Want to boost your credit score? Break it down.

You probably know a higher credit score can make it easier for you to get a loan. But what really goes into your score—and how can you improve it?

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Here’s a breakdown of how FICO®, the most commonly used credit scorer, determines your number, and what you can do to improve it.

New credit

Types of credit

Payment history

Length of credit history

Amounts owed

695 Credit score*

*Average credit score as of 2015. Source: FICO®

35% Payment history

Before lenders extend credit to you, they want to know if you pay your bills on time.

Boost your score: Tame tardiness

Paying a bill 30 or more days late could lower your score by around 100 points.

Particularly serious issues in this category include:

  • Bankruptcies (which can stay on your credit history up to 10 years)
  • Judgments (which can stay on your credit history up to 7 years)
  • Collection accounts
  • Uncollected debts
  • Foreclosures
  • Wage attachments or garnishments
  • Tax liens

30% Amounts owed

This category looks at how much you owe on credit cards and installment loans, as well as what you owe on other types of accounts.

Boost your score: Don’t max out
Having credit accounts and using them isn’t a bad thing. But if you’re close to maxing out your accounts, you may be overextended—and considered more likely to default. It’s generally best to use less than 30 percent of your available credit, so if you have a credit card with a $10,000 limit, you may want to keep your balance below $3,000.

15% Length of credit history
A scorer considers the age of your oldest account, the age of your newest account, and the average age for all of them. It also considers how long it has been since you used your accounts.

Boost your score: Keep the old
In general, a longer credit history means a higher score, so it can make sense to keep older credit cards active, even if you don’t need them. Think twice before opening new accounts, since they lower your average account age. That said, FICO notes, even people who are newer to credit may have high scores, depending on the rest of their report.

10% Types of credit
Lenders see a mix of credit—for instance, credit cards and a mortgage—as a good thing because this can indicate you can manage more than one type of loan at the same time.

Boost your score: Mind your mix
FICO notes it probably isn’t effective to open new accounts just to try to pump up your score. But in general, having credit cards and installment loans (such as a mortgage or car loan), and paying them on time, boosts your score.

10% New credit
Research shows that people who open several credit accounts in a short period may be higher credit risks than those who don’t, according to FICO.

Boost your score: Avoid asking for more
This is a pretty small portion of your total, so you may not want to be overly concerned about this category. Even so, it’s generally a good idea not to ask for credit line increases too often, since that triggers an inquiry. Checking your own score has no impact, though. You can even sign up for a credit tracking service that continually monitors your score, and some banks and card companies offer this service for free.

Keep it in perspective
Keep in mind that these percentages are approximate, and scoring can vary: For example, people who are new to credit are factored differently than longtime users. As your use changes, so does the importance of each factor. One thing’s for sure: If you always pay on time and avoid maxing out your cards, you’re already on the right track.

FICO is a registered trademark of Fair Isaac Corporation in the United States and other countries.

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The material provided on this website is for informational use only and is not intended for financial or investment advice. Bank of America and/or its affiliates, and Khan Academy, assume no liability for any loss or damage resulting from one’s reliance on the material provided. Please also note that such material is not updated regularly and that some of the information may not therefore be current. Consult with your own financial professional when making decisions regarding your financial or investment options.

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