This post is was originally published on The Penny Hoarder
It’s no secret your credit score is important. The better your score, the better deal you get on a mortgage or a car loan or credit card.
We’re talking big money here.
Even if you’re not buying a house anytime soon, a lousy credit score means you’ll get mugged for a high security deposit whenever you rent a car or move into a new apartment.
But improving your credit seems like such a long-term project, doesn’t it?
After all, it can literally take years for negative information to finally come off your credit report. That one phone call you got from that rude bill collector can stain your record for up to seven years.
Seven years? Shoot, you’ll probably be a completely different person by then.
Don’t get discouraged. There are quick ways to start healing your credit. If you make the right moves, you can get your credit score back up around 670 — what most lenders consider “good.”
Here’s a fast, easy way to see your credit score: Sign up for Credit Sesame, a free service that shows your score and explains it to you.
Now that you know your score, here are four things you should do right away to improve your credit.
How to Fix Credit Fast: Start With These Strategies
1. Use Your Credit Card
Just don’t overuse it, that’s all. Buy something with your credit card every month. Even one or two purchases, like a tank of gas or a gallon of milk or, you know, a bottle of wine. Whatever.
Get a credit card with a signup bonus, cash rewards and no annual fees. Just make sure to pay off your balance every month so you can avoid paying interest. That’s a money drain right there.
This way, you have positive activity on your credit report every month. The credit reporting agencies that calculate your credit score really like that. It’s like petting a cat and making it purr.
2. Don’t Max Out Your Cards
An important part of your credit score is “credit utilization.” That’s a fancy-pants way of saying “how much of your credit you’re actually using.”
Let’s say you have a credit card with a $2,000 limit on it, and you have a balance of $1,000 that you haven’t paid off. You’re using half your credit. Your credit utilization is 50%.
It should really be lower. The lower, the better. This makes more difference than you might think.
3. Dispute Wrong Information
One out of every five credit reports has an error in it, according to a study by the Federal Trade Commission.
So take a look at your credit report, and dispute any incorrect information in it. Don’t worry if you’ve never done this before. It’s really not that hard. If you set aside a little time, you can do this today.
The three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — are each required to give you a free credit report once a year. If you want, you can go to the website Annual Credit Report to get all three at once.
So what are you looking for, here? Well, if you find an “unpaid” credit card that you know you paid, or a bill in collections that you know never existed, you should file a dispute with the appropriate credit bureau.
4. Consolidate Your Debt
To have good credit, it’s important to pay your bills on time. Don’t fall behind.
If you’re drowning in credit card debt and hemorrhaging money on interest payments, consider refinancing your debt with a personal loan.
Once again, it’s easier than you might think. A good place to start is Even Financial, which can help you borrow up to $100,000. Once you type in your info, compares interest rates from several lenders. There’s no charge for this.
Use that loan to pay off your high-interest credit cards. Then you repay the lender a fixed amount every month for a set time period — usually two to four years.
See? Improving your credit doesn’t have to take seven years after all.
Taking steps to improve your credit is worth it. Especially when it comes to major life purchases — houses and cars — the higher your credit score, the better off you’ll be.
Mike Brassfield (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. His credit is OK, but it could be better, frankly.