When I think about credit scores advice like “Here’s how to raise your credit score fast,” I sometimes feel like I’m in the Wild West all over again.
Not so much the cowboys-and-Indians Wild West, but the old times when hucksters and salesman peddled miracle cures for all kinds of ailments.
I can, at any moment during the day, search “credit score hacks” or “how to raise my score by 100 points overnight” and get a litany of responses with people claiming miracle cures that can turn your sub-prime credit into good or very good credit.
Some of these solutions for boosting your credit score are legit and some are just flat-out unethical and, in some cases, illegal.
At its very core, the world of credit score hacking has good intentions, though. People want to raise their scores because life is much easier.
Better scores lead to better rates on loans and lines of credit. Better scores lead to better chances of getting approved for a mortgage. Better scores, as we’ve pointed out in past articles, can save you tens of thousands of dollars over the life of a 30-year loan.
With so much money at stake, it’s easy to see why anyone with a trick or two is willing to share their advice. This crowdsourced credit information is good and bad – there are miracle cures that don’t work and there are cures that do work.
In the next few minutes, I’m going to share with you five tips you can use to raise your credit score fast. Some of these tips are examples from my own life, while others come from trusted sources whose advice is just as legit as their reliable background.
A Quick Word About Why Credit Scores Are Important
Credit scores are a tool that lenders use to figure out how much of a risk you are. The lower your scores go, the higher the chances that you’ll be at least 30 days late on a payment.
Paying at least 30 days late is a very undesirable trait, according to lenders. But think about it...would you lend money to someone if you knew there was a chance it would take them a long time to pay you back, or every time money was due they had an excuse about why they couldn’t pay at that moment?
In the same way, lenders are looking to lend to reliable borrowers and avoid unreliable ones.
Credit scores do that by representing your tendencies and habits with a numerical value. While the credit scoring systems in place today aren’t perfect, they do a relatively good job of reflecting your level of risk.
1. Balance Transfers
Some time ago I had balances on three different credit cards. One of those cards had a balance that was more than 30% of its credit limit. In the credit scores world, your balance in relation to your credit limit is known as “utilization ratio” and anything over 30% is considered riskier.
So, when a card’s balance surpasses 30% of its limit, your scores will drop. However, the opposite is true, too.
Knowing that 30% was the breaking point, I did the math on my balances and found that if I transferred a specific amount of my balance on one card to the other card, I could keep my utilization on both cards under 30%.
I requested the transfer, was approved and, when the balance actually moved from one card to the other, my scores jumped up by 15-20 points.
This is a simple trick to boosting your scores – it’s legit, legal and exhibits an understanding of how the credit scoring system works.
Strategically transferring balances is one way you can boost your scores overnight.
2. Pay Down Your Balance to 30%
This tip comes on the heels of the previous’ section’s explanation of credit utilization. If you’re saddled with a balance or balances that are over 30% of your credit limit, your scores will suffer.
One way to get around that is to transfer funds so that every balance is under 30%. Another way to do this is to simply pay down your debt, but not in the way you think.
There are several theories out there for how to pay down multiple credit card balances. One popular theory is to pay off the cards with the highest interest first, while the other theory says to pay off the smallest balance first.
While both of those methods are great for paying down debt, they don’t address the credit score issue. Our credit-focused suggestion is to pay down all your balances to below 30% of their credit limit, then to pay off the smallest balance first.
The credit advantage here is pretty clear. By paying down those balances so they’re below a 30% utilization rate, you’re raising your credit score. This isn’t as quick of a fix as the balance-transfer tip, but it’s still effective in raising your scores and paying down your debt.
Pro tip: Your credit score will increase as your balance goes down, but you should see a substantial increase once you get below 30%.
3. Be Added as an Authorized User
Part of your credit score is made up of something called “length of credit,” which means the average time you’ve had credit and/or loans, as well as the length of your oldest credit or loan account.
For most people, either their student loans or their credit cards are the oldest accounts they have. The older your length of credit, the better, lenders think, because it shows you have a track record of being able to manage a loan or line of credit.
One of the ways that you can add more months or years to your credit report is by asking someone who trusts you to add you as an authorized user to one of their credit card accounts.
