in as few as 30 days. Here’s what you can do:
- Know where you stand. You can’t improve your score if you don’t know what it is. To find out if you even have a credit score, check whether you have credit reports on file with the credit bureaus. By law, you’re entitled to a free credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies once a year through AnnualCreditReport.com. Weekly free credit reports, instituted during the coronavirus pandemic, remain available through the end of 2023. However, credit reports don’t show your score; to see your actual credit score for free, you can check with your credit card company, banking institution or free consumer services.
- Establish a credit account. If you don’t have a credit score yet, you’ll need to get your hands on credit and start building one. Of course, that can lead to a chicken-and-egg scenario – how can you get credit without a credit score? Fortunately, there are ways. For example, try having a family member add you as an authorized user on one of his or her credit cards. You can also open a secured credit card, which is designed for people with poor or no credit, or take out a credit-builder loan.
- Do some credit report housecleaning. Many credit reports contain errors such as missing accounts, incorrect credit limits and even wrong Social Security numbers, which can drag scores down. By law, the credit bureaus must correct errors, Best says, so dispute errors for an easy improvement to your score.
- Lower your utilization. One of the fastest ways to increase your credit score is to reduce your credit utilization ratio. You can do this is by paying down an existing debt, ideally below 30% of your limit, though any reduction in your outstanding balance helps. The other option is to ask for an increase of your credit limit. The key here is that you can’t accumulate more debt, too, otherwise your ratio won’t improve.
- Make every payment on time. Payment history is the most influential FICO score factor, so missing payments is one of the easiest ways to impair your credit. Making an effort to pay bills in full and on time will have the opposite, positive effect. “As your reported missed payments recede into history, your score will gradually increase,” Best says.
- Apply for new credit sparingly. Finally, it can be tempting to apply for more credit to boost your score, but it’s possible to go too far. “You will slow the growth of your credit score by trying to open (too many) new credit accounts,” Best says. Start with just a couple of accounts and manage them responsibly for a year or two before taking on more.