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A new year brings new opportunities to rack up rewards points, plan for vacations and make the most of your everyday spending habits. These opportunities aren’t simply about who’s offering the best sign-up bonus, though. Instead, they start with you and your credit. As you aim to earn extra points and miles and score free nights at your favorite hotel chain, here are six ways to help you improve your credit for a successful year.

1. Know Your Number

More Americans are making the most of the growing number of options to check their credit scores for free. According to a 2018 report from the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), 57% of consumers checked their credit scores within the past 12 months. If you’re part of the 43% who have not done this simple task, it’s time to get with the program.

I also recommend monitoring it more frequently than every year. Your credit score is constantly changing based on how much debt you have, whether you’ve applied for a new loan, whether you’ve opened a new card and a number of other factors. Check on your score on a regular basis to empower yourself with an understanding of how your personal finances stack up against the rest of the population.

Chase’s Credit Journey tool is one of many options for checking your credit score at no cost. (Photo via Shutterstock)

2. Review Your Credit Report

Checking the score attached to your name is only a portion of the knowledge-gathering you need to do. It’s important to know what’s in your actual credit report, too, to make sure that there aren’t any mistakes. The government grants you free access to your credit report each year. Well, it actually gives you access to three reports — one from each of the major credit reporting agencies. Go here to submit a request for a full run-down of what each of those agencies is saying about you.

(Photo by Tyler Franta via Unsplash)
Review your credit report to make sure there aren’t any mistakes. (Photo by Tyler Franta via Unsplash)

3. Grade Your Personal Finance Performance

Credit agencies offer a well-rounded perspective of how outsiders see you, but it’s equally important to look inside yourself. Think about your personal spending habits. Have you been making minimum payments? Have you checked the APR on your card lately?  Are you carrying a big balance from month to month?

Simply put, would your mother be disappointed in you? Be honest with yourself about how you’re managing your money. And while you’re at it, test yourself on your knowledge of the credit reporting process with this free 12-question quiz from CFA and VantageScore.

(Photo by Artem Bali via Unsplash)
Take the time to assess your personal spending habits. (Photo by Artem Bali via Unsplash)

4. Make the Most of Your Bank’s Free Tools 

After you ask yourself what you can do to improve your credit, ask your bank how it can help, too. Log in to your online banking folder, or download your bank’s app to browse the free tools that can help you stay on track toward financial fitness in 2019. Most institutions offer helpful budgeting and spending tracking analysis features that can help you visualize how close — or how far — you are from earning an A in money management and debt payoff. And be sure to set up payment reminders or enroll in auto pay. Since your payment history makes up approximately 35% of your credit score, being on time should be a top priority.

(Photo via Shutterstock)
Most banks offer spending analysis tools to help you learn more about your spending habits. (Photo via Shutterstock)

5. Consider Requesting a Credit Limit Increase

Take a look to see when your bank last increased your credit. If it’s been a while and you’ve been making your payments on time, you’re likely in line for an increase. In fact, a 2018 survey conducted by CreditCards.com revealed that 85% of card holders who asked for a credit limit increase were successful. That’s good news for anyone because a higher credit limit strengthens your credit utilization ratio and your overall credit score. However, note that asking for an increase may trigger a hard pull on your credit report, which could lead to a short-term dip in your score.

6. Be the First to Use UltraFICO

If your credit history is limited or you’ve had a hiccup in the past such as a late payment, boosting your credit score has been a historically uphill battle. In 2019, though, a new form of assistance may be able to help. In 2018, I wrote about a new kind of FICO score on the horizon. Now, you can put your name on the list to be among the first to learn more about and use UltraFICO (go here to do just that).

It’s important to note that UltraFICO is an opt-in opportunity, and you have to be willing to let lenders access information about your checking and savings accounts. But, if your credit score has been toward the bottom of the ladder — the upper 500s and lower 600s — the new approach to gauging your creditworthiness may be the ticket to transforming your financial life.

While you’re working toward a financial resolution to improve your credit, you may also want to think about how you can improve your on-the-go lifestyle. Check out “5 Resolutions You Can Make to Be a Better Traveler in 2019.”

The factors that make up your FICO score. Image source: FICO.
Later this year, lenders will be able to use a new type of FICO score, which will likely benefit those with existing credit scores under 600.

 

Featured image via Shutterstock.

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Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
17.99% - 25.24% (Variable)
Annual Fee
$0 intro for first year; $95 after that
Balance Transfer Fee
$0
Recommended Credit
Excellent, Good

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