The goal here is to find someone who’s willing to add you to a card they’ve had for at least 10 years. When the credit bureaus see that you’re part of an account that has a decade-long history, they take that as a good sign and, in many cases, will raise your score.
4. Dispute Accurate and Inaccurate Information
About five years ago I made a really stupid mistake. I had 11 different student loans through two different loan servicers.
Those loans were in forbearance, which means that every year, I had to renew those forbearances or my accounts would go active and I’d have a payment due.
For reasons that still baffle me, I never logged into my servicer accounts and renewed my forbearances. As a result, my loans went active and I had a payment due. Once I realized my mistake, it was too late. Seven of those loans were more than 90 days late and four were more than 60 days late.
I was diligent with my scores back then, so I can’t say exactly how far my scores dropped, but I’m willing to bet it was by at least 40 or 50 points.
Getting Credit Information Removed
Now, let’s skip ahead to 2016. I wanted to boost my credit scores, so I started an account with Credit Karma and browsed through my credit history.
I saw those delinquencies from my student loans and daydreamed about how nice it would be to get rid of them.
As I read through my report, I noticed that I could file a dispute with the credit bureaus about those delinquencies.
Now, before you run off and file disputes, you need to know something about how the law works and why credit disputes exist.
The Dispute Process
First, lenders are required by the Fair Credit Reporting Act to provide accurate information about your accounts. While this requirement is good because it can protect you against false information on your report, it also means that if you have delinquencies, those will be reported, too.
If there is inaccurate information on your report, the law allows you to contact your credit bureaus and dispute the information. This dispute system, however, exists to remove inaccurate information, which is important to remember.
Now, back to my story. I really wanted my delinquencies removed so my credit scores would go up. I was hoping for some grace with the lenders, so I sent them letters asking them (ever so kindly) to remove the information from my account.
Unfortunately, that didn’t work because both companies went out of business. When I realized that, I felt a sense of doom sweep over me.
Filing a Dispute Through Credit Karma
As a last gasp, I filed disputes through Credit Karma with TransUnion and Equifax. You can only dispute one delinquency at a time with each bureau, so I filed the first two disputes and waited.
About a week later, I got the good news: the credit bureaus removed the information from my account.
Why? Because the companies who provided the delinquency were no longer in business. By law, credit bureaus have to contact the company who provided the information and verify it.
Because neither of the companies who provided the information was in business, they couldn’t verify the information and had to remove it from my report.
One by one, those delinquencies disappeared. Once TransUnion and Equifax removed the delinquencies, I contacted Experian and told them the delinquencies had already been removed by the other bureaus. Experian removed the negative marks, too.
Once all the delinquencies were gone, my scores jumped another 15-20 points. At the time, I wasn’t aware that there were dozens – if not hundreds – of blog posts about how to use this loophole to get rid of delinquencies, charge-offs and collections accounts.
Don’t Abuse the System
Again, before you run off to Credit Karma and file disputes, it’s really important to remember that what I did was very loophole-ish.
The law that forced the bureaus to remove my information was actually intended to protect me from incorrect information and wasn’t meant to be exploited for the removal of correct information.
This may not be a big deal to you, but it’s a really big deal for lenders. You see, it’s one thing to be a responsible consumer whose scores drop because someone incorrectly put a bankruptcy on your credit report and you get it removed because of inaccuracy.
However, it’s an entirely different thing when you’re an irresponsible consumer with multiple late payments who works the system to get accurate information removed.
Now, I’m sure that you’re thinking it’s weird that I’m recommending that you don’t do what I did. In my defense, I wasn’t aware that what I was doing was an actual hack.
That being said, the fact that I wasn’t proactive about resolving my student loan repayments revealed a weakness in my financial discipline.
Why Disputing True Credit Information Misrepresents You
So, even though I took the delinquency off my report, the weakness still remained. It’s sort of like how shady home flippers paint over flaws in a home. Yeah, it looks great from the outside, but once you get into the walls you realize there are serious problems.
My credit history was clean on the outside, but if you were to look beyond that to the habits I’ve had at various times in my life, you can see weaknesses that could produce a lot of trouble if I’m not disciplined in controlling them.
Lenders, whether banks or credit card issuers or mortgage companies, offer you money based on, in part, what your credit history says about your ability to pay things back on time. If you have no late payments on your reports, they see you as a freshly-painted wall that looks good as new.
And because they don’t see those habits underneath, they put themselves at risk without even really knowing it. You could argue that there should be other signs that the borrower is riskier: high utilization or multiple recent credit inquiries.
However, if those other signs aren’t there, then the bank may move forward with your loan. If you pay late or default down the road because your bad habits still exist, then the bank gets burned.
A quick search of YouTube videos and Reddit threads for “pay for delete” will reveal hundreds of articles hailing the pay-for-delete as a legitimate way to boost your scores.
“Pay-for-delete” describes the tactic in which you call a collections agency and tell them you’ll pay a certain amount of money for them to delete your collections delinquency on your credit report.
“Delete” means they’ll tell the credit reporting agencies (Equifax, TransUnion, Experian) that your balance is down to zero. It doesn’t mean that your collections account will automatically disappear from your credit report.
Now, FICO’s most recent scoring model, FICO Score 9, won’t count your collections accounts against you, so a complete removal isn’t necessary once lenders adopt FICO 9.
If this whole pay-for-delete thing seems shady, you’re right. Credit help website Hope4usa.com flat-out says that “PfDs” aren’t illegal:
“‘Pay for delete’ deals are not illegal. That is a myth, regardless of where you may have heard it. However, ‘pay for delete’ deals are frowned upon very heavily by the credit reporting agencies themselves – Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.”
On the other hand, Experian says they are illegal, noting that, “in most cases, this practice violates the creditor’s agreement to report accurate and complete information… They are obligated by law and contract to report accurate information.”
We checked CreditCards.com for their impression of pay-for-delete tactics and they called them “not a common – or necessarily above-board – practice.”
According to Experian, only about 10% of collections agencies will accept a pay-for-delete proposition.
The few who are willing to offer pay-for-delete are doing something that “undermines the value of the credit scoring system,” Experian’s Rod Griffin told CreditCards.com.
Pro tip: Request the pay-for-delete in writing. But, Experian warns, even a documented pay-for-delete may not guarantee the collections agency will do what they say.
The credit scoring systems we have today are designed to respond quickly to changes in your credit history, payment status, balances, and utilization.
Even small things like credit checks can drop your score within 24 hours.
This immediate reporting can work against you, but, more importantly, it can work for you.
Using available credit card balance transfer offers can help you get all your balances under 30% of your credit limits, a move that should produce double-digit increases in your credit scores.
If your plan is to pay off your credit card debt, pay down all cards under 30% before moving to the cards with the lowest balances or highest interest rates.
You also have the option of getting someone to add you as an authorized user to their credit account, provided the account has been around long enough to have a significant impact on the length of your credit history.
Also, if you find incorrect information on your credit report, you can file disputes through each of the credit bureaus in order to get the info removed.
Using this ability to purposely try and remove correct information is, in a certain sense, taking advantage of a loophole.
We suggest avoiding attempts to remove correct information, if only to protect you from any bad habits you have that could put you in financial jeopardy should your “good” scores provide you credit and loans that you can’t manage.
The final way to improve your score quickly is to push for pay-for-deletes with any collections agencies who reported your collected accounts to the credit bureaus. Proceed here with caution, though.
Any agencies who are willing to do pay-for-delete are most likely violating their contracts with the reporting agencies and, according to Experian, breaking the law.
In general, our research shows that the easiest ways to boost your credit are to transfer balances or pay down your debt.
These are excellent options for changing your scores fast, as they are things you can do for yourself rather than having to rely on others (authorized user, disputes).
» For Further Reading: How to Repair Your Bad Credit and Raise Your Score: Step-by-Step Guide
Get Our Free eBook
The information in this article is just part of the research we’ve done on credit scores. The easiest way to work through our best information in a time-effective way is to download our free eBook, A Complete Guide to Credit Scores.
In it, we explain all the basics of credit scoring and help you understand how you can build excellent credit with safe, sound financial tools and methods.